FLYING ON FOUR WHEELS

 

Alternative Cars TF

 

 

REPRINT FROM  “WHICH KIT”  MAGAZINE (UK)  June 2000

 

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MG’s classic TF has long been flattered in kit car circles the world over from Brazil to Barwell, HQ of the UK’s home–grown example.  A recent copycat incarnation of Abingdon’s first international post-war success has recently reached these shores from New Zealand.  Ian Hyne casts an eye over the Kiwi contender.

 

Do you know that 1LB of thrust is roughly the equivalent of 7bhp?  Well it is.  More than that, each of the four engines that power a 747 develops 55,000lbs of thrust.  A 747 weighs about 380 tons and the maximum fuel load is about 170 tons.

 

Neville Hooper reeled off these facts as we chatted in his front room.  He’s a New Zealander who retired after more than 30 years flying for Air New Zealand.  When I ventured the suggestion that a kit-built aeroplane might be more in line with his experience, his reply was down to earth in more ways than one.  “If it doesn’t have four engines, I’m not interested”.  Fair enough.  I could see logic.

 

So, feet planted firmly on the ground, Neville’s retirement present to himself was a single-engined kit car.  Splitting his time between England and New Zealand, Neville started looking about in his native country and came across Alternative Cars run by Russell Hooper.  He’s no relation although the name could have had an unconscious influence on his choice.

 

Alternative Cars manufactures two replica models, being the TF seen here and a Jaguar SS100 copy but it was the TF that took Neville’s fancy.  Although flying and things aeronautical have given him a thorough understanding of many aspects of engineering theory and practice, Neville is a newcomer to the art of car construction.  But his son-in-law isn’t.  He runs a business in New Zealand producing top-of-the-shop hot rods.  As such, he has both the manual and engineering skills and facilities along with the hot-rodder’s eye for finishing detail that always contributes to a fine car.  And from a once over of Neville’s TF, it seems he started with a pretty good kit.

 

Talking to Alternative’s Russell Hooper, he says New Zealand does have mandatory regulations concerning kit built cars.  In essence it’s all very similar to UK SVA.  That said, much of the company’s market is in Australia where the rules are very much tighter thus the kit has been designed and produced to comply with ADR (Australian Design Rules).

 

When the company started out in 1983, the TF was based, like the UK examples, on the rolling chassis of a Triumph Herald of which there were as many over there as there were here.  As with Herald availability here, supplies gradually dried up on the other side of the world so Russell designed his own chassis.

 

Today, the car runs on a cruciform ladder frame with a bolt-on scuttle hoop.  Though such a frame is still employed to excellent effect in cars like the NG, ladders are generally looked upon as the basis for cruisers and lacking the necessary strength and torsional rigidity to adequately underpin a true performance car.  Anyone who has ever driven an NG TC V8 will know how much tosh that view is, while Russell can further explode the myth.  ADR demands that kit chassis achieve a high torsional deflection figure as proof of their correct design and construction.  The TF has passed all the ADR tests as well as those demanded in New Zealand.

 

As well as Triumph Heralds, New Zealand was also the final destination of many a Vauxhall Viva.  General Motors’ Antipodean arm is Holden and the Viva’s well-used and worthy components also underpinned Holden’s Torana.  Thus the TF employs the Viva’s excellent double-wishbone front suspension.  Early cars had cut-down coilsprings but better-riding dedicated springs with telescopic dampers are now standard fittings.  The Viva also supplies the live-axle rear located on four trailing-arms, Viva coilsprings and telescopic dampers.

 

Excellent suspension the Viva might have had but the engine range was never greatly inspiring.  Standard 1159C and 1256cc units were the norm with a big jump to the rarer 1,800cc and 2,300cc models.  However, they’re a bit dated now in both design and performance so Russell has gone for the operational excellence of Japanese hardware.  As Japan is a mere stone’s throw across the water, Japanese units are plentiful and cheap either new or second-hand.  Neville’s engine is a Nissan 2-litre SOHC unit that started life in a Nissan van.  It’s mated to a 5-speed manual Nissan box from a car and provides a set of ratios well-suited to the Viva’s 3.9:1 differential with 175 profile tyres.

 

There’s about 120bhp on tap to move a car weighing in the region of 750kgs, so there’s plenty of zip available and the car’s chassis and mechanical underpinnings seem well up to the job.

 

Cosmetically, everything under the skin has been powder coated and assembled with brand new nuts and bolts.  Russell says all fixings supplied with the kit are in stainless steel and all high-tensile bolts are coated.  Typical of the thoroughness of the build, all bushes, ball-joints, brake parts, pipes, clips and wiring are new and where used parts have been employed, they have all been fully overhauled.

