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Why a Replica

By Alex McDonaald

Why do some kit car manufacturers produce replicas of famous cars and some manufacturers produce original designs?

Is it because the replica is easier?  Basically most of the thinking has already been done.  This in true in the case of the Lotus 7 where some manufactures copied the design down to the last nut and bolt, also in the case of many Cobra, Porsche and Lamborghini replicas the bodies are made from moulds which were taken off an original car.  In producing a replica of a Cobra, Lotus 7 and an early MG, the manufacturer hasn’t to worry about creature comforts like heaters, wind up windows or even any windows and, in the Lotus, no doors!

Why I think the replica is so popular is because the owner/builder wants a car that is recognisable, one that they have admired or wanted since they probably became interested in cars.  Worldwide, the replica type of kit is the biggest seller, especially the Lotus 7 and Cobra.

It is interesting to note that the first phase of special/kit car building in Britain and to a lesser extent, New Zealand was in the late 1950’s when fibreglass bodies became popular fitting them mainly to Ford 10 chassis or specialist chassis like the Buckler.

All of these were original designs. I cannot think of any that were replicas, some were influenced by the sports car of the day but none were direct copies.

Then from the early 1960’s to the early 1970’s the industry went very quiet, it then stirred again with a rash of VW powered cars, cars like the beach buggies, the Stirling in America which became the Eureka in Australia. There were, also in America, VW based MG TD’s and Bugattis.

So we come to Almac Reinforced Plastics Ltd. Which I established in 1971 manufacturing fibreglass products.  A diverse range of products has been made over the years but a consistent theme has been the manufacture of automotive components. This interest stems from those early sixties when I built my first fibreglass bodied special.

It was in 1976 that I decided to build a car, with the idea of producing bodies, using a VW chassis.  The car was an original design but having a strong influence of the 1974 Lotus Elite and the Espirit. The plug and moulds were duly made and a body was produced, because I used a yellow gelcoat, the car was called the ‘yellow’ car; it never progressed to a name.  With other work commitments the car was never finished and the body was sold to a young man in the Hutt Valley.

In 1982 I decided to build another car. This was going to be loosely based on the Cobra, but as I got more and more into the project I decided to scrap everything and start again and make the body as exactly as I could to the Cobra 427 street competition shape.

After studying dozens of photographs and scaling up model plans, with the help of a good friend, George, I then drew up full size drawings and transferred these to sheets of particleboard flooring. I cut the main contours of the body, and then assembled them into an egg box construction.  Filling in the gaps then covering it with a good layer of body filler, I made the Cobra shape.  After almost a year went by the plug was finished, moulds were made and a body produced, painted and put on wheels and trailered to the National Hot Rod meeting at Masterton, Easter 1984. From then until the present day, the 427SC has sold well. I was never 100 percent enthusiastic about copying a shape, in this case a Cobra, as I like original design, but the business reality is that the replica does sell.  Interesting to see that one of the biggest selling Cobra replicas kits sold in America is made in South Africa.

To cater for the marketing and selling of the car Almac Cars was formed.

The next car in the stable was the TC, a traditional type of sports car loosely based on the MG TC/TD, it used a Triumph Herald chassis and mechanicals, this evolved to the TG Roadster which was basically the same body shell but used a custom made chassis and Gemini mechanicals.

In 1990 with steady sales of the 427SC and the TG Roadster project Sabre was started.  The design brief for the Sabre was that it could be used every day wet or fine, the body shape was to be an original design, not a replica, using a space frame chassis and the mechanicals from a popular donor car.

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The first prototype was registered in 1994; the design used a Cortina Mk 4 as a donor car.  Motive power came from an all alloy V8 engine from the Leyland P76.

At the present time the Sabre body is getting a major facelift, the chassis redesigned for a new and in house developed front suspension combined with  Jaguar rear suspension, engines will be Commodore V6 or Lexus V8.

The latest car in the stable is the Clubsprint XL, a development or our Clubsprint. These cars are similar in shape to the Lotus 7, the XL denoting a slightly larger car all round. The aim is to supply a basic kit for someone to build a low cost car giving them the choice of size to fit both their own physical attributes and that of the intended power source, where they can make their own parts or buy them from us.