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Classic Kit Cars - The Filby Files. Now with Specialist Sportcar scans on p3

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This whole thread is the very stuff of Hot Car mag, circa 1973. I used to drool over articles about this sort of stuff when I were a lad and knew no better. Earlier this year I made my first ever visit to the National Kit Car Show at Stoneleigh. My impression was that there is still a thriving kit car scene, but it has moved upmarket with new mechanicals being required in expensive and sophisticated kits. No longer can you nail something together from an old Cortina and a few bits of fibreglass. I see no mention of Banham in this thread. They used to operate out of a small unit in Rochester but somehow produced a bewildering array of kits. The Banham Bat was probably the most bizarre (Google it).

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following on from my earlier post < here > re. my time and experience with Lomax kit cars . .

On 9/15/2019 at 3:22 PM, Bfg said:

The following Stafford kitcar show we attended with six cars on the stand - the biggest exhibitor in the show.  But in the another hall was Nigel Whall with his new partner, an unsuspecting Brian Mumford on their own Lomax stand (Brian had designed and built the Mumford Musketeer 3-wheeler using Vauxhall Viva power).  I was out.  Nigel had conceived the Lomax and so copyright law was on his side,  and I had no experience of business partnerships. 

In retrospect it was very unkind to customers ..and to Brian, but my knee jerk response to the court injunction was to state that everything I had designed and developed for the Lomax was of my copyright - and that he / they could not use anything of it.!  Not a single photograph, no text, nor the build instructions, no bracket, not the suspension conversion, the weather protection ..nor even might they use any of  'my' suppliers !  - NOTHING. 

This period in my life was c.1983 - 4.  I was 26-year-old.  Had six employees to pay wages to,  lots of work-in-progress and suppliers with outstanding bills to pay,  and the rent on a large city-centre workshop to meet. I had two choices : 1.) close the business and lay everyone off,  or  2.) try to find something else to make and sell ..very quickly.


I was well n’ truly upset that he betrayed us. The lads were loyal by way of being good employees and generally nice people ..they didn’t deserve that.  And I was confounded because I couldn't believe just how dumb-stupid Nigel Whall was. He had this young but proactive business which was breaking its balls to make his product a success, and he just dumped them !?   Had he stepped in, with his fibreglassing and business experience to guide us, then things might have been very different ..but he hadn't. 

Being still wet behind the ears - I didn't know what, if anything, we might do about it.  In retrospect, perhaps that was really very fortunate, because I just moved on ..rather than trying to fight a messy legal battle.  After that show weekend - my responsibility was to work out what were the options ? and to implement the best way forward.  Of course, as we didn't know in advance, then nor did any customer ..so we had half a dozen outstanding Lomax orders in hand. Nigel reluctantly agreed we could complete those we had, so that would give us a few weeks of work and possibly as much as a couple of months before the brown mucky stuff really hit the fan.  

The thought of thereafter closing up shop was never more than a wispy brain fart.  I was tied into a lease on the rented workshop and didn’t have another job to go to ..and neither did any of the guys.  So it was a matter of finding another product to make and sell. 

So, as the lads got on with work in hand.,  I sat down with a pile of classic car magazines.


We were in the kit car industry now so it was obvious that was the direction to look.  . . .And we had a few things in our favour :  Firstly ; I had capable employees and the facilities ready and waiting. We also had good working relations with our suppliers.  We knew something of the kit car business, what the public liked (or rather : paid money for) and what the press would feed on. 

Financially, we had been knocked clean off the road ..but we were not yet in the ditch : Most all customer enquiries, since I had taken over running Lomax, had been / were coming to us.  It would take a month or so lead-in-time for Nigel to get his new business address into the magazines.  And in the meantime, we would be there sell the Lomax ‘options’ that people came back for once they’d started building their basic kit.  As it turned out ..there were a few more new orders already in the post to us too. 

But what would we do then ?  We needed a new product.

The potential customers, who saw us at shows or had read the magazines and were writing to us for a brochure, already knew our kit-cars were based on the Citroen A-series.  So if I were to capitalize on our company name and the enquires we had coming in - then it would have been daft to swap to another ‘donor’ vehicle.  Citroen A-series it would be then.

