Question #1: Phil, many people dream of building their own race car or starting a car company to build a special car that meets their needs… But, you actually did it!  What elements drove the creation of Radical Sportscars?
Question #1: Phil, many people dream of building their own race car or starting a car company to build a special car that meets their needs… But, you actually did it! What elements drove the creation of Radical Sportscars?

Answer:  It’s wide-ranging really, along with learning on your feet, and all these projects and products are “of their time”.

 

‘Background History’

Having been lucky enough to have trained as a motor vehicle engineer with Jaguar, Rover, Rolls Royce, Volvo, etc. from 1972 – 1977 and then trained and worked as welder and chassis fabricator from 1977-88, with a specialist – Spyder Engineering making replacement chassis, suspension, etc. for early lotus cars (over 2000 space frame chassis). I had then started a couple of manufacturing companies in 1988 for health/fitness/leisure equipment, and tanning lotions (Radical Tan).

In my non-existent spare time in 1990 I started motor racing within the 750 Motor Club “Road Sports Series” (a UK-based racing series), first with a Ginetta G15, then a Ginetta G4, followed by a fire-breathing Mazda RX7 rotary.  There I met my first partner in Radical, Mick Hyde, where Mick raced a Caterham 7 in the same competitions.

At that time, I was a director at the 750 Motor Club, (a wonderful historic motor club based on ownership of Austin 7’s, which also organizes race meetings for a huge range of classes) and there were long standing tensions within the club members between the “racers vs. historic” sides of the club.  One year at the Directors’ Election meeting, Mick was unhappy about who was elected to the board, vis-à-vis racer-orientated vs. historic interest..

 

‘Ideas’

About that same time, I had been wondering what race car I should try next.  Although I could not see what would entice me on nearly zero budget, with a growing family.  Since I had won races and championships in all the cars I had personally engineered, built, and raced, I started mentally envisioning a sports race car that I could create and build myself with the skills I had learned working at Spyder Engineering, a chassis manufacturing company, from ’77-’88.

 

‘Coming Out’

So (back at the 750 meeting) to brighten up my depressed mate Mick, I said “don’t worry about these guys, leave them do what they want, we go racing for fun , they are just having their fun – but different to us – and added — ‘No one has built the car we all want to race yet anyway.’”

He said, “What?”

I replied, “Let’s team up and build our own car!”

Mick had a razor wit – He gave me one of those withering looks you reserve for senile old relatives and left the meeting!

The next day Mick called and said, “What did you mean?”

I said, “Well.  Stage-by-stage.  Build a car, test it, build two, race them for a year.  Next year, if we have correct vision, create a series, sell a lot of replicas!”

Mick asked, “What will we base it on?”

I answered, “I’ve got a steel tube rack full of light tubing, a hack saw, a MIG welder, and a surface table — guess we will start there? Build it around us?”

Mick:  “Where will we race it / them?”

Me:  “Haven’t worked that bit out yet!”

But how hard can it be?  (20 years on, that’s not only a good question – it’s THE question)

I then laid out my thoughts:  motorcycle engine, chain drive, pretty GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic) body – must look good, 350kgs, £15,000 to sell? (We missed both targets by a country mile.  I think the first club sport cars were 420kgs and £18k.)

We probably did not realize what a demanding, learning, adventure we were setting out on but between us we thrashed out what we needed to decide next, day / week / month.

But at that time I believed “a business plan is only a dream with a deadline” and as such it was exciting, not intimidating.

We bought a computing magazine to get the free floppy disc with Easy CAD on it.  Nick Walford, who worked with me making toning tables for my fitness equipment company, started drawing parts in November ’96.  We started cutting steel on the first of January ‘97, and drove the car on the 29th of March, while running three other companies between us at same time.  Mick said he thought he has always worked hard, but those five months really showed him what could be achieved – especially as Mick lived 150 miles from the factory in Peterborough

The synergy between Mick’s marketing skills and thoughts on styling and presentation coupled with his understanding of engineering and my own ‘can-do’ attitude to all engineering and time issues really worked, along with Nick Walford’s care and detail thinking made a great initial team.

I was accused many times of having an “anti-reality force field” but “Never say never, and let’s Die trying” were always my first thoughts on tackling the myriad challenges that were coming our way.

