‘Brilliant fun’: UK automaker shrinks classic car for big spenders | Automotive industry | Daily News Byte

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BCars are hard to build, so when Ben Hadley started his business, he started small. To be precise, he started at 75% of the size. The little car company does what its name suggests, producing shrunken but drivable battery electric toy versions of full-size classics like Aston Martin and Ferrari.

Ben Headley, CEO of The Little Car Company
Ben Hadley. Photograph: The Little Car Company

The company has built its way to £10m turnover and 60 employees in four years almost by accident, says Headley, walking around the company’s workshop at Bicester Heritage, a converted Royal Air Force base in Oxfordshire that has been turned into a hub for classics. Car businesses. The company posted its first profit in the last fiscal quarter despite supply chain issues affecting automotive manufacturers big and small.

Replicas start at €36,000 (£30,800), which means they can only be attractive to the rich. But Hadley isn’t content with making small, expensive electric versions of big cars. The company is embarking on an ambitious, but quixotic, opposite endeavor: build a full-scale, road-legal version of the remote-controlled toy car that Hadley was popular as a child. By next summer it hopes to launch a stripped-back, electric off-road buggy for £15,000.

Headley, who worked as a retail consultant before becoming a repeat entrepreneur, stumbled upon the idea for the Little Car Company. He was importing cheap mini-replicas, but French carmaker Bugatti asked if he could come up with something better for the Geneva Motor Show. He saw a business opportunity when lovers later asked for one and got in touch.

Taking a spin in a Bugatti bike.
Taking a spin in a Bugatti bike. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

“We sold the concept and then we had to build the thing,” he says. “We thought, ‘Let’s go as authentic as we can.'”

He borrowed the original version of the car, an open-top Type 35 racecar first built in 1924, and set out to build it as close to the original as possible, but with a rule against fake exhausts.

Other cars followed: the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, designed using original blueprints, and the Aston Martin DB5 at two-thirds scale of the car made famous by Sean Connery in the James Bond spy film franchise. For the DB5 the company worked with the Bond filmmakers to replicate gadgets such as toy mini-guns and smoke machines like No Time to Die.

The hefty price tag means replicas will be out of reach for all but the wealthiest, but at Bicester Heritage Track it’s easy to see why wealthy car enthusiasts would consider shelling out thousands. With Headley – a former speed skier for Great Britain – at the wheel the Aston Martin DB5 replica looks almost sharp as he throws it round tight corners. Even with the Guardian’s slightly more restrained use of acceleration it doesn’t feel that far removed from driving a convertible electric car (if your head is stuck out of the sunroof).

Aston Martin DB5 Jr
Our reporter channels his inner Bond driving the Aston Martin DB5 Junior. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

From there comes the idea of ​​a full size car.

“We started thinking, we have this great powertrain,” says Headley. “It was a bit of a leap to make a city car. What if we take a small car and make it big?

The model he chose is the Tamiya Wild One, a remote-controlled off-road toy first released in 1985. The Little Car Company’s version will be 3.5 meters long, 1.8 meters wide and weigh around 250 kg – big enough to carry two people. Range should start at 50km (30 miles) depending on how many battery packs are installed – more than enough for the average commute in the UK.

A £15,000 price tag, if achieved, would put it in the range of kit car buyers. The little car company may never become a mass-market carmaker, but if it manages to make the wild One Max road-legal on non-motorway roads, the idea of ​​people using it for urban transportation doesn’t seem inconceivable. (Though probably in a warmer climate, considering it will be quite open to the elements). Cheaper, smaller, electric runarounds like the electric G-Viz or Citroen’s new cuboid Ami will become increasingly attractive as prices drop.

“This could be an alternative to jumping into a diesel SUV in the summer,” Hadley says of his prototype. “It’s brilliant fun. It’s just a completely different experience.”

Tamiya Wild One promo video from 1985.

He says building the Wild One Max is a lesson in how exquisitely modern cars are built. Air conditioning, large touch screens and electric seat adjusters add weight, and therefore additional carbon emissions and costs.

Starting his company in a pandemic and recession was “a bit of a challenging exercise,” he says. “Everything that could go wrong went wrong.” But he is unsure, and is trying to raise £10m in the company’s fourth investment round to get more space. Ultimately it wants to build “thousands” of cars a year.

“We want to show that electric cars can be fun and don’t have to be 1,000 horsepower and 2.5 tons,” he says.

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