This week is all about dreaming the impossible dream, a group of people who went against all evidence and good judgement in the name of building their own car. While always a fascinating enterprise filled with initial excitement, the odd plot twist, production and money woes plus sometimes even a little conspiracy but always ending with the same heartbreak.
It can ruin your reputation and even your life, but for some the thrill of creating a badge is just too much to resist. But hey at least these guys got a car out of it, before the receivers swiftly took it away again.
Let this list serve as fair warning to anyone who believes they can do it. Setting up car companies, just say no.
The Lotus repeater
Lotus and Mazda were not the only companies racing to reinvent the revolutionary Elan in the late eighties. Engineer George Robinson was also a wildcard contender who perhaps dreamed a little too big, but as a consolation prize he did manage to beat the big boys to market (more on that later). George had all the credentials to do it too, cutting his teeth building racing cars for BRM before setting up successful formula 3 engine tuning company Vegatune, where this story begins.
Vegatune of Spalding, lincolnshire decided pretty swiftly to move into fast road tuning with an affinity towards old Lotuses, perhaps due to George having similar skills and goals as the great Colin Chapman.
Aiming towards the hobbyist racer they went with the market focusing on further tuning the already highly strung Europa and Elan, impressing many owners with performance gains without losing durability.
This relationship with the most famous lotus of all meant Vegatune were very up to date with Elan values. The Elan of course needs no introduction, to many it is the definitive British sportscar and with a British sportscar drought in the hot hatch obsessed 80’s values were quickly sky rocketing.
The Elan, despite being hugely advanced for the time was never actually that difficult to build for a small operation and with so many of the components being readily available from the Ford parts bin and the relative rarity of good examples meant the temptation to build a few replicas was always going to be there.
George however didn’t just want to build the Elan as it came out in the 60’s, he wanted to make what he imagined Lotus would build if they could without the compromises their new size and fame brought to the Hethal firm (sorry M100 owners).
Vegatune already had an engine, it was similar to the ones Lotus made using a Ford block in situe with their own dual overhead cam head for vastly improved performance.
This engine was not all that much more powerful than the original but being mated to a Ford Sierra gearbox it did away with a notable problem the original had with being sluggish above 80 mph. The finished design had plenty more subtle ‘improvements’ on Chapmans then 20 year old design. Gone were the annoyingly weak rubber ‘doughnut shaft fittings, the vacuum pop up headlights were replaced with much more reliable electronic versions and bigger brakes were mixed with a bigger footprint on the road (although many believe the original elan had the best grip compromise and Colin always wanted less unsprung weight).
The base 140hp had all the credentials an independent sportscar needed, with a low 6 second 0-60 and a top speed of 132 mph it was all the performance you would ever need. There was also promise of a 160hp variant and even a 200hp turbo conversion, things were looking good.
The motoring press even liked the car, comparing it favourably in quality and performance to the Marcos and TVR it would inevitably be put against. The Evante was even compliant with German and Japanese criteria meaning it could have sold in the biggest sportscar markets at the time. He saw the small factory churning out hundreds of cars a year, the truth was they never got close to making half that many (why do the press ask these people for build projections? It’s just cruel).
So what went wrong?
Well quite a lot actually.
for one unsurprisingly the Evante was a little on the pricey side, over £40,000 in todays money (a v6 Tvr s3 was considerably cheaper), for what some saw wrongly as kit-car quality. It was also common knowledge that Lotus were working on their own Elan, though no one knew it was going to be Front wheel drive at this point, so many potential owners were perhaps willing to wait to see how that panned out. But probably the biggest turn off, for me anyway was the styling. The original is beautiful because of its purity, it had no spoilers, no airdam, everything was there because it needed to be there. No waste whatsoever. By comparison the Evante did have spoilers and they literally spoiled the lines and made the car look heavier and wasteful somehow. Vegatune probably should have stuck to improving the original instead of reinventing it as many companies do now with restomods.
The Evante was short lived and had killed Vegatune by 1991 after 4 years of production. There was some hope that the car would live on when Cypriot businessman and retrovan builder Andreas Liveras bought the rights updating the cars further to take Zetec engines in his nearby Newark plant but again nothing happened apart from the addition of the awfully mismatched brake lights from the mk2 golf. By this time the Mazda mx5/Miata/Eunos had already established itself as top dog in building new British sportscars. Lotus thankfully survived the storm long enough to release the revolutionary Elise.
Evante by the way, means nothing in any language but sounds pretty sophisticated kind of like the car. Shame.