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Connaught Recalled to Life

 

It seems that British car firms have all the perennial

tenacity of Japanese knotweed; no sooner is one

cut down thananother one springs up in its place.

AC, Lea Francis and Healey are three names that

appear to be long deceased but linger on in a state

of suspended animation. Nothing, it seems, can defy

the power of nostalgia. It would be easy to dismiss

the latest name to be resuscitated, that of Connaught,

but this time it is more than faith that is bringing life

after death. In fact, this is not really a revival but a

complete rebirth.

 

The original company, Connaught Engineering, was founded in the early 1950s as a racing car constructor. The name is redolent of the ancient IrishKingdom but is actually a pun on the name of the garage in Surrey were they were built, Continental Automobiles. This was started by Rodney Clark, a brilliant engineer but one also afflicted by a debilitating case of perfectionism.  The cars were painstakingly designed and meticulously prepared, which also meant that they were hugely expensive. Ideas that fell by the wayside due to a lack of time and resources include anti-lock braking and a monocoque, rear-engine F1 racer. Although Connaught gained immortality as the first British team to win a Grand Prix with a British driver, Tony Brook at Syracuse in Sicily in 1955, by 1959 the dwindling finances dragged the company to its much lamented demise.

 

The new firm, Connaught Motor Company, has only the name in common with the original although it is just as ambitious in its technical aspirations. This is not another nostalgic revival of a quaint old British marque but a bold attempt to take sports car design into an oil-starved future. Nor is it thrown together from borrowed components but designed from scratch with its own motive power. The company is building a new £12m home in Llanelli, South Wales, which will be its global headquarters for design and production. The Connaught Technical Centre is a £3.5m R&D facility, due to be finished in 2009. In the meantime the company is operating out of a temporary site in the same locality.

 

The first model to reach the market, the pugnacious Type-D GT Syracuse, is state of the art but in an orthodox way. The engine is a small but sophisticated 2 litre V10, supercharged to develop 300bhp. Running this power through a six speed automatic it will break 60mph in under 5 seconds and race on to speeds in excess of 150mph, averaging 22mpg in the process. It is thought that it will come in at around £35,000, which sounds like astounding value for money, and deliveries are due to start in early 2008. It is not, though, the most exciting story to come out of the factory; that is reserved for the Type-D hybrid.

 

The hybrid marries the V10 to an electric motor, resulting in a slightly blunted 0-60mph sprint of 6.2 seconds but delivering a positively parsimonious 42mpg. For those lumbered with a conscience there is no better way to burn off hot hatches on the way back from the organic grocery store. Both models are generating significant interest and the majority of the first production run of 100 cars is already spoken for. The next year should see production reach 250 units before levelling off at 1000 a year thereafter. Although in industry terms these are very low numbers the new models are highly effective technology demonstrators. It is likely that they will attract high value R&D work giving a Connaught and Wales a crucial, if largely confidential, role at the centre of the global industry.

 

 

 

A match made in Longbridge: MG and Healey are engaged

Nanjing Automobile (NAC), owners of MG, and Healey Automobile Consultants, owners of the Healey brand, have jointly announced their intentions to collaborate on the future development of the two brands and model strategies. Since NAC owns the Austin brand and Healey have licensed their brand to HFI Automotive this invites speculation on the rebirth of Austin Healey. This is not, though, the only possibility.

 

HFI has been making slow progress with its new Healey sports car. It is based on a still-born Scandinavian project that was originally proposed a decade ago by some Volvo engineers. The chassis was then passed on to Jösse Car, another Swedish firm, where it became the Indigo 3000 sports car, powered by a 3.0 litre six-cylinder Volvo engine. With a lightweight, two-seater body the car was said to break the 0-60mph sprint in 6.5 seconds and power on to 155mph. It appeared at the Stockholm show in 1997 and although it still has its own website it seems to have remained nothing but a unique homage to the Healey 3000 (www.jossecar.com/index.html).

 

However, as a homage to the Healey 3000 it naturally lent itself to the revival planned by Tim Fenna’s HFI Automotive. This should have resulted in a swift appearance in the market, most of the engineering work having apparently been done, but in fact there appears to have been little progress. Those who were persuaded to part with the £1000 deposit for one of the first batch have had no further information since a newsletter in March last year. It is very likely, then, that the deal between NAC and Healey is to bring this project to fruition, perhaps by having the Healey produced at Longbridge and sold through MG dealers. Beyond that, it would be rude to speculate.

 

 

 

COoking on Gaz

GAZ, the Russian automotive group and owner of the British van manufacturer LDV, has doubled its 2006 net profit over the year before. The profits for this year come in at around $230m on revenues of $4.5bn. The company is best known for its Volga medium sized cars, favourite transport for mid-ranking officials during the Soviet era. The company recently acquired the tooling and design rights to the obsolete Dodge Stratus with plans to expand the model range in place of the Volga. Since then the company has realised that there is still some life in the old Volga, giving it a light face-lift and sending it out into the ‘retro’ market sector.

 

GAZ is also known in the UK for its purchase of Britain’s only dedicated van producer, LDV. The British company had entered into a brief bankruptcy in December 2005 so that it could then be rescued by EAC and Sun European partners. It was then sold on to GAZ in June 2006 with ex-Ford of Europe executive Martin Leach at the helm. The venerable Convoy and Pilot ranges, which traced their heritage back to at least 1974, were put out to grass as the new Maxus range was expanded. This model had also enjoyed the odd drama, starting life as a joint venture with Daewoo which was then threatened by the collapse of the Korean company in 2000. LDV then had to buy the project from Daewoo’s new owner, GM, and whisk the production equipment off to the UK for installation in LDV’s Birmingham factory.  

 

GAZ is itself part of a larger group, Russian Machines (Russkiye Mashiny), which is owned by Oleg Deripaska through his Basic Element holding company. Deripaska is believed to be the second richest man in Russian. Russian Machines recently bought a large chunk of Canada’s Magna International for $1.54bn, thus raising itself to being one of the most important forces in the global automotive industry. Other activities in Russian Machines comprise aeronautical and train manufacturing amongst others.

 

 
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