So that is how the first weeks and months went.  By the end of ‘97 we were racing two (MK2) Clubsport cars.  Chassis number 1 was different construction.

At the Autosport Show in January ‘98, we sold 7-8 cars and started again racing in March ‘98, this time with seven customers and a learning curve so fast it would make your head spin.

Racing seven cars in ‘Clubsports 2000’ events in the 750 Motor Club became 15 cars by the end of the first year, and 1999 became our own championship year in March 99 with 28 cars on the first grid at the Donington GP track.

With the cars in ‘pre-grid’ of 28 cars lined up on the Melbourne loop part of the circuit, one of the many milestones was recognized and added to the learning experiences.

 I was approached by one of the hugely successful characters of British motorsport – Chris Hodgetts.  Chris had won countless races nationally and internationally, also the British Touring Car Championship and many others.

I had met Chris in the oddest of circumstances 8 or 9 years earlier in 1990, Chris was senior instructor at Jim Russell drivers’ school at Donington park, and I thought I should at least be shown how it all works.   So, as a rookie, I was duly circulating the swoops and curves of Donington in a school Vauxhall Astra saloon car.

Coming to coppice corner, up slight rise, apex blind, the instruction was – don’t slow car too much, turn in early, and let car run wide straight after early apex power on.  In the rain I was taking it steady!

The last thing I was expecting to see was the small diminutive figure of Chris Hodgetts, standing in middle of the race track, with his bomber jacket collar turned up against the driving 45 degree rain, pointing an index finger outwards toward edge of circuit, indicating I was holding too tight a line!  He blamed himself for being too involved in his work for this encounter!)

It’s one of those happenings that map out one way to operate in order to progress fast – take risks!

That’s why I’m telling this anecdote.   To my mind Chris was one of the best drivers and coaches around, and he was clearly taking risks, standing in middle of race track just to get his point across, just to be the best.  We could do worse than follow that thinking.

(I went away not sure if I had learned much about race driving, but see later about 2010-11 )

 

‘Back to the future 1999’

When Chis looked at 28 Radical Clubsport cars lined up on Melbourne Loop, in March, and said in his lovely warm Brummie brogue (colourful language) “where the (lucky duck) did all these cars come from?”

For whatever innocent / naive reason I almost acted equally surprised, but said, “oh yes – we made those (in 4 months)!”

It just went on from there, set a target, try to achieve it, over and over – flat out.

I saw Chris last week (October 2019) while testing the new Revolution, still coaching young drivers, still smiling!

 

Fast forward to around 2011’

I was lucky enough to be on pole position at Donington, driving an SR8, with my own concepted and designed 380hp V8 motor, following on from delivering 85 of each Clubsport and Prosport cars, almost 1000 SR3’s, and approx. 50 SR8’s all produced and delivered in 12 years or so.

I guess I learned a lot more than I thought off Chris Hodgetts and never forgot how to drive Coppice Corner!  

One of the key elements that drove us, was simply the fear of failure, just keeping our promises, whatever that took.

So, in a nutshell, work hard, analyze your vision and your customer, be sure you are right.  Ask ‘why’ a lot if you believe you’re are right, stay focused on the goal, (adjust it if you think it’s smart to do so), learn from mistakes, but never – ever – give in.

 

‘What elements drove the creation?’

One of the key elements that drove us, was simply the fear of failure, just keeping our promises, whatever that took.

So, in a nutshell, work hard, analyze your vision and your customer experience, learn from mistakes, but never – ever – give in.

And – being blessed with a God-given instinct and ability to retain a myriad of abstract facts, and see through the fog of opinion, applying learned experiences without thinking too much, is a huge advantage.

All those elements came together and almost without thinking, we conveyed our enthusiasm and passion for our products to customers and new young employees alike and formed a real bond with everyone we interacted with. We just made things happen – positivity breeds positivity, and negativity, as we see, has the reverse effect!

And looking back, probably what we did without thinking, was take the technology we knew and molded that into a product that the market and the customers would want, that we and they could maintain, and that we could deliver in enough volume to give us the turnover to fully-support our customers.

The product would be different today… but similar actions, even more radical – towards ‘revolutionary ‘… concepts, materials, processes, services, ‘of its time ‘…

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