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Kit Cars Published: 9th Jul 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Kit Cars
Kit Cars
Kit Cars
Kit Cars
Kit Cars
Kit Cars
Kit Cars
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tkc mag and totalkitcar editor, Steve Hole, has driven most kit cars over the last 30 years, but here’s a few that defied logic and handled like deities or are deserving of credit for other reasons

Kit cars. Unless you know them it’s easy to dismiss them. A kit car isn’t a singular thing, as to label them all under one category is making a big mistake as the differences between a Cobra replica and a traditionally-styled three wheeler are vast, for more than the obvious reason that one has a fist-pumping V8, the other a wheel missing!

In the first of this two-part feature, in this issue we’ll look at some cars you may never have heard of but which are actually rather good, although some of them require a look below the skin.

Are kits classics?

That’s debatable but why not? If they are rare enough, good enough and desirable enough, then they are fully justifi ed to be termed a classic. The market has come a long way from the car-starved 1950s when they fi rst sprouted up, chiefly as a means to keep an old car on the road, cheaply. The kits usually came simply as a plastic body (sports car style, usually) to sit on the original chassis of a Morris or Ford although others came with a separate chassis employing more modern suspensions. Just as the market was stagnating due to the infl ux of more affordable sports cars, like the Spitfi re and Midget, up popped the Beach Buggy 50 years ago to make them trendy and cool. Today, the kit car market is healthy and varied – buy a copy of totalkitcar and you’ll see why!

ASD Minim

We’ll kick-off with a visually challenged little device launched in 1984 that regardless of what you think about the looks, handled like a deity. It hailed from the Kent workshop of Automotive System Design, a company run by well-known classic car restorer and engineer, Bob Egginton, who had previously fronted BMC’s competitions department in North America in the sixties and had also worked for the Tyrrell F1 team.

Minim was based on nothing more exotic than a Mini, using the donor’s subframes and A-Series engine. Egginton had intended it as a modern day take on the Austin-Healey ‘Frogeye’ Sprite. Just six had ben sold by the time it left production in 1996.

AVA K1

Appearing in 1986, the AVA K1 (note that calling it the ‘Avaki’ would mark you out as er, not knowing about kit cars) and it was rather unusually based on the mechanicals of the Mk4 Ford Escort, or more accurately the RS1600i or Turbo variant. Front wheel drive donors are very rare in the kit car industry. It was the brainchild of Frome-based Nick Topliss, Ian Hunter and Alan Ponsford and for its time had an incredibly streamlined drag co-efficient of just 0.295cd and handled beautifully. Didn’t really catch-on though as just 16 were sold before it was sold to a German outfi t and disappeared from trace.

Buckland B3

Electronic Control Engineer, Dick Buckland, was the man behind the marvellous Buckland B3 three-wheeler, after many years of competing in his Morgan J-Type and the desire to create his own trike.

A complete thing of beauty, Buckland’s B3 was a jewel-like device that won critical acclaim from the kitcar press when launched in 1985 at the Stoneleigh kit car show, after a four-year gestation.

Weighing a measly 421kg, the car was a superb performer and could cover the sprint to 60mph in sub-fi ve seconds courtesy of its Ford Crossflow 1.3-litre engine and Type 9 gearbox that produced around 95bhp.

A unique forward-hinging cantilevered GRP body gave clever access to all mechanicals and the rear wheel, with a Zintec steel back backbone chassis, and (again Zintec) front subframe that housed lower wishbones and upper rocking arms, with drive via a chain through a Reliant Robin crown wheel and pinion and Triumph Vitesse propshaft. In late 2010, after some 12-years lying dormant, the project was acquired by well-known UK hot rodder, John Wilcox, who re-launched a Mk2 version in May 2012 at the National Kit Car motorshow. If anything, Wilcox’s changes had made a superb machine even better.

Car Craft Cyclone

Perhaps not the best-looking device ever created but don’t underestimate the abilities of the Cyclone, which came from Lytham St Annes-based, Car Craft, run by father and son team, Terry and Leigh Whiteman.

It succeeded their Zero, Noddy-car, but was so much more cutting edge and capable. Power usually came from a turbocharged Vauxhall C20LET engine, normally found nestling under the bonnet of the Calibra.

