Pat Reports on Boys Day Out


I felt a strange sense of déjà vu when I found myself once again sitting in a van beside Alex McDonald heading off to set up a stand at a show in Hamilton. Of course there were differences as this time it was going to be at Mystery Creek rather than at Claudelands. The car on the trailer behind us was not the brand new first of its kind Almac Series 2 Sabre. Instead it was the brand new first of its kind Almac Clubsprint XL. There were similarities too like we would be staying at the home of our friend and very generous club member Geoff and his wife Jill. Once again we were grinding up hills being passed by every motorised vehicle built which was still as embarrassing as it was the previous occasion. A major difference this time was the fact that the van was pumping water out of its filler cap like it was going out of fashion which necessitated an even slower trip as we stopped regularly to fill it. It confirms my theory that trips with Alex are always an adventure and you can never be sure what is going to happen or go wrong next.

The name of this show was “Boys Day Out” and was very similar to the “Big Boys Toys” show that is held annually in Auckland each year. The Clubsprint would be the only New Zealand manufactured car on display and Alex had big hopes for its launch. When I arrived at the Almac factory at the designated departure time I was not expecting to leave until around 12 because two years earlier when I arrived I discovered that the Sabre was still being assembled, an operation that would continue throughout the following setup day in Hamilton. This time though, the Clubsprint was finished and could actually be driven onto the car trailer. The only element missing was Alex who turned up an hour or so later after doing some last minute jobs such as purchasing trailer tie downs.  I was pleasantly surprised to find us on the road by 10 O’clock and had the misguided expectations to arrive in Hamilton in daylight. Even the McMillan knew better and were not expecting us to arrive that early. Water problems and the fact that Alex thought that we should give every vehicle including mopeds the thrill of passing us so we arrived at the same time we had arrived two years previously. He called it free advertising as everybody that passed us would get a chance to see the car and write down the Almac website address clearly emblazoned on the back of the Clubsprint. I called it slow.

To help us find our way to the Geoff's house I had brought along my GPS and no other map as I smugly assumed that “Nesi”, an affectionate term I have given the female voice on my GPS, would navigate us there without any difficulty. Imagine my irritation when once on the road I unveiled Nesi to Alex and discovered that he had the only road worthy vehicle in New Zealand without a cigarette lighter. There was a hole in his dashboard and light that glowed in the dark to show you where to put the cigarette lighter but no there was no lighter and no socket wiring to plug Nesi into. Turning her on she sadly flashed her battery e H warning light at me. I decided to leave her off until we arrived in Hamilton in the hope that she would get us there before going flat. She didn’t make it but she got us to within one street of the Geoff’s place before giving Alex a dirty look and turning off.

Fortunately I had bought my cell phone charger which used the same socket as Nesi and the next day she was her normal perky self and successfully navigated us to a barn outside of Hamilton full of MX5 parts. We were here because person was probably the biggest source of wrecked MX5’s in New Zealand and possibly Australasia. As the Clubsprint was based on MX5 parts most of which had been sourced here Alex thought that it would be a good idea to visit and “press the flesh” as it were. Ross Campbell was a very pleasant fellow and knew everything there was to know about the MX5. There was no indication from the street that on this property was a huge barn with enough MX5 parts for Africa. Ross does all his trading through the Internet and sees no reason for the expense of signage. Those that want to come do so for a reason and tend to ensure that they knew their way to his property before leaving home. Few people know that it is now illegal to import the NA and NB (1990-2005) MX5’s into New Zealand now but there are sufficient cars in the country and people like Ross who will ensure that there is an ample supply of parts for at least a couple of decades yet. Ross happily showed us around his barn and discussed the range of aftermarket parts that are available for the MX5.

Builders of a Clubsprint could purchase a running donor car for between $2,000 and $4,000 depending on their required specifications. Builders could choose from the 1.6, 1.8, and 2.0 litre motors with a six or five speed gearbox. If that was not still not fast enough for them then they could re-chip the computer, turbo or supercharge the motor. The aftermarket add on bits that could be obtained from Japan are just too long to list here. Ross is even prepared to deliver the car to your door if you live in the North Island or to the ferry if you want to pick it up yourself from Picton. Of course the builder could always pay to ship it at their expense. Ross’s main trade is in panels as the car mechanically appears to be reasonably indestructible. However with Fraser cars, the T car and now the Almac  Clubsprint using MX5 bits he is doing very nicely, thank you very much. Of these cars the Almac uses the most parts of the MX5 and builders would find it much more economical to buy an entire MX5 as the donor car rather than buying the parts separately. Having a single donor car that requires few modifications makes it a far cheaper car to build when compared with it’s competition which are currently the Fraser in the north and McGregor in the south. The all up cost of a finished car should be between $20,000 to $25,000 dollars. During the show people who approached us that had previously built a 7 type car took a bit of convincing and had to be shown the numbers.