 

Atop this paragon of constructional virtue sits the TF replica body.  It’s in GRP and is excellently moulded.  The panels are good and thick with no give in them.  ADR additionally demands side intrusion beams in the doors as well as collapsible steering column.  Actually, the Viva’s column is collapsible but Alternative uses a Japanese column as it’s equipped with far more comprehensive and convenient stalk controls.  The only non-GRP panel is the butterfly bonnet which is in steel.

 

The car carries a full range of replica hardware including bumpers, wing-mounted indicators, a chrome-on-brass screen, door-handles and rear luggage-rack but in keeping with ADR, it additionally has a high-level rear brake light, non-eared wire-wheels spinners, alternative rear lights, a rear fog light and smooth, side-fitted bonnet locks.  Internally too the centre-dash houses a bank of illuminated rocker switches and above the main instruments is a modern warning light cluster.  Even so, it looks the part.

 

Cosmetically, this car is far more authentically proportioned than our indigenous Gentry.  In order to accomodate more power, many Gentry builders used the Triumph straight-six but that move involved moving the radiator cowling forward in order to create the required space.  The result is a less than authentic, forward-biased look which just detracts from the good looks that have made the TF such a popular target for the duplicators.  This car has the grille in the right place and it’s also the right grille where many a Gentry uses the MG Magnette alternative.

 

Internally, this is also a very comfortable and beautifully trimmed machine.  Neville had a good trimmer cover the seats, make all the trim panels, carpets and hood and screens.  It cost him £1,000 in total which he was more than happy with, especially in view of the sheer quality and comprehensive nature of the job.  It’s in simple beige vinyl which goes well with the wood veneer dashboard.  Like SVA, New Zealand demands a large radius on the lower edge of the dash and this had been lovingly formed form a hand-sanded length of hardwood.

 

The doors are the rear-hinged suicide type but they make entry and exit a great deal simpler.  That said they are secures on burst-proof catches.  Hop aboard and the whole car feels just right and though at over six feet tall I could have done with a little more legroom, the seat location can be moved back to create it.

 

Twisting the key had the engine idling smoothly and quietly.  It’s actually canted over by 10 degrees to stop the distribution cap from touching the bonnet side panel and thus requiring a bulge.

Neville’s son in law did the job and the carb suffers no ill-effects from its slightly off-horizontal attitude.

 

On the move, you can tell that this has been a professionally-built car.  It feels brand new, exhibiting the characteristic tautness and slight stiffness in the controls.  The ride is also quite firm and Neville may well visit one of the suspension specialists for a set of softer springs and dampers that will improve the ride without detracting from the car’s handling ability.

 

On that score, Neville isn’t looking for high performance.  The car is quite quick enough for him as it is.  He’s not covered that many miles in it as it only arrived in the UK a few months ago.  That said, his wife is equally enthusiastic about it and they just enjoy relaxing drives round their rural home.  In climate, Peterborough is very similar to Neville’s Auckland home only with less rain.  Actually I picked up quite a bit of peripheral information during my visit in addition to my compendium of data on the 747.  For instance, did you that Peterborough has very little rain? It’s all to do with its unique location and the fact that weather systems swirl round it rather than over it.  As Michael Caine would say, “Not a lot of people know that!”

 

In total, that car cost Neville about $25,000 New Zealand dollars.  At the current rate of $3.19 to £1, that’s about £8,000.  That figure includes trim and paint.  On top of that it cost him £1,500 to get it from New Zealand to the UK including the cost of a twenty-foot container and UK customs duty and tax.  That’s not a bad figure especially as Alternative’s Russell Hooper is keen to export more kits and naturally sees the UK as a country with a kit-culture in which his product would have appeal.  Thus if anyone is interested in either the car or a possible sales agency, Russell can be contacted at Alternative Cars, New Zealand on 0064 9 625 7846.  Just remember that the Kiwis are twelve hours ahead of us and the dealer commission may be reduced if you wake him up at 3 o’clock in the morning.  Russell does have a brochure pack but far more in-depth information is available on the company’s website.  The address is www.sportscar.co.nz

 

So what of the sole UK example of New Zealand’s best TF copy?  Well it’s not doing a great deal at the moment as Neville and his wife have gone back to New Zealand for a few months but they’ll be back, at which time Neville is keen to use the car more and start attending kit car shows and various other events.  Certainly there will be many a Gentry owner interested in the car as well as in Alternative’s special parts list.

 

For our part this car is a graphic illustration that kit cars are thriving in various other parts of the world and that excellent quality is not merely a British phenomenon.  This car has been built to comply with design and constructional requirements currently considerably in excess of those demanded by SVA.  However, once again, it’s a testament to the fact that the rules still permit the design and building of authentic-looking vintage-style cars that will always constitute a hugely popular sector of an ever-expanding industry.

 

I really liked it and congratulate Neville and his son-in-law on an excellent kit.

 

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