Looking for a new sports car that'll enable you to upstage your mate's forthcoming Enzo? Well look no further than the Kamala, because not even Maranello's latest megabuck F1 inspired supercar scores as highly on the outrageousometer as this kit car from Norfolk.
For those of you who keep asking where the originality in sports car design is - you're looking at it. Looking more like something out of a sci-fi film than a sports car, I think it would be true to say that the Kamala caused an epidemic of dropped jaws when it first appeared back in 1996, because it looked totally unlike any car seen before. If you don't want to get gawped at, don't even consider buying one.
The brainchild of former Ford engineer Peter Walker and originally made by Dax until they sold the project in late 2001, this amazing machine is now made by Kamala Cars run by Mark and Tony Keen, whose previous automotive experience includes classic car restoration on the likes of ACs and Ferraris.
Although the Kamala's styling might look out of this world, its construction is decidedly down to earth, comprising a steel space frame chassis, GRP bodyshell and tubular wishbones with coil over damper suspension - the latter having patented anti-squat, anti-dive and neutral scrub geometry. Chassis strength benefits from having bonded and riveted flat floor panels as well as high sides linked by twin hoops (one behind the seats, one built into the windscreen frame) with these in turn being linked by a central brace to provide roll over protection.
Being designed by an ex-Ford man, there are no prizes for guessing whose parts bin the Kamala gets its mechanicals from, with both Escort and Sierra donating various bits of steering, suspension and brakes. Motive power is any Ford engine that can be mated to the MTX-75 transmission, including the latest Zetec and I4 four pots and Duratec V6s.
With those high chassis sides, getting into the Kamala is a bit like getting into a bath that someone's put a seat in, though in the Kamala you're unlikely to end up sitting waist deep in water thanks to those neat lockable Perspex doors. Incidentally, these can be quickly removed for Targa style open top motoring, but on a dismal day in the middle of November they were damn well staying on.
Despite the narrow nose, there's negligible inboard offset to the pedals thanks to the centrally mounted seats, which provide sufficient adjustment to accommodate drivers up to 6'5" and have enough space behind them to stow several suitcases or the doors.
Once inside, the race car impression given by the narrow cockpit and low central seating position is added to by the exposed right hand rod gear linkage (centre mounted version optional) which proved surprisingly precise and easy to use. In fact the hardest aspect of changing gear on this car was operating the heavy-duty clutch required to cope with the chipped Cosworth's 340bhp!
As this car weighs only 795kg you might think that having 340bhp would make it a bit quick. Well it isn't. It's a lot quick, having been timed doing 0-60 in just 3.5 seconds and hitting 100 in around twice that. So who needs a V8? Of course the problem with getting big amounts of power out of relatively small turbocharged engines is that the power tends to come in with a bang. Combine that with little weight over the wheels, tyres that need to warm up before they grip properly and a wet road and things can get very - er - interesting.
With that - and a warning from Mark Keen - in mind, some pottering round town was in order to try to get temperatures up before attempting any fast stuff on the nearby dual carriageway. Turning on to this the road was damp but straight and clear, so having accelerated gently to build up some speed and changed up a gear, the accelerator went down, the rev counter finally hit 3,000rpm, the turbo kicked in - and the back end kicked out. Quick adjustments to steering and throttle brought it straight back into line but it was obvious that this beast could be a real handful in the wet.
Cruising along the damp dual carriageway at 70 it looked like the crappy British weather was going to scupper any chance of getting heavy with the throttle. Then we hit a stretch that was both dry and clear of traffic, so it was down into third and hard on the accelerator. No wheelspin or sideways antics this time, just a whine and a shove in the back as the turbo kicked in and the Kamala engaged warp drive. Well maybe not, but in virtually no time the speedo was heading for the bump stop, at which point caution and looming traffic dictated a return to more normal speeds.
I've tested some impressively quick production cars including the Esprit Sport 350 and Tuscan Speed 6, but even they couldn't match the acceleration of this car, and considering that the Cosworth engine can be tuned to produce over 500bhp it could be made even quicker. I wouldn't want to drive it in the wet though…
During the high speed run the Kamala felt rock steady, so that unusual body styling seems to work well aerodynamically, and whilst nobody seems to know just how fast it will go, this particular car has been driven at 160mph on a test track with no problems.
Sadly I wasn't on a test track but unfamiliar country roads that were all wet and in places muddy too, so tackling the turns was a cautious affair that didn't really give much of an idea of the Kamala's handling capabilities. What I can tell you is that with the adjustable nylon bushed suspension set relatively soft for road use the ride was firm without being harsh and there was negligible roll, while the unassisted Sierra derived steering was light and positive, though a special Quaife rack is being considered to make it quicker.
Also, with the tyres properly warmed up it was possible to make careful use of the turbo without breaking traction even on a damp road, though the balance between grip and sudden wheelspin was too fine to even consider risking applying the boost on anything other than a straight.
In common with most lightweight specialist sports cars, the Kamala doesn't use - or need - a servo, the 260mm front and 273mm rear vented discs slowing it nicely with only modest pedal pressure. No ABS of course, so no surprise that a heavy braking test on a wet road resulted in total lock-up, though the Kamala remained impressively composed and ran arrow straight until the pedal was released, which must say something for that patented suspension.
Overall impressions from a brief drive in lousy conditions are that the Kamala seemed solidly built, communicative, fast, agile and great fun to drive. In other words, it has all the ingredients for an excellent road and track toy.
Life on Earth
Everyday practicality is unlikely to be a major consideration here, but for what it's worth, besides that space behind the seats there's hidden stowage in the engine bay, the doors look watertight, and with them on the standard heater keeps the cabin nicely warm, though air con is an option. On the downside, the spoiler scraped on every sodding speed hump in Wymondham and you probably won't be able to stop anywhere without spending 20 minutes answering questions about it, but on balance I reckon a Kamala would be no more difficult to live with than an Elise. You'll just get stared at more.
Although Kamala Cars was set up over a year ago it's been kept very low key while they've learnt about the car and made various improvements and developments including left hand drive and the option of a body with enclosed front wheels.
And while currently still offering the traditional kit car 'pile of bits' the ultimate aim is to only sell Kamalas either as turnkey cars or as rolling shells for customers to finish off, with one step towards this being a deal with Ford for new engines and gearboxes covered with a full 12 month warranty.
Then there's another deal with a major insurance company which means that a 25 year old with a clean licence could insure a Kamala with an agreed value of £30,000 on a fully comp 5,000 mile restricted mileage policy for under £250 a year. And no, we haven't missed a zero off.
Not that a Kamala need cost you £30,000. Do all the work, use salvaged parts and you could put one together for half that, while an all-new turnkey Kamala with standard 130bhp 2-litre Zetec will cost you £24,500, with that £30,000 figure buying you a chipped Cosworth powered car like the one featured here.
I don't know how much the 'ultimate' Kamala with 500+bhp of Cosworth power would cost (and there's one such car being built for hillclimbs and sprints) but you can bet it'll provide both head-turning looks and neck-snapping acceleration for a hell of a lot less than that Enzo.
© Copyright Graham Bell 2002