Just 32 were sold between 1994-2000, when it was purchased by a company called Lawrence Garside Engineering, run by Paul Garside and Mark Lawrence, who lasted just a few months before falling out. It’s rumoured that the moulds were also destroyed in a fit of pique. A shame as the Cyclone was one of the greats.

Chesil

Although it wasn’t the UK’s fi rst 356 Speedster replica, the Chesil Speedster has undoubtedly become the best-known. If people think 356 replica they tend to think Chesil.

Based, like all the others, on humble Volkswagen Beetle fl oorpan and mechanicals, it’s the build quality and overall sophistication of the package that gives it an something extra and helps make residual values rock solid.

It actually started out as Street Beetle, a division of famed UK hot rodder, Chris Boyle’s operation, but was soon taken on by Peter and Viv Bailey (circa 1996), with the name coming from their location, literally opposite Chesil Beach in Dorset.

Buckler

The Buckler name is forever branded into the kit car industry’s history. The man behind the company was called Derek Buckler, a genuine character who is credited with being the pioneer of what we know today as the kit car industry on these shores, after he recreated a ‘replica’ of a little hillclimb car that he enjoyed success with.

Post WW2 it took a while before motorsport of any kind began again and Derek was one of the early competitors in a car he designed himself. It wasn’t long before others wanted a ‘replica’ of his car and thus in 1949, the fi rst Buckler MkV appeared.

It wasn’t the fi fth Buckler model, it was the fi rst, but he didn’t want people thinking he was a wet behind the ears so he called it the ‘Mark Five’. He didn’t supply a body with your chassis kit as he was wary of purchase tax implications so he’d steer you to a bank of approved metal bashers, one of whom was actually located at his Caversham site. This is why two Bucklers, certainly the early ones never look the same.

Alongside his chassis Derek also offered a whole range of go faster and bolt on parts including wheels and engine components. Another story that shows what a proper bloke old Derek was concerns the issuing of ‘Buckler’ bonnet badges, which weren’t issued until Buckler himself had seen and approved the quality of your build!

DAX Kamala

DJ Sportscars is one of the best-known names in the kit car industry, with their Rush and Cobra being very popular and selling in large numbers, in kit car terms.

However, it’s one of their lesser-known models that perhaps caused the biggest stir. Designed in-house by the megatalented Peter Walker (ex-Ford Motor Co) it was years ahead of its time in terms of styling, which is probably why just 30 were sold before it left production in year 2000. However, look beyond the Marmitestyling and the Ford-based (Cossie YB power) mid-engined two-seater was incredibly capable. I had one on test for three days once and used it for a trip to Tesco. Such was the reaction from other road users, I arrived at said supermarket with a string of cars behind me with fellow motorists not believing what they were seeing. Of all the cars I’ve tested in 30-years writing about kit cars the Kamala has caused the most fuss.

It was taken over by a Norfolk company, who created a convertible version, before fading away. Sad.

GTM Libra

The GTM name is a well-known one in UK kit car terms. Coming to the fore in 1967 with the classic Mini-based Cox GTM (Grand Touring Mini), itself an all-time great kit.

However, a later incarnation of the marque, came out with the Libra (and its Spyder sibling) in 1998, which is arguably one of the prettiest specialist cars ever to see the light of day.

Based around MG Rover parts, featuring a mid-mounted K-Series engine (later option was a Honda K20 VTEC), the Libra was designed by kit car designer, par excellence, Richard Oakes and remains a timeless classic despite being out of production since 2007, when GTM was acquired by Westfi eld and quietly dropped.

Harbron special

Here’s a corking little kit car that only the most diehard enthusiasts will have heard of. An absolutely delightful roadster, hailing from Bridport mechanical engineer, Bill Harbron. A fan of the Lotus Seven and pre-war Alfas, he combined the concepts of both to create his own ‘Special’. However, after we featured it in a 1986 edition of Kit Cars & Specials, other people wanted a ‘replica’ and Bill reluctantly went into production, working with local glassfi bre boat-building specialist’s, Loxton Laminates.

Rather than use staple Ford or MGB underpinnings, Bill opted for Fiat, which ensured that he got, very cheaply, the jewel-like Italian twin-cam, the closest thing he could fi nd to the Ford/Lotus Twink that he really coveted.

Around a dozen Harbron Specials were sold before it left production in 1988.