And because we needed to compete - I had the advantage in knowing their product inside out ..including its many shortcomings. We also knew of the issues in producing them.!  And I knew their prices ..and what was hardly profitable. Geez., we musta had insider information !

Of course any customer’s step towards buying a Lomax suggested they either wanted a fun little bug-eye beetle, or else a sorta vintage style car. Certainly their consumer profile didn't point toward the exotic end of the market.!  Those customers were looking for something easy / quick to build, and then cheap to insure and fun to drive .

So., I was looking for a Classic but cheap sports car style.. Something the buying public would instantly relate to, rather than anything too modern or new (which may or may not click with them).  I didn’t want anything too close to the Lomax ..which was Ok because the Citroen's engine is positioned well forward of the front axle - so it ruled out most other kinds of pre-war styles.  

- - -

Naturally I knew something of Colin Chapman, not least because the Stevens Cipher shape had been likened to the Lotus Elan (..which btw happens to be purely coincidental because Tony's inspiration for the Cipher was his passion for Ferrari's, and in this case the styling of the Daytona).  Anyway, from scanning through my magazines I'd honed-in on the Lotus 7.  

I could visualize how that shinny shape might sit well enough on a Citroen chassis, how its slab sides and separate wings could be made as a kit-car (..cheaply), and could even related the crude but brilliant 602cc Citroen engine to the humble 750cc Austin-7 of his original hill climber ..with its spindly 15" wheels.  The basic concept of that car was ; minimal weight to make the best use of the power available.  And I thought a kit car of a kit car was a nice irony. 

And then by chance I came across a classified ad, from another would-be kit car manufacture - selling a crappy set of Super-7 wings and nose cone. I think they’d hastily tried to rip-off an original Lotus 7,  but the panels had distorted. In any case I bought them cheaply ( I’d need to cut them up anyway). 

It then only took a matter of days to strip a donor and lower its rolling chassis (lowered in the same way as I'd done on the Lomax) and to rough out a new floor pan and build a body-tub in plywood. 

Within the first week (between managing the business and dealing with Lomax enquiries) the new car had taken shape with nose cone, front wings, body tub with windscreen (off the Lomax) and seats.  I had panel-pinned and then fiberglass bonded the plywood together ..a technique directly derived from the Mirror dinghy I had built as a school boy, but instead of wooden battens had used steel tubing to strengthen its top edges (including door cut-outs).  To these I welded a beam across, under the dashboard, to support the steering column and handbrake. The bonnet and scuttle-top were in sheet aluminium (again like the original Lotus 7).    

The mock up wasn’t tidy enough to photograph for advertising, but it showed it would work.  Instead I did a sketch and sent it to the magazines to announce our new model.  The company's name (since making fibreglass panels a lifetime before) had been Falcon Design, so the new model was simply called the Falcon S .


So that was it really,  it just took another few weeks to turn those panels into moulds. . .


^ Earl helping with Clive Bailey (leaning forward in Left photo) looks to be taking a bulkhead and scuttle mould off the first body tub I'd made.  Clive Mounce (right photo) helping us out, is making heaven knows what again (!) with the Falcon's wing moulds behind him.  If you hate your job.. just look at this working environment !   

The Super-7 panels had been modified to fit the width and shape of the body tub sitting on a standard Citroen chassis, but with lowered suspension. Trailer mudguards had been found for the back wheels. The bonnet and nose cone were made as a single GRP panel (so always a neat panel fit) which like the Triumph Herald hinged-up from the front. The headlamps and front indicators were attached to that. The body tub (in marine plywood and painted), reinforced with steel, was wrapped in aluminium ..which retained its polished finish.  I added a roll over bar, very similar to that used in the Stevens Cipher, which was bolted through the floor to the chassis.  That provided upper and outside-lower seat belt mountings. Seating became 2+2, plus a 30" deep luggage box between the rear seat back and the rear of the car ..which had the spare wheel mounted on to it.


