Since setting up PH, I’ve taken a great deal more interest in how businesses are run as well as the products they produce. Understanding a company’s ethos should be as important as examining the end product, particularly if you’re parting with tens of thousands of your hard earned.
It was with that agenda that I went to visit Ultima and in particular to chat to the company’s bosses Ted and Richard Marlow. I was whisked up to Hinckley in Leicestershire in a supercharged GTR courtesy of Stig. A few blasts of thermo-nuclear acceleration gave a hint of what was in store that day but rain soon curtailed any antics on the way up there.
Ted Marlow bought the rights to the Ultima from Lee Noble who then went on to do his own thing at Noble. The original Ultimas were racecars but Marlow had a different agenda. He wanted to create a kit car. These days the word ‘kit’ conjures up images of donor Sierras and rummaging around scrap yards for parts. Marlow’s idea of a kit was somewhat different.
He likens it to the remote control cars that you can buy off the shelf and assemble yourself. In the kit is every single nut and bolt required. That was the type of kit he wanted to provide. Once he takes you through his thought process, the real uniqueness of Ultima becomes apparent.
The kits are complete literally down to the last nut and bolt. Each item is bought in by the factory or prepared in house and then inspected twice to ensure quality. Then the components are carefully assembled into kits to be sent out to customers. The quality assurance process is very thorough. Marlow doesn’t want customers ringing up to complain about missing washers or inferior parts. Even down to the washers they’re careful to acquire the best items for the job – not necessarily the cheapest.
It’s for that reason that the cars don’t come cheap. You’re looking at well in excess of £30,000 and about 300 hours to put one on the road. That persistent quest for quality is also the reason that despite the majority of cars being self-built, they all - almost without exception - look amazing.
The type of people who build Ultimas aren’t those seeking a cheap way of acquiring a fast car. They are people seeking the challenge of building an automotive and mechanical work of art. Given the right building blocks that’s exactly what they do.
Ultima offer a free examination service too. Once a car has been completed (and passed the SVA test), owners are free to take the car back to Ultima for a detailed examination. Every nut and bolt is checked and advice given on how to address any remaining issues with the car.
Their Reputation in Your Hands
After a long chat with Ted Marlow and a tour around their premises what really came across was the dedication to quality that is core to the business. In many respects they place their reputation in the hands of the builders of the cars so it’s even more important that there is no need for bodging by those building the cars. A badly built car could damage the marque’s reputation yet looking at the cars on the road today you’d struggle to find one that isn’t constructed to a higher standard than many professionally built exotics.
Simple touches of lateral thinking like colouring the glass fibre bodywork as it’s moulded rather than spraying afterwards help on many levels. The GRP doesn’t suffer unsightly white stone chips and there’s no messy spraying/overspraying required during the build process.
It’s symptomatic of the whole philosophy. Each aspect of the car is gradually refined over a long period of time. Marlow was keen to point out that the 911 has evolved over 40 years and that brand new models aren’t the future for Ultima. Evolution is key in order to get every aspect of the car operating in the manner he requires.
Unlike many kit car manufacturers who are forced to operate on tight budgets, Marlow doesn’t believe in a shortsighted approach. The body for the GTR spent a huge amount of time in the wind tunnel at MIRA (not far from the Hinckley base) and designing the body took a huge amount of time. Ride and handling testing was not only carried out at MIRA but is also done on many of the sweeping roads around the factory as well as on the potholed roads around the local towns. Whilst the car looks like a racing car, it’s vitally important to Marlow that the car rides well on the roads where most owners spend most of their time.
After multiple coffees and a spot of pie, Ted offered to take me out in one of their demonstrators. Strapped into the GTR we headed off to some of the twisties near Mallory Park.
With a car of this nature, there will always be subtle differences between the individual examples and the demonstrator had a distinctly different feel to Stig’s supercharged GTR, which had more of a track bias.
The demo car lacked the whistle from the blower and the ride was a real surprise. It owed more to 3 Series than F3 – a compliant and comfortable ride without any of the taughtness or rattles that you’d expect from a car that looks like a Le Mans racer.
Riding over speed humps and potholes like a saloon I suddenly had a very different view of the car I was sitting in. It really is targeted at the road and not just a road legal version of a race car.
Nipping off to a private test facility nearby… Ted demonstrated the acceleration. Never in my life have I accelerated from 30mph to 150mph so quickly. Unlike so many other powerful cars that struggle with the laws of physics when trying to accelerate above 100mph, the GTR behaved as if we were in a vacuum getting sucked towards the horizon. Once again application of the brakes delivered us back to normality very quickly but it left me grinning from ear to ear – and that was just from the passenger seat.
I was left with two very strong impressions of Ultima. The car is far more road-savvy then I realised as well as possessing more power than a volcano. Ted’s goal of providing a complete kit of high spec parts is unique but is something that other component car manufacturers should take note of. The end products are always stunning and built with a passion commensurate with the quality of the parts.
Ultima will be having an open day on Sunday 15th August 2004 - all welcome.