by David Cass NEW ZEALAND CLASSIC CAR January 1995
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Ten years ago, back in 1984, on a very early Sports Car Club of New Zealand Tour of Projects, I visited a small car- building enterprise based in the back-yards of car enthusiasts Russell Hooper and Warwick Tweedy.
Ten days ago, I visited the same two people, and talked to them about that very same car- building project, ten years later, and what an eye-opener that was! Things have certainly changed!
The T Car was the product then, and is still the product now, though it is now in its fifth series, and has been considerably developed over these past ten years of production. Russell and Warwick have now sold over 250 T Cars, mostly in kits for self-assembly, though a few cars have been sold in built-up state.
I took a short drive in the latest version of the T Car, and was impressed by the standard of finish and the general air of quality achieved in this enjoyable little sports car. As you can see from the accompanying photos, the T Car is styled to resemble the last of MG's 'traditional' Midgets, the TF-series of 1953 to 1955. If you want a look at the real thing, our sister magazine Australian Classic Car Monthly featured the TF in its December 1994 issue. The T Car is not intended as a replica or clone of the real TF Midget; it differs in many important details, but succeeds very well in capturing the spirit, style and stance of the earlier car, while offering modern standards of cockpit room and ease of driving.
The mechanical layout of the latest series T Cars is based on a strong steel chassis, design- checked by automobile engineer Richard Wong, and fitted with Vauxhall Viva HC or LC/LJ Torana front and rear ends; the engine is a 100 to 110 bhp Nissan ohc four cylinder engine of 1800 or 2000 cc from Nissan Skyline or Sylvia cars, coupled to a five-speed gearbox.
First built back in 1984, the T Car used the then easily available Triumph Herald running gear and componentry, long favourites with the kit car movement for lightness, ease of access and reliability, but a couple of years ago, Russell and Warwick moved to building their own chassis, and changed to the GM components as noted above.
The GM front suspension offers good geometry, standard disc braking, ease of rebuilding, and good parts supply, and the coil-sprung solid rear axle is well located with radius arms to offer predictable handing. Safety requirements, such as split-circuit braking and collapsible steering column, built in by design to the Viva/Torana gear, are now part of the specification. Building their own jig-built chassis has also allowed Russell and Warwick to build in suitable standards of strength, side-impact resistance, rust resistance and occupant safety to match Australian Design Rules (ADR), which the old Herald chassis could not do. Seat belt mountings and side-impact protection are built in from the design stage.
The glass-fibre panel work surprised me with its very high standard of solidity and surface finish. Russell and Warwick have set up their own body-building factory, in fact, to allow them to achieve these high standards consistently, and their work is so well- regarded in the business that other component car builders such as Chevron, Lynx and Fraser use the T Car facility for much of their fibreglass work.
"We specialise in automotive glass-fibre." says Russell, "and do repair work on Daimler SP250s Reliant and other fibreglass body shells for classic car owners, as well as building new shells to exacting standards. "Specialisation in the field is the key to doing it right - we don't do boat bodies, for example, just cars, and we do them right!" Warwick spoke about the supply of spare parts, and all the period-style small fittings and fixtures which so enhance the style of the car. As an agent for Moss, respected supplier of sports car fittings, he knows well what is available. and is able to choose componentry which looks good, lasts well, and will continue to be available for spare part supply. He stresses that everything that goes to make up the T Car, from major mechanical parts, chassis frames, big or small panels, to all the small items, is available from spare parts stock, at very reasonable prices, for replacement in the event of accident damage or for rebuild requirements. What does all this add up to for T Car owners? Quite a pleasant package, in fact as the current T Car is a well-developed design, which performs in very lively fashion, holds the road well, runs reliably through use of standard off-the-shelf mechanical units, and is built strongly enough to hold up to high mileages.
As a kit, it is easy to build, and once running, it is cheap and easy to maintain, and offers a sense of style and fitness for purpose. Is it a classic? Should NZ Classic Car even b featuring it in Its pages? Russell and Warwick think so: they have no doubt that their product is as well made as most accepted classics, looks as good, drives as well if not better, is much more practical, offers exclusivity to its owners, and has proved itself to be a durable product that holds its value well. All these are attributes of a traditional classic, but what the T Car cannot offer is the established "magic of a name"! Time only can give a make this sort of acclaim. If an owner can accept this shortfall, the T Car's builders claim that they are supplying a modern "classic". Perhaps time will prove them right.
Even now, they have clocked up ten years in the business, and have done a fine job of developing and refining the T Car; in the difficult world of component car building, this is quite an achievement in itself. An enthusiastic coterie of T Car owners has formed a T Car Club, with a current membership of 150 - from a production of 250 cars, this implies a loyal and well-satisfied clientele.
Now, Russell and Warwick have got a six- cylinder car, the Swallow, on the road, running very nicely, and about to go into small-scale building. Perhaps this will be their next success story! Time will tell, but if the T Car's builders' dedication to improving their product has anything to do with it, the Swallow will succeed, just as the T Car has done. Good luck to them!
David Cass NEW ZEALAND CLASSIC CAR January 1995
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