Locost

The Locost came along in 1997 and was spawned by a Haynes’ Publishing book called: ‘Let’s Build a Sportscar for £250’ by Oundle school-teacher, Ron Champion.

No-one could have forseen the vast number of sales and re-prints that would follow. What Champion did was latch onto the ‘Specials’ builder lurking in every car enthusiast, giving them the inspiration not to mention instructions, on how to make their own Lotus Seven-inspired roadster on a budget of £250.

Not everyone was competent enough to tackle every task, such as laminating your own glassfi bre panels, and before long a host of new manufacturers set-up to cater for what had become a huge movement. Notable makers like MK Engineering, Stuart Taylor Motorsport and Luego Sportscars were built on supplying Champion book readers stuff like wishbones and chassis.

The 750 Motor Club set-up a race series called the Locost Championship that still exists to this day, with healthy grids to boot. In reality, the £250 budget was never sensibly attainable, as a set of new budget dampers cost about £300 in 1998, but many had a good go at building their own rock-bottom roadster. I did meet a chap who claimed to have built his own Locost for £240, using an old metal bed-frame as the basis of his chassis!

Jago

Geoff Jago doesn’t get the credit he deserves. His is a very important name in the annals of UK specialist car history.

Known to many for his Jago Jeep/Sandero utility kits, of which many were sold, but much earlier than this Geoff made his mark. Put simply, Jago was the pioneer and driving force behind the UK’s early sixties custom car/hot rod movement, after he was captivated by the cars and products he’d read about in imported copies of Hot Rod magazine.

His first rod, inspired many others in the UK and the likes of Nick Butler, Ray ‘The Rodfather’ Christopher, Eddie ‘Mister Ed’ Wimble, Bryan Godber and Mickey Bray all cut their teeth on Jago rod kits. More than 3000 were sold in total and Geoff once told me that he delivered most of them personally regardless of where the customer was located in the UK. All in the name of customer service.

Jago probably opened the first ‘Speed Shop’ on these shores, although Chris Church’s Brighton Speed Shop must have been close behind, placed the fi rst advert for customised goodies in January 1965 and is also the reason why Metalfl ake™ paintwork arrived in the UK.

Status Symbol/Minipower

Former Lotus Cars, Vehicle Engineering Manager, Brian Luff, set-up his own freelance engineering company after he left Colin Chapman’s employ. An operation that would go onto design all manner of innovative vehicles. The company name came from Luff’s favourite band; Status Quo, incidentally.

The fi rst Status model was the Symbol based on Mini mechanicals with double wishbones all-round, Austin 1100cc driveshafts and A-Series power. Light (450kg) and very agile.

Eight were sold before Luff changed the name to Minipower in 1972, in an attempt to give it a more serious image rather than just a clever play on words. Despite Colin Chapman reputedly liking it greatly, rave reviews from the motoring press and it being one of the fi nest handling specialist cars ever committed to metal and glassfi bre, just 20 more were sold before it was withdrawn in 1973. Although the project was bought by a Yorkshire-based KFC shop owner, nothing more was heard of the car.

Stimson Scorcher

Barry Stimson is one of the UK’s best known specialist car designers and has a whole host of quirky, fun creations sitting proudly on his CV, including one of the most bonkers kit cars ever made in the form of the marvellously named Stimson Scorcher that appeared in the hot summer of 1976, a paean to The Sun newspaper’s hilarious front page headline “Phew, what a scorcher.” Whereas some similarly mad creations of the era, and there were many, were laughed at because they were horrible, there was a strange charm and highly serious performance edge to the Stimson’s.

The rider/driver sat astride the device with a centrally-mounted gearlever, with room for two passengers in a tandem seating arrangement. Because it was a three-wheeler weighing less than 8cwt the Scorcher was classed as a motorbike and taxed appropiately.

I was given a pillion ride on a Scorcher once and I’ll never forget it. Unbelievably rapid, weighing no more than a school exercise, that belied its 1000cc Mini A-Series power.

Once Barry had sold 30 of them via his Noovoh Developments operation, the project shifted to a company located in Clanfi eld, Oxfordshire, who planned a re-launch. Sadly it was all over by early 1982 although Stimson did produce the highly practical Safari 6; a six-wheeled Mini-based design that was far superior in many aspects to the Moke.

Meanwhile, Barry has never stopped designing stuff and his portfolio includes houses and motorhomes.



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