British sports car maker Berkeley has been revived sixty years after it closed for business with the announcement of a new lightweight sports car, the Bandit. The new business says its two-seater model will be built on a flexible platform that can accommodate petrol, hydrogen cell or battery powertrains. Headed by former aviation and automotive industrial designer, Martin Rees, the project will apparently use environmentally friendly weight-saving materials in place of carbon fibre and chemicals. The company claims it will be traditional and cutting edge at the same time – and is on course to arrive next year.
For those not familiar with the Berkeley name, the firm enjoyed a short but significant period of operation from 1956-1960, when it helped to pioneer mass reduction by mating cleverly designed chassis with motorbike engines. Sir Stirling Moss even raced a Berkeley at Goodwood. The team behind the new Berkeley – which includes Rees’ partner, Simon Scleater, a former employee at race engineering firm RML and Lotus, no less – believes the original company’s innovations were well ahead of their time. It identifies Radical as a good example of a manufacturer which has kept the bike engine-powered car philosophy alive to this day.
The Berkeley of 2020 isn’t here to enter that market, though. The Bandit, shown here in renders, uses a name from one of the firm’s original creations on a car that’s intended to be made using plant-based materials. For example, flax will be used for the car’s structure in place of carbon fibre, while tree-based resin will replace the chemicals normally used to bond the panels.
“The [original] Berkeley brand’s values of innovation and new technology really resonated with us,” said Scleater. “They built the first production car to use a composite chassis and their use of a two-stroke motorbike powertrain was way ahead of its time, so much so that their use was reinvented some 40 years later when Radical rediscovered the benefits with the launch of its own racing car. Our continuing investment into forward-thinking technology matches the desire and purpose of the original Berkeley Coachworks brand and we aim to deliver a fresh, forward-thinking and purposeful approach to iconic sports car design and the unique driving experience the Berkeley Bandit delivers.”
Adding to the poetic nature of this British brand’s rebirth is the fact it’s to be operated out of the same Biggleswade aerodrome facility as its predecessor. Berkeley Sportscars will also continue with the original organisation's practice of utilising aerospace technology in its machines; the company intends to test components in air races, with in-house staffers including specialists in “making planes faster and more efficient”.
Rees said that the team intends “to create vehicle solutions that are in tune with the concerns of the public and address these with quality design and engineering solutions”, adding that he believes “forging links between aviation and automotive thinking along with top-class engineering talent will bring new solutions beyond the current mainstream”. If that sounds all a bit pie-in-the-sky (yep, we went there), the firm confidently predicts a working car in April, which suggests the Bandit is already off the drawing board. Something else to add to the list of reasons why 2021 can't come soon enough.
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