CLU B S P R I N T X L
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!
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.