AL­MAC

CLU B S P R I N T X L

New Zealand Classic Car - - Kits & Pieces -

when it comes to out­right per­for­mance, the Clubsprint is faster, stronger, and — as you’d ex­pect of a mod­ern ve­hi­cle — more re­li­able. How­ever, the big­gest change from the leg­endary 7 is to be found un­der the skin, with the Al­mac’s all-round in­de­pen­dent sus­pen­sion al­low­ing it to con­vinc­ingly out­handle an orig­i­nal Lotus.

While the Clubsprint XL is no porker, it does weigh rather more than an old Lotus 7 — S3 orig­i­nals weighed in at around 500kg, while the Al­mac tips the scales at 680kg. A rea­son­able chunk of this ex­tra weight comes from the in­de­pen­dent rear end that is un­bolted from a donor Mazda MX-5 and at­tached to the Clubsprint chas­sis. The beauty of this ar­range­ment is that it makes putting to­gether the car’s rear end rel­a­tively easy for the home as­sem­bler, and, as the Ja­panese unit is a solidly built item, it should prove re­li­able in ser­vice. in the footwell, where there was ac­tu­ally room for my feet, even with street shoes on.

Com­fort­ably seated, I was also pleased to see that the car’s in­te­rior fin­ish is to a very high stan­dard, the yel­low and black colour scheme com­ple­ment­ing the car­bon-fi­bre dash­board, adding to the de­tail­ing that has ob­vi­ously gone into our test car.

Those wish­ing to pur­chase an Al­mac Clubsprint XL as a kit will also need to buy a donor MX-5 but, on the plus side, the use of a sin­gle donor car means that it can also pro­vide mod­ern items such as in­stru­ments and steer­ing-wheel stalks, all of which can be car­ried through into the Al­mac, keep­ing time-con­sum­ing fid­dling about to a min­i­mum. Re­tain­ing the MX-5 ri­fle-boltac­tion gear­box, mo­tor and dif­fer­en­tial en­sure that the Clubsprint has an en­tire drivetrain work­ing in har­mony. As well, it makes this car very cheap to put to­gether, as the builder does not have the has­sle of cre­at­ing wiring looms or set­ting up com­put­ers, given all the MX-5 com­po­nents can be used — and the Mazda’s speedome­ter, tachome­ter, and gauges do not need ad­just­ing ei­ther.

It goes with­out say­ing that uti­liz­ing a mod­ern donor car in this man­ner means that

on­go­ing main­te­nance should be a breeze, with plenty of easy-to-get parts.

Away from the car’s oily bits, even if you take a close look at the Al­mac’s ex­te­rior pan­els, you won’t im­me­di­ately re­al­ize that they’re not painted but in­stead coated in the gel­coat that came with the pan­els as they were lifted from the moulds. Quite ob­vi­ously, Al­mac has learned a lot about glass-fi­bre pro­duc­tion (af­ter all, it has been do­ing it since 1971), and this ex­pe­ri­ence shows in the high-qual­ity fin­ish of our test car’s pan­els, so good are they that paint­ing is not re­quired.

An­other thing I re­ally liked is what Al­mac has done with the Clubsprint’s roof. Get­ting in and out of th­ese types of cars with a soft top in place gen­er­ally re­quires the flex­i­bil­ity of a chim­panzee, while reg­u­lar use will re­quire own­ers to have a chi­ro­prac­tor on speed dial! How­ever, Al­mac has gone some way to solv­ing this prob­lem by cre­at­ing a sort of Targa roof that un­zips to the middle so that you can step over the side of the car and into the cock­pit rel­a­tively eas­ily. It works great — but, if it’s rain­ing heav­ily, you’d have to be quite sharp about hop­ping aboard and zip­ping back up!

7 heaven

Af­ter ad­just­ing the Al­mac’s driver seat (yes, it is ad­justable) and putting the car into first gear, I knew I was in for a treat — at this point, I should ad­mit to be­ing some­thing of a closet MX-5 fan.

With the twin-cam en­gine bur­bling away, I made my­self com­fort­able in the Al­mac, and at this point could re­ally only find fault with the po­si­tion of the steer­ing wheel, which I thought is a bit low, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for taller driv­ers to see all the speedome­ter and tachome­ter. A mi­nor fault, and one that Al­mac tells me is re­stricted to the car I had been given for our road test — this be­ing the pro­to­type Clubsprint XL. All pro­duc­tion cars have their steer­ing wheels raised by at least 20mm, eas­ily cur­ing the prob­lem.

With that small gripe put aside, I let out the clutch, and, with a slight chirp from the rear tyres, we were off — and I was quickly made aware of the power-to-weight dif­fer­ence be­tween the Al­mac and the orig­i­nal donor car. An MX-5 weighs in at 970kg, al­most 300kg heav­ier than the Clubsprint and, as you can imag­ine, that con­sid­er­able weight sav­ing means the Al­mac ac­cel­er­ates and pulls like a train.

As ex­pected, han­dling is su­perb — go­ing quickly around cor­ners is what this car is built for, and, in this area, it ex­cels. Driv­ing along Greys Road, near Porirua, there are some tight flat cor­ners that the car took eas­ily, and, while I was ex­pect­ing a bit of spine com­pres­sion due to a stiff sus­pen­sion, the Al­mac’s ride proved to be sur­pris­ingly com­pli­ant. This is one well­sorted car.

Cruis­ing around Welling­ton’s pic­turesque bays, the Mazda en­gine made all the right sounds, and it was a plea­sure to play tunes by cog­ging up and down the gear­box. Like a boy scout, I’m al­ways pre­pared, and had brought earplugs with me for the test drive — but they were not re­quired. The gen­tle pops and crack­les from the ex­haust on the over-run, fol­lowed by the sound of a true sports car en­gine growl­ing un­der load, is some­thing best ex­pe­ri­enced first-hand — only then can you ap­pre­ci­ate the thrill of driv­ing this car. The steer­ing wheel moved quickly from lock to lock, giv­ing plenty of feed­back and mak­ing this an easy ve­hi­cle to point and squirt.

Head­ing up the straights to Para­pa­raumu, the car felt set­tled, at le­gal speeds the en­gine note was not ob­tru­sive, and I felt pleas­antly re­laxed and aware that I could quite eas­ily drive this car all the way to Auck­land, con­fi­dent that it would make it and be a real hoot on the way.

Af­ter a great day out, it was with re­luc­tance that I handed the Al­mac’s keys back, and, later, as I looked back at my time in the car, I re­al­ized that it was ev­ery­thing it is sup­posed to be. Dur­ing the week, it could be driven eas­ily to work and, at the week­end, it would be just as at home on the race track. There may be no such thing as a prac­ti­cal 7, but Al­mac’s Clubsprint XL comes the clos­est to that ideal out of all the many and var­i­ous Lotus 7 looka­likes I have driven. The car’s de­sign is well thought out, es­pe­cially the way the soft top opens to al­low easy ac­cess, and the fi­bre­glass pan­elling is easy to re­pair or re­place, while the qual­ity of the gel­coat fin­ish means that the builder can avoid the ex­pense of paint­ing.

Want to know more about the Al­mac Clubsprint XL? Visit the web­site at al­mac.co.nz.

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