Racing around in a Mini-Me
Harrington’s low-cost cars are small and timid enough to stage a mini Grand Prix in your backyard
THE Harrington Group’s half-scale cars have been around for 13 years, with the entire fleet of classic look-alikes being completely re-engineered two years ago and a new level of sophistication added to the designs.
These are not cheap toys, however, with the base race car starting at £6 995 — about R135 300.
The latest release of a two-thirds scale 1960s Lotus 25 F1 lookalike could prove to be much more than just an exquisite toy for the wealthy though.
For compared to a “grown up” race car, these pintsize models are low cost and they could form the basis for a whole new sport with more relevance than karts. For there’s something very endearing about a half-scale car that attracts the fans, and they are small and timid enough to stage a mini Grand Prix in your own backyard.
If you need to convince the boy’s mother, tell her these wee cars make an ideal initial experience for a child to develop a first-hand relationship with inertia, momentum, yaw and traction when the human learning system is at its most receptive and can be calibrated for life.
Those childhood lessons don’t just apply to going racing, because like riding a bicycle, once the skills have been imprinted on the brain at an early age, you’ll never forget what to do when your car starts to get sideways on a wet or icy public road several decades hence. Think of it as an insurance policy for your beloved “works replicas”.
They also make a very good investment. Harrington’s older cars regularly fetch far more at auction than they did new. That’s mainly due to people being unaware that unlike the aforementioned full-scale exotica which was only produced in limited quantities many decades ago, the Harrington Group still produces half-scale cars and has significantly upgraded the sophistication of the newer product compared to the slightly older go-kart-based cars which regularly appear at auction.
The company’s founder Nathan Redfearn began building go-karts as a kid in the UK, progressing through professional classic car restoration to the manufacture of kit cars before selling out his kit car company and beginning the current enterprise, Harrington.
The company manufactures classic car parts, interior refurbishment kits for classic cars, plus the junior cars. Along the way, the group’s manufacturing base became located in Vietnam.
“I built my first go-kart when I was 10, with the help of the local blacksmith in rural Pembrokeshire in Wales”, said Redfearn. “From there, I started building and restoring cars and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Harrington’s stainless steel retro-car bumper business began first and resulted from Redfearn’s years of experience restoring classic cars and recognising the opportunities in the marketplace. “Buying bumpers for classic cars was either very expensive or impossible before we started production of our stainless steel bumpers,” he told us. “You will never see a Citroen DS with rusty bumpers or a Rolls Royce with a rusty grille because those parts were made on the original vehicles from stainless steel, so we chose to make our bumpers in stainless steel too.
“In 2002, we invested in the presses and tooling to produce stainless steel bumpers, and we now produce bumpers for over 300 classic cars plus kick plates, headlights housings, grills, and even fuel tanks, and the classic parts business has grown exponentially,” he continued. “We’re now shipping more then 300 sets of bumpers every month and as the interest in classic cars grows, so does our business.”
It all started when he bought his nephew a rather expensive half-scale Mercedes. “I drove home with it in the back of the truck, constantly looking over my shoulder at it and thinking about how this and that could be improved, and by the time I got home, I knew I could do much better than the car I’d just bought.
“When I moved to Vietnam, I started restoring scooters and cars and making parts for classic cars and I then began building the scaled cars too, hoping that one of the endeavors would work. Surprisingly, they all worked and we’ve experienced increasing success every year for the last 13 years.”
As Redfearn has found, the half-scale car market is something like the McDonalds food business in reverse. Whereas children are the invisible drivers of business for the fast food chain, adults are the primary force behind buying decisions in the scale car marketplace.
In 2010, Redfearn decided to stop producing first generation models, as it had become too costly. “I can remember having a conversation with my cousin about the decision, and he was so passionate in arguing that ‘you can’t stop producing them’ because they were so beautiful and gave so much joy to children and … then luck played a role.
“No sooner had we made a decision to stop the production than the very next day one of the tech blogs in the United States, Like Cool, ran an post about our cars and other blogs started to pick the story up and it went viral,” said Redfearn.
“We were suddenly getting over 200 enquiries a day. Inside a few weeks of those stories, we had two years of confirmed orders. Obviously that changed our perspective, so we decided to completely redesign the cars so they could be what we’d always wanted them to be — much more sophisticated technologically — yet design them so we could make them more affordably.”
Currently, the Harrington Group produces four models based on the new model architecture it has developed: the Cobra 289 (which looks for all the world like Shelby American’s classic 289 ci AC Cobra), the 250 California Spyder (which looks just like a Ferrari GT 250 California Spyder), the GB Spirit (an Aston Martin DB5 comes to mind) and the XK120 (with the gorgeous traditional lines of the Jaguar XK120).
All four of the car-based models use the same chassis, with sophisticated suspension that is fully-adjustable independent at both ends. The cars all have a limited slip diff, vented dual pot Brembo disc brakes front and rear and aluminum wheels and 12 volt electrics. A 5 kW, 120 cc four-stroke motor made by Loncin or Lifan can power the about 200 kg cars to 72 km/ h.
“For those who are starting out a young child in their first car, the engines can be restricted in power at the factory, or a 70 cc motor can be installed, which is quite a bit slower,” said Redfearn.
The engine and gearbox unit sourced from Loncin/ Lifan uses a three-speed (plus reverse), semi-automatic transmission with a sequential gear change and is employed by a number of manufacturers in producing quad bikes. There is even a spare wheel in the boot.
Redfearn is now concentrating on bringing one of his pet projects to life: the two-thirds-scale Lotus 25 F1 car.
“Our aim was to produce a new class of racing car,” he said.
“I wanted to create something similar to a kart in terms of size and cost, but something far more relevant to the real world than a kart which has no suspension, a solid rear axle, no diff, no gears, rudimentary brakes and clutch … karts really have very little in common with a real racing car.”
Unlike karts, the F1 car is blessed with four-wheel disc brakes with four-pot calipers (with dual circuit, bias-adjustable hydraulics), fully-independent and fully adjustable suspension on each corner, limited slip differential and Harrington even developed its own cross-ply tires to enhance the sixties-style handling characteristics.
Redfearn leaves me in no doubt as to what they handle like. He’s a classic car constructor and aficionado and when he discusses the drivability of the cars, the passion shines through.
“Compared to a real kart, they’re heavy and underpowered in standard form, but with the handling, suspension and brakes, they’re often much faster around a rough circuit. The road cars all drift beautifully, but the HG F1 car is another level again. It’s a thoroughbred with balance and feel. It’s exactly what we set out to create.” — Gizmag.
Talking to Nathan Redfearn leaves me in no doubt as to what they handle like. He’s a classic car constructor and aficionado and when he discusses the drivability of the cars, the passion shines through.
The first generation of Harrington’s half-scale cars in front of Vespa scooters help put the size of the cars into perspective.