The world of kit-cars is wide, strange and multicolored. Here in Europe the market is almost dominated by British manufacturers that basically invented this kind of business. There are two kind of cars in this sector: replicas (many times almost only esthetical) of historic cars or track-day toy, made for racing and usually prohibitive on day-to-day life. Here on Letudrive we have already mentioned many of these brands (but more and more could be added at the list), showing how it is difficult to bring innovation in this field, usually because of the costs.
We have now the occasion to discuss a bit with the American “pied-à-terre” on the European market of kit-cars. We are talking about Freek Hammink, the Technical Manager and Co-owner of Hammink Performance, a Dutch firm with experience with American cars, that some years ago started to import in Europe products from Factory Five Racing. Freek had a six months experience at Hennessey Performance in Texas, before coming back to help his father Jan with the business. FFR is one of the most successful kit-car producer in the US and we will show you now why…
Can you tell us about the history of H. P., so how and why your company is born? How developed? How did you become the European official partner of Factory Five Racing?
We had been working on cars for a while, but were always looking for new possibilities in our market. One day we found Factory Five in a magazine, and we were really interested in building one of their cars. We went to visit their school and were trained to build these cars. After that, we went to visit the factory and we got so interested that, instead of buying one car, we bought four because we felt that we could sell them over here in Europe, and that is how a happy partnership started. Today we have sold over 40 kits in Europe.
Your products are various and different, from supercars to hot-road, but they all share a common spirit of American style and kit-car price. How would you describe this philosophy to people that are not used to it?
Factory Five started out with just the Cobra replicas. Given that their quality is so good, they started growing really fast. After introducing some more replica models, they now also fully designed and engineered some models theirselves like the GTM and the 818. The car culture is really big in the US, and everybody can work on the cars themselves, that is why that combination, as you describe it, works so well.
Can you sum up the different models that you produce and the concept behind each of them? Which is the most sold and appreciated by your customers?
The most sold would be the MK4 roadster (Cobra replica) and the '33 Hot Rod (Ford replica). They are the most known and appreciated in the American car culture. Than you will have the Type '65 (replica from the Shelby Daytona) which evolved from the MK4 (as back in the day in real life the Daytona evolved from the Cobra to win LeMans), the 818 is for the younger generation who just like to work and build on a fast and lightweight sportscar. The GTM is the high end version: it really is like a supercar! Also the price of the kit and parts is a lot higher than the other kits, so I think this is the most unique version they make.
Well, without focusing too much on historic car replicas, where style and emotional side are dominant, we can say something more about the 818 and the GTM. The 818 is available in a racing version (something like the Lotus 2-Eleven), an open version and a coupé one. It is based on the Subaru Impreza WRX from 2002-2007 (that can be used as a donor for components) and is a mid-engine two-seater sport car that you can order for less than 15.000$... if you have an hold Subaru to sacrifice. The name stands for the weight of 818 kg (and we appreciate the use of the metric system). At the end what you get is the tubular steel space-frame, the composite body, KONI suspension and steering, cooling and fuel system and few more things. But “less is more”, isn’t it?
The GTM, as it was said, is something totally different and almost unique: starting from 24.900$ (in the US), it takes main components from the Corvette C5, except for the Porsche 911 transaxle. You can get lost in reading the complete list of what this kit offers but Hammink Performance doesn’t supply the engine or the transmission. It was used as a testbed for the Capstone CMT-380, a prototype driven by an hybrid system with a small gas turbine and an electric motor.
You offer also racing versions of your cars. Are they just track-day cars or there are some racing series here in Europe where they can compete?
That is correct. They can be used in race series, however it may be so that some things like the roll-cage may have to be inspected or adapted before being accepted in a certain class. We do have FFR cars race in several different classes throughout Europe. Our dream is to start up a cup with just FFR cars somewhere in Europe, so we can have a real intense competition with all similar cars.
In Europe the kit-car market is dominated by many English brands. How the “American way” sustains this competition? What are your points of strength?
The English kits do not come even close to the American versions: they are all fairly weak, and the donors, they are based on, are usually cars with small 4 cylinders from which you use the brakes and suspension. You can imagine that, adding a powerful V8 to that, is not a smart or safe idea. FFR is based on a heavy and powerful donor, and because the end result is so much lighter, all the brakes and suspension are easily up for the job. That being said, FFR has very strong tubular chassis with strong passenger protections built into it, whereas in the English kits the ladder frames have a fiberglass construction, which is really fragile.
The Supercar GTM is almost an unique example on the market with just 50.000€ to buy it. The kit doesn't include the engine, so can you tell us which are the performances that this car can reach and, if you know, which engine do your customers prefer to use for it?
Just the kit is a lot cheaper than what you mention, but you can easily spend 60 to €70.000 to build a GTM. If professionally built by a company the prices can exceed 100.000€. The car outperforms many others supercars (the LS7 version did 0-60 mph (96,5 km/h) in 3.0s and ¼ mile in 11s, faster than the Murcielago SV), but it is also a pure drivers car with no add-ons like ABS, ESP, or any other electric gimmick. You have to drive the car yourself without any help from electronical systems. The engines installed in these things are mostly V8's varying from 400 to 600hp, but we have also seen 1000hp versions (one with 1200 hp has been made by Nelson Racing Engines).
The Italian market is very difficult for kit-cars because of very strict laws. Have you any Italian customer? How do you look at the Italian public?
Unfortunately not, we do not receive many Italian inquiries, maybe once a year. Therefore we also do not have any experience with Italian laws. All I can say is that we can help obtain a Dutch or German registration, in case that might help import these cars to Italy.
We know that there was a time when also in Italy this kind of cars were very appreciated. Now, meanwhile many British “garagists” are producing Italian-sounding cars inspired to glorious DeTomaso or similar, maybe we should explore more this so lively world.