‘Brilliant fun’: British automaker discounts classic cars for big spenders | Automobile industry

BBuilding cars is tough, so when Ben Hedley started his business, he started small. To be precise, he started at 75% height. The Little Car Company does what its name suggests, producing shrunken-but-maneuverable battery-electric toy versions of life-size classics like Aston Martin and Ferrari.

Ben Hedley CEO of The Little Car Company
Ben Hedley. Photography: The Little Car Company

The business grew to £10million in revenue and 60 staff almost by accident in four years, says Hedley, walking through the company’s workshop at Bicester Heritage, a converted Royal Air Force base in Oxfordshire which has been transformed into a hub for classic car companies. The company made its first profits in the last financial quarter, despite supply chain issues that have plagued automakers big and small.

Replicas start at €36,000 (£30,800), meaning they can only be toys for the rich. But Hedley isn’t just building small, expensive electric versions of big cars. The company is launching an ambitious, if not chimerical, effort to do the opposite: build a full-scale, road-legal version of a remote-controlled toy car that was popular when Hedley was a kid. By next summer, he hopes to launch a stripped-down electric off-road buggy for £15,000.

Hedley, who worked as a retail consultant before becoming a repeat entrepreneur, stumbled upon the idea of ​​the Little Car Company. He was importing cheap mini-replicas, but French automaker Bugatti asked if he could find something better for the Geneva Motor Show. He spotted a business opportunity when aficionados subsequently contacted him asking for one.

An engineer working on a Bugatti Baby.
An engineer working on a Bugatti Baby. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

“We sold the concept, and then we had to manufacture the thing,” he says. “We thought, ‘Let’s go as authentic as possible.'”

He borrowed an original version of the car, an open-top Type 35 race car first built in 1924, and set out to make it as close to the original as possible, but with a rule against fake exhausts. .

Other cars followed: a Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa designed using original blueprints, and an Aston Martin DB5 two-thirds the scale of the car made famous by Sean Connery in the spy film franchise of James Bond. For the DB5, the company worked with Bond filmmakers to copy gimmicks like mini toy guns and smoke machines from No Time to Die.

The high price means replicas will be out of reach for all but the wealthiest, but on the trail at Bicester Heritage it becomes easier to see why wealthy car enthusiasts would consider shelling out tens of thousands. With Hedley – a former speed skier for Britain – at the wheel, the replica Aston Martin DB5 looks almost racy as he launches it around the tight corners. Even with the Guardian’s somewhat more restrained use of the throttle, it doesn’t seem that far off from driving an electric convertible (if your head was sticking out of the sunroof).

Aston Martin DB5 Junior
Our journalist channels his inner connection behind the wheel of an Aston Martin DB5 Junior. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

This is where the idea of ​​a full-size car comes in.

“We started thinking, we have this cool powertrain,” says Hedley. “Jump to build a city car, it was a bit too far. What if we took a small car and made it bigger?

The model he chose is a Tamiya Wild One, a remote-controlled off-road toy first released in 1985. Little Car Co’s version will be 3.5 meters long, 1.8 meters wide and weigh approximately 250 kg – big enough to carry two people. Depending on the number of batteries fitted, range should start at 50km (30 miles) – more than enough for the average UK commute.

A price of £15,000, if achieved, would put it in the range of kit car buyers. The Little Car Co will never be a mass car manufacturer, but if it does manage to throw down the gauntlet of making the Wild One Max legal on non-motorway roads, the idea of ​​people using them for urban transport doesn’t seem like it. inconceivable either (although probably in warmer climates, given that it will be quite open to the elements). Inexpensive small electric cars like the electric G-Wiz or Citroën’s new Ami cuboid will be increasingly attractive as prices drop.

“It could be an alternative in the summer rather than jumping into a diesel SUV,” Hedley says of his prototype. ” This is very fun. It’s just a completely different experience.

Tamiya Wild One promotional video from 1985.

Doing the Wild One Max was a lesson in how many growths modern cars are built with, he says. Air conditioning, giant touchscreens and power seat adjustments add weight, and therefore carbon emissions and additional costs.

Starting his business in a pandemic and with a looming recession was “a bit of a tough exercise,” he says. “Everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong.” But he is undeterred and is trying to raise £10million in the company’s fourth investment round to secure more space. He ultimately wants to build “thousands” of cars a year.

“We want to show that electric cars can be fun and don’t have to be 1,000 horsepower and 2.5 tonnes,” he says.

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