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 Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING - STU RO­BARTS

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.

PHOTO: HAR­RING­TON GROUP

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.

PHOTO: HAR­RING­TON GROUP

The first gen­er­a­tion of Har­ring­ton’s half-scale cars in front of Vespa scoot­ers help put the size of the cars into per­spec­tive.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.