Steve Hole tells the story of the almost forgotten Taurus Performance Tuning operation. Along with Speedwell and Downton Engineering, they were one of the ‘big three’ of the many Mini-orientated tuning companies of the sixties.

Founded in 1961 by Ted Marchant, using his star sign as the company name. Ted worked at a BMC dealership in Holland Park in the service department and along with his friend and colleague, Ken Pacey, they would tune friends’ engines at the weekend and in the evenings.

Ultimately, they were urged to start their own business and this resulted in the foundation of Taurus Performance Tuning. They were initially based behind a residential mews premises in Holland Park. This wasn’t ideal because they could run engines before 9am or after 6pm because of noise issues.

Before long they moved to the premises formerly occupied by Harold Bath’s A1 Garage in a cul de sac called Childs Place just off the Earl’s Court Road.

This was a block of commercial mews with some still used for the original purpose of stabling horses. However, Taurus – Marchant and Pacey were soon joined by co-director Chris Heaton-Armstrong, who looked after admin and accounts duties.

He was a keen rally driver in his 848cc Mini, while Marchant raced a Lotus Seven with a Cosworth engine and Pacey took on rallies in his Mini all under the ‘Team Taurus’ banner.

The mews consisted of a showroom that could house four cars and a block of workshops, although they later set up the Taurus Tuning Centre in railway arches underneath Ravenscourt Park underground station.

They also had Ford and Austin dealerships and a BP petrol station with two pumps although this wasn’t very busy due to it being located in a side street and a larger Shell forecourt up on the main Earl’s Court Road.

The company also offered a breakdown service using an old Land Rover pickup.

In addition to the retail work, was their accessories range. Many of the items were bought in from the likes of Les Leston and Radbourne Racing but they could supply all manner of things including Microcell bucket seats, Leston’s wood rim steering wheels, silencer, air filters, sump guards, bullet-type mirrors, rocker covers (in chrome or aluminium) and much else including Maserati twin air horns!

They did a nice line in thermostatic oil coolers and were the first tuning house to offer a roadgoing oil stat, a part they became very famous for. They sold thousands of these.

Performance parts included a Stromberg carb conversion for Austin 1100 and Mini.

Kits were also offered including brake upgrade packages, suspension kits featuring Koni dampers, camshafts (Sports, Super Sports and Competition), carburettor upgrades (Weber or Solex) and exhaust packages including free-flow silencers.

The specialist car industry also knew them for their many engine conversions (up to sixty per month).

When it came to engines, they offered many variants for the Mini, 1100, Anglia, MGB and Hillman Imps. They were regarded as part of the Big Three of Mini tuners. Worked ranged from various cylinder head conversions including a stage one for A-series with a water-cooled inlet manifold and a Weber carb upgrade.

They were big on advertising and marketing and came up with several catchy straplines like ‘Taurus – Power without Stress’ and ‘The Taurus Answer – Performance, Reliability and Control’.

There was their Big Mini conversion which turned a standard 848cc A-Series into a 998cc version using a Cooper bottom end. Then came the Taurus Continental which gave the 848cc unit the ability to cruise more freely and comfortably on the motorway.

Other than that they could do bespoke work or competition tuning for you or a range of other set packages on their menu of conversions.

In about 1968, Ken Pacey departed he was replaced by Oliver Baxter, the director responsible for exports, while they also had a northern branch in Wilmslow, Cheshire. In total, I think there were 82 Taurus-appointed dealers around the UK.

By 1971 it was all over. Taurus was no more. It had been a whirlwind ten years, however.

You can read more about Taurus Performance Tuning on the excellent websites MK1 Performance and Imps4Ever.