So what is the Clubsprint XL all about? Basically it is an evolution of the Ford Escort based Clubsprint. The rear suspension and drive train including wiring, computer, dash and steering all come out of the MX5. One advantage of it besides being a single donor car is that the MX5 has a wider track which meant the design of a totally new chassis to accommodate it. In effect the car has been scaled up to fit it so that the car does not look out of proportion with its Lotus 7 type styling. It is only when parked by other 7 type cars that this difference is obvious. The improvement in up-scaling the car is most evident in the cockpit. No longer is it the domain of the short and skinny as it can now fit people that are not only over six feet tall but it can also take those who are “fuller figured”. Alex has always believed that the best kitset cars to build are those that require one donor car that way the car can be built using an MX5 repair manual alongside the build manual that comes with the Clubsprint. The chassis can fit a Rover V8 but Alex believes that this is overkill for a car of this style especially with the huge range of four cylinder motors that can be fitted to this car.

Leaving the MX5 barn late morning we set off to Mystery Creek to setup our show. This year we would be displaying two cars, the Clubsprint XL which was already boasting three cars produced despite not being publically launched and the Almac 427SC which is now pushing 250 sales. This Cobra replica has been the mainstay of Almac Cars since its conception in the early eighties. Unlike most replicas the body was built up from scratch, whereas many other Cobra manufacturers purchase a body and then take a mould off it. Alex has already discovered another NZ builder selling kits sourced on a mould taken off one of his bodies. The British Racing Green car that we had on display was provided by Keith Lane of The Gearbox Factory who generously drove his car down from Tamaki in Auckland for us to display in the show.

Both cars were very popular at the show with the Clubsprint generating the most interest with its bright yellow and black livery. Even on the way north when we stopped in Bulls a car pulled up behind us. The young fellow that hopped out had been heading south when he spotted the car, turned around and then chased us until we stopped. Actually, considering the speed we were doing “chased” may have been too optimistic a word. He had purchased McGregor kit and was keen to talk to Alex about his. Still by the end of the show it appeared that Alex had sold two more cars with several others being very interested.

Getting back to the show there was a multitude of stands intended to amuse the big boy in all of us. Next to us was a Flight Simulator and about a dozen pool tables which had an ongoing competition throughout the weekend. Nearby were motorcycle stands demonstrating new bikes now coming out of China with a range of electric bikes scattered amongst them. One that impressed me was the bicycle that had a small electric motor attached to it. The bicycle can travel on electricity for about 20 kilometres on a single charge on the flat but requires human assistance to get up hills.

The second bike that impressed me was a Honda Goldwing powered tricycle. With its chrome and seemingly over the top add-ons it reminded me of the excesses of the ’59 Cadillac. It had everything from glove compartments, heated seats and handgrips to air conditioning. Speaking of Cadillac’s brings back memories of the metal automotive sculptures also at the show. While some Hot Rods are downright ugly these two cars reminded me of just how well some people can sculpture metal. I enjoyed the show with enough crowds to keep a steady flow past out stand.

On Sunday morning we went into Hamilton city to get a new radiator cap to fix our water problems. And on the way back found ourselves driving on the track that would be used this month for the V8 supercars street race. It would have been great apart from three things. Firstly is Alex was driving; secondly we were going the wrong way and thirdly we were doing it in a van. It  somehow was just not right.

Monday morning saw us leaving Geoff’s then heading to Mystery Creek to pack up and head home. Nesi showed us a new way home which enable us to skip all of Hamilton and most of Cambridge and undoubtedly would have shown us other shortcuts had her batteries been able to last more that four hours without a cigarette lighter to recharge with. Stopping at the Police weigh station between Bulls and Sanson, Alex was very worried that we could get in trouble for parking there and almost immediately two policemen began heading over to us. As it turned out one of them was the neighbour of Russell Appleton who just happened to be building a Series 2 Sabre. The second one was retiring in a couple of years; he had already built two cars and was looking for another project. Alex was immediately moving in to close the sale.

Another weekend in Hamilton and another Almac car launched. Only time will tell how well this car will fare but it is certainly off to a good start.