Wednesday 8th May 2002


ULTIMA CAN AM

It's one of the fastest cars in the world and you can make it in your shed

The New Ultima Can-Am

You want fast? In all my Ferrari-owning, Lambo-loving, Pagani pestering life,I have never driven a road car as searingly quick as the Ultima Can Am. Pop inthe light but solid clutch, press the starter button, give her some revs,release the clutch and objects in front of you are suddenly closer than theyappear. Wind it up to the 6000 rpm redline and you're issuing a direct challengeto your brain to compute information as fast as it's being received. This at thesame time that the G-force is throwing you back into your seat, the wind istrying to tear your head off, and the engine is screaming, "Look at me!I'm a RACE CAR! " Luckily, the Can Am's 18" tyres maintain a deathgrip on the tarmac- giving drivers freedom to pick bugs out of their teeth whilerecovering from endorphin overload.

Sick

It's often said a car's only as fast as its brakes. When it comes to sheddingspeed, the Can Am's four-wheel discs are as close as you can get to a pausebutton. Press the go pedal and your internal organs are thrust backwards. Pressthe brakes and they're trying to pop out of your chest like that snake thing inAlien. Add in the severe lateral forces created by cornering, and the Can Amprovides a menu of physical sensations only available to race car drivers andfighter pilots. In fact, it's a car fully capable of making people violentlyill. But the really sick part is that it doesn't take more than ten minutesbefore the whole experience starts to feel very, very good.

Click to enlarge... TheCan Am does the fast thing with a straightforward formula: keep it light, stripout all the fancy stuff and pour on the power. The car doesn't have powersteering, ABS braking, fuel injection, traction control or anything terriblyclever. What it does have is a Chevrolet 6.3 litre small block V8. In standardtune, it's good for 355bhp. The hotter version (survived above) pumps out awhopping 530bhp. For the technically minded, that engine generates 520foot-pounds of torque at 4000 rpms. For the non-technically minded, it hasenough brute force to scare the bejesus out of any passenger that hasn'tcompeted in open car racing. Not that you'd hear them begging you to stop…

Kitchen

Meanwhile, back here in the real world, where children want new running shoesand the wife can't understand that a sports car is a better investment than anew kitchen, you've got to balance fun with fiscal responsibility. Balance this:the extra spicy edition of the mid-engined Can Am goes from zero to 60 miles perhour in 3.3 seconds. The McLaren F1- still the world's fastest passenger car-does the same sprint in 3.2 seconds. Give up .1 of a second and a roof to theBig Mac, forget the 46mph top end difference, and you'll save £657,865.67.That's right: the Ultima Can Am costs from just £28,000.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention one little thing: the Can Am is a kit car.

Click to enlarge... Wait!Don't dismiss the idea as an invitation to construct- or try to construct- ashoddy replica. Unlike the majority of "self-builds", the Can Am isn'tan imitation anything. The looks may hark back to the Can Am racers of the 70's,but the car is a fresh design. Ultima boss and former racer Ted Marlow startedwith a clean sheet of paper. Drawing on twenty years experience in the field andan adrenalin addiction of monumental proportions, Marlow has created aroad-legal racecar that makes no apologies to anyone. All the major parts, fromthe adjustable wishbone suspension to the race-developed steering, werespecifically built for the Can Am. While I didn't screw the demonstratortogether myself, the car's consistent shut-lines and gel-coated bodywork (noneed for painting) indicate a well-considered, quality product.

Shed

Yes, well, so is a Porsche, but you don't build one of those in a shed.Marlow counters by pointing out that a Porsche isn't designed to be built byamateurs. The Can Am was conceived as a right or left hand drive kit car fromthe word go. The instruction manual, thinner than a Highlands businessdirectory, backs up his claim. As do the engineers who answer the phones (whohave sworn an oath not to laugh at a customer's question). Ultima reckons you'llneed about £150 worth of tools, a cheap PC for their CD-ROM, and 300 man-hoursto do the job.

Click to enlarge... Workit out. Shelter from domestic strife a four or five months, and you could emergefrom your garage with a hand-built supercar. Ultima's representatives will checkit over for you free of charge (a sensible idea for a car capable of 185 milesper hour). Take it for government inspection, and voila! A Ferrari-killer forsecond-hand Mercedes money.

If that sounds too good to be true, I understand. I've never built anythingmore impressive than a sand castle. I give serious thought to calling out a towtruck to change a tyre. Still, the idea of screwing together my own car remindsme of an old Ferrari ad: "What can be conceived can be created ." If you can imagine yourself driving the second fastest road legal car in theworld, you can build it. Guess what car the McLaren team bought to develop the F1? An Ultima. Nuff said?

Robert Farago

Ultima Links, UltimaOwners