Great Suffolk car-making dream to be relived as Strada 4-88 comes home to show
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
Tearing up the tarmac at a maximum speed of 112mph, Suffolk’s Strada 4-88 cut quite a dash.
It had definite 1970s kerb appeal - the two-seater sports car boasted a bright orange leather interior and a sleek racing green fibreglass body shell conceived by Harris Mann, celebrated designer of a host of motors including the Triumph TR7, the Marina, and the Austin Princess.
It was made in Saxmundham by three young car enthusiast friends – including John Brighty and John Hillier – at a factory at Carlton Park which was said to have employed eight workers.
It had been crash-tested and prepared for road use – so getting it into full-scale production should have been a cruise. If the dream had become reality, 100 vehicles a year would have been rolling off the production line.
But in 1974 the UK economy went into meltdown and its financial backers got cold feet – signalling a sad end to a great Suffolk car-making dream.
Forty-one years later in 2015, brothers Nigel and Neal Davis, car and engine restoring enthusiasts based at Carleton Rode, near Diss, got wind that the 002 car – a re-worked version of the original 001, which had been crash-tested – was still out there.
When they arrived, they found it in bad shape – it had been taken apart with a view to restoring it and still lay in pieces after the restoration project stalled. The car seats had been chewed by rats and the chassis was rusted, said Neal.
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Nigel and Neal snapped it up, took it back to their workshop at Carleton Rode, near Diss, and spent six months painstakingly rebuilding it – sourcing missing parts where they could.
Luckily the pair are expert restorers who volunteer their services to various museums and were able not only to rebuild it but to get it into full drivable working order.
Now Suffolk Show-goers attending this year’s event will be able to see the almost mythical motor for themselves at a huge display charting the history of the county over the last 70 years to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
The car is incredibly rare, said Neal. The three young men who got together in the late 1960s with the aim of building it each had their own area of expertise and knowledge, he added, including John Hillier who had worked for a kit car company. He wanted to break away from kit cars to create a full production vehicle.
The four cylinder, 88bhp (Brake Horse Power) Strada was based on a Formula Ford single seat racing car and was re-configured by the trio to create a two-seat sports car. The engine, known as a “Mexico engine”, sits in the middle. The steel chassis was designed by Lola Cars and Harris Mann designed the body shell. “He was working for Triumph and the boys had a contact with them. He actually designed the Strada before he designed the TR7 – the Strada was how Harris wanted the TR7 to be,” said Neal.
The car is 40 inches high while most modern cars are 60 inches – and as a six ft man he found it a tight squeeze with his head resting on the ceiling. “It’s very cramped,” he admitted.
But it was “absolutely astonishingly good” on the road. “It’s quite lively and it’s very light of course so it's nippy and it handles out of this world. It goes around corners at G-force if you want. It drives fantastically – but it’s horrible to drive.”
One of the problems is the pedal box as the pedals are so close together it’s too narrow for his boots, he said. “Basically the car has been built for people who are 5ft 6in tall.”
The plan in 1974 was to get it onto the market with a price tag of around £1100. “They wanted to sell it to people who wanted a cheap sports car,” said Neal.
The company built a car for the motor show at Earls Court. The brothers have managed to trace one more vehicle but so far have been unable to track down a third still thought to be in existence somewhere. “It’s probably languishing in a barn fallen to pieces,” said Neal.
But the 002 is now pretty much restored to its 1970s glory days. “We are pleased with it,” said Neal. “We put it on show and on the type we describe it as: ‘Is this the rarest production car in the world?’”
To book tickets for the Suffolk Show on Tuesday, May 31, and Wednesday, June 1, visit www.suffolkshow.co.uk