Kit-cars have been a British phenomenon from the 1950`s until the present. The expression `kit-car` in modern times usually means a replica of an unaffordable classic car built using a more humble `donor-car`. They are very fashionable and have a great following. This is, in fact, a return to the original kit-cars of the 1940s and 50s. Most of those were built on Ford`s E93A chassis and using Ford engines and running-gear. These cars, usually with fibre-glass body-shells, were generally known as `Ford Specials`.
Between these two distinct genres came the 1960s kit-cars. A complete car, including nuts and bolts, delivered to the purchaser`s home in a variety of crates. There had to be a good reason for buying a car in `Lego-form` and there was, the dreaded Purchase Tax!
Purchase Tax, now called Value Added Tax (VAT), was payable on all cars but not, crucially, on a pile of bits that would make a car. That was the only saving for the customer. The price of the kit was usually the same as that of a complete car, less Purchase Tax. The customer saved the PT and the maker saved the labour costs of building it. To make life a little more difficult the government of the 1960s decreed that it was illegal to include an instruction manual with the kit. That changed in 1973 when the Government permitted instruction-manuals and at the same time, put VAT on kit-cars. VAT killed the kit-car stone dead!
There were many famous makers of kit-cars, Lotus, Marcos, Cox, to name but a few. Many car kits were based on a Mini donor-car and were cheap to buy and build. The client had the choice of either buying a complete kit (including engine and running-gear) or resurrecting his smashed Mini-Cooper and turning it into an interesting sports-car. Many did this and produced some very quick cars.
Most Lotus Sevens and Elans of 1960s vintage were kit-cars. The purchaser, with a couple of talented friends, could put a car together over a weekend. The Mini-based cars were also popular; Mini-Marcos, Cox-GTM and Mini-Gem were some of the best. There was one unique kit-car, however, the Clan Crusader. It was a late-comer to the market in 1971, unique because it was based on the Hillman Imp Sport saloon.
The Hillman Imp and it`s derivatives were rear-engined saloons manufactured by Rootes Group (later to be taken over and swallowed by Chrysler Europe). It was a very good car that never quite competed with the Mini. It`s all-alloy engine was a Coventry-Climax 875cc unit originally used to drive a fire-pump! Rootes modified it extensively and designed an aluminium-cased gearbox and transaxle to drive the rear wheels. The engine was mounted conventionally.
In 1971 Clan Cars, with a Government grant, opened a factory in Washington, County Durham, and began work. They sold the Crusader in `complete` and `kit-form`. The fuel-crisis, industrial disputes and several other aggravations gave the Clan a rough ride. Major problems were caused by the seemingly endless strikes at Rootes Group, suppliers of all the Hillman parts. The imposition of VAT in 1973 finally finished the company off. The factory finally closed in 1974.
The original Clan Crusader was built on a unit-construction chassis (not a monocoque as is usually and erroneously stated). This chassis was used for all the subsequent derivatives. The Imp Sport engine was an 875cc, single-overhead-camshaft (originally Climax) unit which, after extensive tuning had a compression-ratio of 10-1. The motor was all-alloy and mounted conventionally, not transverse, on a 4-speed gearbox/transaxle. Twin Stromberg CD carburettors were standard equipment.
The Clan Crusader had a sleek glass-fibre body shell, which was a 2-door FHC and very attractive apart from the strange headlights. At first-glance they appeared to be `pop-up` but they weren`t. The headlights were grafted into the bonnet, giving a `frog-eyed` appearance. The Crusader body was nicely finished otherwise.
The running-gear of the Clan Crusader was all Hillman Imp, coil and wishbone independent suspension all round with Imp Sport disc brakes on the front. Steering was by rack and pinion. The 875cc Imp Sport unit produced 51 bhp and 52ft/lbs of torque. The Crusader was capable of a top-speed of 100 mph and a 0-60 time of 12.5 seconds. Kerb-weight was only 578 kgs so the fuel consumption was very good. It was reported to be around 34 mpg (Imp). Only 315 Clan Crusader cars were sold in this particular incarnation.
Clan Crusader 1971-1974
|Body Type||2 seater Fixhead coupe|
|Drive Type||Rear wheel drive|
|Cargo Volume||Next to none|
|Engine||0.9 SOHC Hillman Imp (originally Climax)|
|Displacement||875 cc||53.4 cui|
|Power||38 Kw||51 bhp||6000 RPM|
|Torque||71 Nm||52 ft. lb||4200 RPM|
|Top Speed||161 km/h||100 mph|
|Acceleration||0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph||12 s|
|Fuel consumption||l/100 km||Imperial mpg|
|Gearbox||4 speed manual|
|Weight||578 kg||1274 lb|
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I was born in Hereford UK in 1948 and brought up in Gloucester UK. I played Rugby football internationally as a schoolboy. At the age of 17, a new and wet driving license in my paw, I entered motor racing. I was supported and financed by my parents and so my journey began.
In 1965 I bought a 1293cc Mini-Cooper `S` and campaigned it for a season. Having quickly made some good friends in the racing fraternity, several interesting opportunities came my way. I joined a sports-car team and raced in the Le Mans 24 hours in 1968 and 1969 in a Lola T70. Mechanical failure defeated both efforts. During that period I owned and raced a `D type` Jaguar and an AC Cobra. In those days cars like that were available and not too expensive, now they reside in museums and private collections. I had a chain of interesting cars through my youth including Jaguars, Minis, Mustangs and Lotus-Cortinas.
As a young driver I had my share of accidents too. Often the car would only be worth scrap-metal value by the time I got it home! I worked for an Aston-Martin/Jaguar dealership for a while, which enhanced my experience and gave me the opportunity to sample some very exotic machines, Ferrari, Facel-Vega, Iso and Maserati to recall a few of them.
At the end of 1969 I moved to South Africa to work on my uncle`s farm but the S.A. government had other ideas and drafted me into the army. After five years had passed I was thanked and released from the service. While I was there I bought a beige Cadillac Eldorado, previously the property of Marilyn Monroe. While I was away on a patrol my girlfriend had it re-sprayed pink! I was unimpressed by both the joke and the bill for the work!
When I returned to UK in 1974 I left it behind. On my return I found that the once-mighty British motor industry was in decline and was headed for oblivion. Motor racing was now very expensive so I turned to commercial transport. Driving large trucks gave me freedom and a chance to see some of the world. I don`t remember ever making a career choice but for the next thirty years a truck was my home. For about ten years in that period I owned two trucks of my own.
I also owned a famous MGB-GT, known as `Lucky`. If you`d like to read `The Story of Lucky` there is an article in Inopian`s archive. I finally retired, due to ill-health, in 2008. Since I had varied knowledge and many experiences on our subject I decided to share the stories of the cars I enjoyed (and hated) with the new generation.
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