20-odd years ago I built a kit car. 15 years ago I sold it. A couple of weeks ago the current owner tracked me down, and yesterday I took it for a spin.
A short spin, admittedly, as the points failed about 3 miles down the road (so French...). But man, talk about bringing back memories.
So what is this contraption anyway?
It's a Hudson Kindred Spirit. A three wheeler kit car based on Orlove's latest crush, the Renault 5 (Le Car to you Americans). A couple of hundred kits were made in the 80's and 90's by Hudson Component Cars in the UK.
Basically, it's the drivetrain and front suspension of an R5, with a custom chassis and one of the rear trailing arms (turned inside out) hanging off the back, and fibreglass body panels wrapped round it.The R5 engine layout is north-south with the transmission in front (sorry, forgot to take an engine bay shot). Which makes for a narrow and low nose, as you can see.
They made a single-seater version (Free Spirit), and a long wheelbase tandem 2 seater (Kindred Spirit). Mine's the 2 seater, though it never had a back seat in it while I owned it - I just wanted a bit of luggage space. There was also a short lived 4 wheeler version, though I don't think many were made.
I bought it because I knew and liked Renaults (I'd owned an R4 and was currently DDing a 5 GT Turbo), it was cheap (about GBP 2000 for the kit, as I recall, plus GBP50 for a rusted out R5 from the wreckers), and I'd test driven one and loved the "open wheeler for the road" feel you get from the single seater layout and cycle guards. Plus I like weird and there's not much more wacky than a "vintage F1 /tricycle / French economobox" hybrid.
I remember picking the kit up from the factory in Norwich and carrying it 200 miles home on the roofrack of my R5, which must have looked like the Space Shuttle travelling on 747-back. It took me about 3 years to get it road legal, in the course of which I moved to the other side of the world and had to deal with a whole new certification regime and a total lack of local parts supply (pre-internet!). I sold it a couple of years later - it wasn't getting the use, as I now lived in the middle of a big city, and this is NOT good a city car. Plus the cosmetic completion had stalled as I was doing up my house, and I needed the space as we were about to move somewhere with less parking.
It's changed remarkably little since I last saw it, and only has another 1200 miles on it (in 15+ years). I think it's even still wearing the original rubber, which is a bit scary. The body wasn't painted when I sold it, and the chassis has (mostly) been painted black over my grass green powdercoat. The original (X1/9) seat has gone, in favour of a go-cart seat: the current owner likes to take his girlfriend along for the ride, and the X1/9 bolsters were too wide to leave space for the passenger's legs, which go down either side of the driver. And the sides of the screen have been removed to make getting in and out easier - or at least, less ridiculously difficult. But apart from that, I can't see much else different. The temporary offcut of red carpet I'd stuck in the footwell is even still there - and still not attached!
And what's it like to drive?
Still just like I imagine a vintage single seater would be, and with a huge grin factor.
You sit higher than I recall, looking well over the screen - maybe the go-cart seat is less reclined than the original. The ride is stiff, even with French soft suspension, because it weighs basically nothing. Combined with the visibly working front wheels, the elements smacking you in the face, the exhaust outlet just behind you and semi-exposed engine right in front, and the fact that you're basically sitting on the ground, it's a very visceral experience. Probably even more so than a Morgan 3 wheeler would be, because it's so much narrower - the outside world is awful close whichever way you look.
The cockpit is tight, and the steering wheel tiny (10"), which makes low speed manoeuvring awkward, but it's light, and feels natural once you have speed on. Changing gears with the centre-mounted shift (sitting between your knees) is still more natural than it should be, as is having your feet either side of the engine (clutch left, brake and throttle right).
Although the 1100 cc engine only mustered 50-odd horsepower when new, and probably has a lot less now, its dragging less than half a ton, so it's pretty quick when you open it up. And it has a nice hard edged snarl with some revs on - I remember being pretty pleased with the exhaust note, considering I'd cobbled the exhaust out of some 1.5" pipe and an Allegro midbox. But being fast isn't the point, the point is feeling fast, and it sure as hell does that! Though I recall at least one of these thing being built with the Gordini Turbo motor in it, which must have been terrifying.
All in all, a great fun experience, and a lot of memories brought back, of the time as well as the car. It's a pity I didn't get more miles in it before it died, but the current owner has invited me back for another go.
I'm not sad I sold it: if I'd been able to keep it, it still probably wouldn't have got much use. Sad that the next couple of owners didn't use it either. But it looks like the current guy's going to drive hell out of it - he lives in the country with lots of tight windy empty roads around him. So its great that it's going to get another lease of life.