Hertford-based Dowsetts enables Memory Lane trip in self-built Tipo184
Recalling the halcyon days of the kit car era, reports Iain Robertson, may provide scary memories of scored knuckles, fearsome electrics and inimitable fire risks, yet innumerable DIYers have been converting light vans in their driveways without fuss!
Around 70 years, a burgeoning British enterprise existed as a way to avoid paying taxes on new cars. The kit car arena was in full swing, with brand names such as Lotus and Marcos prevalent among other sporting and, now, largely forgotten marques. While Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus Sportscars, was more interested in going F1 racing than building road cars, his home-built, Elan chassis/body kits provided sporting mobility to both weekend racers and sportscar lovers.
Naturally, the VW Beetle-based ‘beach buggy’ scene took off during the hippy era, reliant on (often) poorly moulded glassfibre tubs ready to bolt onto the flat VW platforms. However, changes in Construction & Use legislation led to a virtual ban on kit cars, although SVA (Single Vehicle Approval) that demanded an official inspection could enable self-built projects to take to the highways, although VAT, as opposed to the earlier New Car Tax, would apply without rebate.
More recently and seemingly excited by the advent of electrified vehicles, a plethora of largely bespoke and stupidly expensive hypercars have entered automotive consciousness. Those that are not electrified, with some of them emerging from the large carmakers’ halls of remembrance, are like a last-ditch memory-jerk, with exotic power-plants and quarter of a million Pound price tags (at least!). Unsurprisingly, they appeal to the rich classic car set, in a scene that is epitomised by telephone number unaffordability. Combining both talents (classic cars and electrification) is the latest money-grabber for a strictly limited few.
However, the world’s best-selling sportscar, the Mazda MX-5, lends itself ideally to a rebirthing exercise. Inevitably, a percentage of them occupies piles of recovered vehicles in authorised scrapyards not just in the UK, which makes the two-seater accessible for cost-effective component and even complete running-gear raiding. Now, imagine rehousing MX-5 engineering, within an evocative, 1950s, single-seat, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, or Ferrari-type alloy body and ‘superleggera’ tube-chassis. All of a sudden, painted in an appropriate shade of Rosso Red, French Blue, Swedish Yellow, or British Racing Green, with race number roundels, the potential of circuit racing and hero emulation reaches fever pitch and all for the princely and veritable bargain sum of £16,700 plus VAT (20%, where applicable).
British classic car specialist and bespoke car builder (through its Faeger sub-division), Dowsetts Classic Car Co, from Hertford, was inspired by the cable-TV super-mechanic, Ant Anstead, who created his tribute to the Alfa 158 that won the first-ever World Championship, held at Silverstone Circuit, in 1950. The ‘starter kit’, which includes the chassis, body panels, seat, dash-panel and wiring, costs from just £9,499, to which customers can add a number of additional kits that are available to result in a complete car. You can check the details on the website tipo184.com.
Debuting in late-June at the London Classic Car Show, held at Syon Park, it pays clear homage to the Alfa Romeo 158, raced by the legendary driver Juan Manuel Fangio, and the Tipo184 evokes memories of one of the most successful race cars of all time. The brainchild of TV personality Ant Anstead (who is also a part-owner of Dowsetts), ‘imagineered’ by Darren Collins and brought to reality by a small team of enthusiasts at the company, the car uses typically the running gear from the second-generation Mazda MX-5/Miata, thus providing classic motorsport enthusiasts with an affordable route into single-seater racing. The entire vehicle has been designed to be built at home by an enthusiast with no specialist skills and comes in a series of kits. Fully built cars can also be ordered direct from Dowsetts, price on application, although, be warned, the number of available build slots in 2021 is reducing quickly.
While the original concept was mooted late last year, the Syon Park, Middlesex event has given a more public airing to Tipo184 and underscores an involving, fun and affordable route to single seater motorsport. Available globally, thanks to Dowsetts establishing local chassis-making possibilities, British Tipo184 owners will be able to take part in a new racing challenge, a mini-series, run in partnership with the British Racing & Sports Car Club (BRSCC). Billed as one of the most affordable single-seater race series in the world, it will commence as a UK-based set of track days towards the end of this year, prior to the racing proper, set to start in 2022. The planned race format for next season will consist of a 15-minute qualifying session, followed by two 15-minute races that will be hosted at major circuits across the UK. Plans are also afoot for similar format race series in both Europe and North America. However, Dowsetts is only too aware of the amount of irrepressible interest that will be shown from the Far Eastern markets, where the demand could be significant.
It should be noted that the Tipo184 is NOT a road-going machine. Yet, with a few pertinent and legal alterations, such as applying mudguards and both lighting and some weather protection, there is little to stop an enterprising home-builder from entertaining a more comprehensive and roadworthy reconstruction. With little more than access to a donor Mazda MX-5 and a modicum of car fettling experience, an enthusiast can live the dream of competing in a ‘classic’ racing car. A tow-car, perhaps a caravanette and trailer, will be a practical adjunct and the whole project will provide plenty of change from a £20,000 investment.