DOODLE TO REALIT Y
WHEN ROBIN HARTLEY BEGAN DOODLING IMAGES OF HIS DREAM CAR, LITTLE DID HE KNOW THAT HE WOULD S TUMBLE ACROSS THE REAL THING
Whilst browsing through Trade Me in 2009, Robin Hartley caught the car builder’s bug. He spotted an unfinished Ferrari P4 replica for sale — unfortunately it proved to be out of his reach, and was eventually purchased and finished by Brenden Van Schooten (see New Zealand Classic Car August 2015).
So it was back to the drawing board, literally, as Robin started doodling his dream car on paper, refining his designs by regularly browsing websites such as madabout-kitcars.com. He did not know if he had the skills to build a car from scratch, but dreaming about it took no skill at all. He never expected to come across a car almost exactly like the dream car he had been sketching, but during one of his browsing sessions, that is exactly what he found. Apart from the car’s identity, there was no information. All he knew was it was called a Pelland/kudos. His interest was piqued — it was time to do some sleuthing. Robin spent the next few weeks trying to track down its owner. As the car was based in England, it was quite a difficult process. Starting with Mad About Kit Cars, he followed the trail that eventually led him to voodoosportscars.com. Using this website, he managed to make contact with Graham Boulter, the owner of the car.
Knowing that the bodywork is the most difficult part of the car to create, Robin hoped there was an opportunity to obtain one. Sadly, Graham was not in the business of making bodies, his car was purely a racing car. He was not prepared to strip it down to point where a mould could be taken off it, but he happened to have an unfinished Pelland, stashed somewhere at the back of his farm.
Graham’s car was actually called a Kudos, and had been built by Square One Developments Ltd. It was one of about five kits produced between 1992 and ’95. The car had been the brainchild of Peter Pellandine, a well-known figure in the English kit-car world. His first creation was the Ashley 750/Falcon MKI, sold here during the late ’50s as the Tiki and Puma. Another was the Falcon MKIII, one of the UK’S best-selling kit cars, with around 2000 sales (an interesting aside is that the Falcon MKIII was designed in Gisborne, NZ, with the help of Jim Mcculloch).
Until the late ’70s Peter was churning out car after car. The Pelland Sports, a car that would eventually evolve into the Pelland, was designed while he was living in Australia. Although some were sold in Australia, most were produced and sold in England upon his return, in 1978. After the Pelland, Peter took a break from car design, and it was 10 years before breaking the world steam car speed record tempted him back to the drawing board. Breaking world records is not cheap — Peter needed money to fund his attempt, and the best way to make money was to design and build cars. Which conveniently brings us full circle to Robin’s car.
To fund the attempt, Peter modified the fibreglass monocoque car he was building for the steam land speed record to take Alfasud parts, and called it the Pelland Coupé. The styling of the original Pelland Sports was updated, and a roof was added. Peter built at least two of these cars before selling it as a complete project to Square One Developments. Square One chopped off its chisel nose and called it the Kudos.
Robin’s car had been sold as a kit, by Peter Pellandine, to another Mr Hartley. Now what are the chances of that? Robin has a copy of the handwritten letter from Peter to Mr Hartley explaining why he had not had time to take photos of the finished prototype, as he was in the process of performance tuning it for Brands Hatch. This was during April of 1989, and leads me to believe that Robin’s car was the second Pelland Coupé.
Now that he knew the back story, Robin was more than smitten with the car. Well, apart from the chisel nose of the Pelland Coupé. He preferred the Kudos nose that was on Graham’s car, so he asked him if he was interested in taking a mould of the front of his Kudos. Fortuitously Graham had created the mould already, as he knew from experience that racing in high-speed events would result, at some stage, in damage to the front of the car.
Before he committed to buying it, Robin wisely investigated how easy it would be to get a fibreglass monocoque car certified as road legal in New Zealand. The car only had four kilograms of steel in it, and he was not looking to buy an expensive garden ornament. Fortunately he contacted the Constructors Car Club, which was very familiar with this type of car. Once assured that the build was feasible, the deal was done. The rolling car, along with a freshly moulded replacement nose, arrived in New Zealand in May 2011.
Robin set about prefabricating the parts he knew from talking with the Constructors Car Club that he would have to replace. The front and rear wishbones were up first, as they had been made from steel with too light a gauge, and braze welded. Before he could start, he drew up the design for the new wishbones, and submitted them to LVVTA for approval. The old wishbones were used as the template for the new drawings. Some minor modifications had to be made, but Robin says it was not a very difficult task. He added, “People thinking of importing a kit from the UK or overseas should contact the manufacturers and get them to send the relevant drawings out with the kit”. As the Pelland had been out of production for many years, he was not able to do that. Finally he says, “Having a friendly certifier on board at the start of the process is critical for a successful outcome.”
The next issue was getting hold of a donor car to provide most of the running gear and mechanical parts needed to finish the project. Peter Pellandine had opted to use the Alfasud/33, with the engine and drivetrain mounted mid-chassis and driving the rear wheels. After visiting Graham Boulten in 2012, Robin knew that he had to have the Alfa 1700 motor, as it had superior performance to its siblings. Once back home he purchased a 1990 Alfa Romeo 33 with a 1700 quad cam motor and a five-speed gearbox. For the dashboard, he preferred the Alfa 156 recessed cluster over the single Alfa 33 binnacle.
The windscreen that came with the body was a major problem, as it had started to delaminate and could not be used. The original had come from a Saab 900, cut down to fit. It took a while to find a good windscreen, as Saab 900s are not as common in New Zealand as they are in the UK, but eventually he was able to find one that had the right tint, along with a couple of shabby examples sourced from Pick-a-part.
Glass cutters that he approached to cut the windscreens to size did not want to know about it, so after watching how it was done on Youtube, Robin decided to do it himself, starting with the shabby ones as practice. Hoping that he would only break two of the three windscreens, he cut them as per the video. His success rate was 100 per cent, with none of them breaking. From that point on, Robin says the rest of the build was relatively straightforward. Well, there was the issue of the gearstick being in the wrong place. Repositioning it took a bit of thinking about, but now it works a treat.
Certification of a car is always a worry, and during the build Robin’s car was checked four times. The first check left him with a long list of changes and adaptions to be made, but all were solvable, and even managed to sort out a few squeaks and rattles that Robin had been chasing. He has no complaints about the process. It added a bit more challenge to the build and gave him a better car, so in the end it was a win-win situation.
His car has been on the road since January 2017. Robin says that its handling is exemplary, similar to the Lotus 7 but with a roof, and consequently a lot less wind blast. With its mid-engine layout it has a good weight distribution, with 40 per cent on the front wheels and 60 per cent on the rear. Getting in and out can make for a bit of a contortion, but once inside, there is a surprising amount of room. It has been painted in British Racing Green, the same colour being used on latemodel BMW Minis. With a height just 51mm more than a GT40, the car has a very low centre of gravity. Robin was very impressed with the way it performed at a recent Manfeild Track Day.
Total build time was six years, mainly because some problems took longer to figure out than expected. These days he is enjoying driving his dream car, which started life as a doodle on a bit of paper. Already, Robin is planning further refinements to the car, as well as taking it on holiday with his wife.
Left: The first picture that Robin saw of his future car Right: Robin with the Pelland shortly after its arrival in New Zealand — at this stage it still has the old chisel nose