But it was all a little too late. We'd been booted out of Lomax in June '84 and had ongoing bills to pay.  I worked (..and for once earnt good money) as a consultant with Tony Stevens on the Darrian rally car, and then again at GKN.  I ploughed everything back into the business, but with a three to six month lead-in time for a road-test in the magazines, and kit-car sales dropping off through the winter - it wasn't enough.

Even though the mock-up was really quick in the making, it took two months to take a set of moulds, and panels out of those, and get the car built.  Things like the roll cage, and interior trim needed to be designed, ordered, supplied and then fitted, to turn it into a show car.  Bear in mind that I was out at work all day, and then running what was left of the business and building a new demonstrator inbetween times.  We only just got the car ready for the last kit-car show of the year (Olympia) that September.  I can't remember when things finally came to a head and there was no money left,  but I had to lay everyone off. I think it was probably the singular most horrid thing of my career. 

The workshop was cleared and closed and its contract defaulted. The Bailiff came to visit, but he was a really nice chap and didn't take a thing, not even the television or the car. He said my TV wasn't worth selling, and that I needed a car for getting to work didn't I ?  It was really kind of him. 

- - -

I sub-let a room at home to help pay bills and now worked in a back bedroom and in the single garage.  I wrote the build manual which evolved into plans. And then the first Kit Car magazine article on the Falcon-S came out and we had enquiries again. The warmer weather came back and potential customers came to my home to see the car.  Over the next year I  reestablished the business and developed the three wheeler. The production fibreglass work was subcontracted out, and I'd cut the wood and aluminium panels for the kits in my garage. Working from home we were always limited for space, and sometimes our home looked more like a factory's office. 

But the Falcon had worked out really well ..as a tongue-in-cheek sports car, with spaciousness and numerous practical features that the Lomax didn't have - like the engine fan, cooling ducts and heater still in place.  And the 2+2 seating and a decent hood made it sensible enough for touring. 


^   "Big selling features" of the new car, versus the Lomax's beetle bum.  You might happen to notice the background is snow.  If I recall this was taken when Peter Filby came for the first road test (I wrote of that in a previous posting).    Anyway things progressed, the business' new direction was led by lowest possible overheads. We went to shows, and otherwise enjoyed the cars and customers.  We never grew as big as Lomax once was, but we eventually did quite nicely for ourselves.  I for one was glad to not work in a fibreglass workshop in a damp railway arch, and equally pleased to not have a sleeping (but verbal) senior business partner.  In my spare time (..that was a luxury) I offered my services as a freelance Product Designer, this was inbetween being a shop keeper for Falcon design.  So, if your family bought pots and pans at this time from one of the big brands, then you might well discover I had designed its handles.   

Brian Mumford, who was now supposed to be running Lomax never seemed that interested, and I'd guess Nigel had to organize the grp  mouldings because Brian to my knowledge never had the facilities.  Certainly Lomax seemed very quiet for a few years ..perhaps they needed to redesign all the brackets, and trim, and weather gear, and suspension conversion - so as to not infringe my copyright.!  After a while Nigel found new partners and Lomax moved again.  Their product line seemed to diverge away from the halcyon days of the shiny black beetle and the quirky fun 3-wheelers. They became more "sophisticated".        

By that time Jacquie and I couldn't care a damn about Lomax.  We went down to the 2cv World Meeting in Portugal in a Falcon  ..where the sun was so hot that we had to have the roof up.  It was fun though when driving through quiet French villages.. The old gents sitting out on their benches would stir at the familiar fan-whine of the 2cv engine as it approached, and then stand and cheer and applaud as this little English sports car drove by. 


^  These were the cover shots I used for our brochure.  The photo on the right is from a trip down to the Octoberfest in Munich. 

A Kiwi fella who was camping nearby (at the Octoberfest), came across to have a look at the car and we got chatting.  A while later in passing he mentioned that he was hungry after all the beer drinking and singing.  I said something to the effect "I know a good place for a pizza but its a little drive from here"..  It seemed like a good idea at the time, so we jumped in the car and went to Italy and had a pizza, an Italian ice cream, and a cappuccino ..and were back in time for the evenings' festivities.  ..True story.  Here you go, I found a couple of piccies . .



