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XCAR: How Radical became Radical

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XCAR: How Radical became Radical

7:50 /

In just 17 years Radical has grown into one of the most important names in British motorsport. XCAR caught up with the racing manufacturer's founder Phil Abbott.

[MUSIC] I'm Phillip Halbert. I'm managing director of Radical Sports Cars and we're here at the factory in Petesborough. My trade is a mechanic. I was a car mechanic. I left school at 15 and became and then got interested in the engineering side. And I didn't really drive a race car till. I was almost 40 years old. Engineering, really is, is where it came from and then as a, as an amateur racer myself, once I sort of made enough money to go racing, started as an amateur racer and then sort of decided that nobody had actually built a car that I really wanted to buy. So a light weight two seater which gave good performance and having blown up a dozen imp engines and so on with the geneters, I thought motorcycle engine is the only way to go because it's built for high revs. So, this sort of vision of the first race car became our, our club sport car, which had no aerodynamics to, to talk of. It had a front splitter but no wings, no underbody. Motor cycle engines, base frame chassis, nice and cheap to build. Our original goal was to build something that weighed 350 kilos. Could be sold at 15,000 Pounds and we missed both gold for a good margin but we, we, we had a good time trying. So I think the first cow was around 400. 420 kilos and we have to sell it at 18,000 Pounds to make small margin,. And that, that was the basis of Radical. It's really where we started the Radical Clubsport. So we started on something like the first of November 96 and we started drawing parts then in November and we cut the first steel on the 3rd of January. At 97 and we drove the car on the 29th of March. So it was, it was quite an impressive time scale considering it was an after work job. And that's building everything. That's building the chassis, the body, the suspension. We made everything in three months. When the third incarnation of cars Sports Racer 3, SR3, came along, track days were really booming. I think that the, the sort of core design features of the car is to have a full 2 seater so they could do track days. You could have full size adult with you. So you could share the fun on track days with your friends or, or an instructor was a big thing, and then to be an endurance racer as well. So to have the brakes and the service capacity and the tires that would be durable enough, too, to race in longer events. The one thing that makes the [UNKNOWN] is the arrow grip for a cheap, cheapish affordable sports car. The arrow grip is stunning. So, to get that you, you've go to have a reasonably designed arrow platform and good suspension, which communicates to the driver. But the two have got to be in balance. The aero's got to be in balance with, with the chassis design, the weight distribution and the suspension. So, as long as you've got everything in equal measure, it's, it's really about balance of everything. But also, you usually find then, some of the boffin designers get carried away. And they put in lots of antis: antisquat, antidive, all of this kind of stuff, which actually numbs the sensation to the driver. So we keep all those antis, as we talked about, to a minimum, really. There's very little anti-dive on it, which means that the car does move when you jump on the brakes. It does give that response. It does nosedive a little. Which if you just look in a pure performance, may, maybe that's a little bit detrimental, but it can does communicate to the driver that you're now stopping. And you, you could, without feedback to the driver then you can drive it really well, and that's, that's what I think. The Radical championship is so close because the chassis communicates very, very well to the driver. But that's by design. That's not by accident. I think we will always build racing cars. Radical will always be for racing cars. But to do all of these things you, you end up with a very good. Very skilled workforce. And there's 140 people here, so we, we now have to sell cars. We started off wanting to sell cars, we now have to sell cars. And looking for the bigger market with the road user in mind, and more and more looking at a lot of our customers that go racing, and, and really want to go racing, and end up not having the time. So, if they can have a car which they can use on the road. And go to track days. Many of the other really, really good track [INAUDIBLE], the, the, the well-banded ones. You know, Porsche, Ferrari, that kind of thing. Wonderful cars. Fabulous pieces of engineering. But in a track day you can ware out the brakes completely, and, and spend £3000 renewing the brakes, maybe, on the Porsche. So we're looking at a car that would not replace our Porsche but perform better for less money and continue to perform on the track, Our cars will always be race cars, but people are crazy enough to put them on the road, and that gives us good market. We'd enlarged and enlarged the Suzuki high boosters to 1500 CC, then 1550, then 1600. And we notice that it, it starts to get less and less efficient the, the bigger you actually make the 4 cylinder and I was just toying with ideas and thought well we could use 2 of those and 2 top ends and, and make a V8, and it was just nothing more than looking for some more power, another, another power source. With that field because the, all the radicals with the, with the lightweight engine. Everything is in harmony with, with the light engine, but also light reciprocating mass. And so, we, we came up with the idea of building the eighth and Spoke to one or two engine designers, and chose somebody to help us do the architecture of all the structure. And basically, the gas exchange side of the engine, the cylinder heads, the cylinder blocks, the pistons are all Suzuki and remain Suzuki. And then we manufactured the crank case, the crank shaft, the oil system, and all of the other bits and pieces around it. Is, it's a testament to the, to the quality and the skill of the, of the work for Australia. And how we can just motivate them to all things covered in a common way, a common goal. And to get a lot of different skills done, yeah. I mean, we, you've seen around. We have a door over there where steel tubes come in one door and. Borrow the sticky stuff coming in the [UNKNOWN] finished [UNKNOWN] come in with this story. You know, it is quite a big range of skills that we've just sort of developed over the years. I guess really. Yeah, we, we do joke a bit about what we do but it's just about getting the job done. Keeping your promises really is what drives you. Fear of failure you know, I would hate to say I'm gonna do something and fail. So it's that fear of failure that makes you complete it, makes you complete the task, and look for the next thing that people are expecting to come from Radical, really.

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