I also used the three wheeler conversion I'd done on the Lomax to produce our Falcon LX, modifying the top half of a moulding from said car to make a boat-tail for ours. .  I think the photo below is of its debut at the Stoneleigh show.


Apparently the end of day, with Martin Newell talking to a potential, and Jacquie in the background taking the tonneau-cover off the wall.  


^ These photos were taken by one of the kit car magazines in 1985 (I guess), when it was first introduced.  Personally speaking - I think it looked great and it certainly drove exceedingly well. 

The fuel filler pipe was long enough to flex, so the boat-tail (hinged along its front lower edge) could be lifted like a big clam shell.  Within this, the single rear wheel had a mudguard over it, fibreglassed and sealed to the boot floor - so it was a usable dry space.  And its aluminium fuel tank was sited acrosswise and under the boot's floor, just above the rear axle.  This car now belongs to a former work colleague - John Stott and is painted blue.  

We also had an agent in Europe..  Felix Hurter, in Switzerland - who ordered a number of kits from us. The following piccies are of his Falcons  . .  I don't recall many 4-wheel Falcon's with the boat tail. .  To my eyes it looks odd with that size of rear mudguard.


So there we have it.  After being hung out to dry we made a comeback. 

The Falcon was a very much more practical car, but the quirkiness of the Lomax still attracted many punters. But I really don't mind.  I was happier, healthier and earnt more from the Falcons anyway.  I sold my demonstrator for a tidy sum and so built another. And I entertained myself by developing tuning add-ons, and even importing Nitros oxide kits from the US. 

As a matter of product development I first tuned the engine on my 'LX' (three wheeler) with (new) 650cc barrels from the Citroen Visa , a lightened flywheel, electronic ignition, tuned exhaust, and twin carburettors  .It was fun.  I recall taking her to a kit-car track open day at Castle Combe.  It was flat out down the straight, which with the low frontal area was quite respectable (for 652cc) and then just a pip on the brakes before the hairpin.. at which time the wide eyed track marshals ducked !  But I'd screw the wheel across and scrub the speed off on the tyres.  My "braking" to that corner was later than almost anyone else, so on one lap I even manage to tuck under and ahead of a real Lotus-7 !  But then it was foot hard to boards and ...I was left behind in the dust.  LOL

I also built a demonstrator on the Ami-super chassis with its 1015cc flat-four OHC engine (originally used in the Citroen GS).  That was quick and very smooth. And if I'd wanted more then I could have used their 1300cc motor ..but it didn't go around corners half as well as the lightweight twins.

Similar to Haydn Davies had done with his Burlingtons, I sold the Falcon as dimensioned plans in a 100 page (single spaced typing) build manual, plus however much of a kit + options the customer wanted.   We bought a brand new (and decent spec) office photocopier and printed our own manuals, selling over a thousand of those ..perhaps closer to one and a half thousand.. whatever, we had a service contract on that machine and were on first-name terms with their service engineer / repair man.   And then, over a few years, we had hundreds of orders for actual parts. 

I went on to design and produce the first replacement chassis using box section tube. These fitted the kits (both Lomax and Falcon) as well as the standard 2cv and Dyane. This sideline became a business in its own right.

In the course of events my lady and I split up to go our own ways, and I sold the business in two parts.. the kit cars to the Frome 2cv Centre if I recall, and then the chassis business. Even then, I fell foul of someone trying to cheat me. Clearly I'm a shit judge of unscrupulous businessmen.  I don't know why but those who bought either aspect of the business didn't do anything much with them. Perhaps Somerset wasn't where the customers were.!   Nothing to do with me, as I'd gone to work in the United States.  But perhaps because the business fizzled out, so did the long term enthusiasm of Falcon Owners.?   I saw one a few years ago at a classic car show in Norfolk, but they are few and far between now.  The 'Mod-Cons' Registrar of 2cvGB has the Ami-Super (never completed) in green with yellow livery ..which we used for a static display at kit-car shows. But I don't think he'll ever put it together as he has 'other' projects on the go.   

So there we are .. The End


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