So there I am fighting with a VW engine that really doesn’t want to fit into this buggy we are building, I get a message to tell me that a guy has phoned wanting to know if we could help put together a couple of buggy’s they have designed.
I spend another hour or so fighting and finally overcoming the engine problem with the buggy and decide to call the guy back. I introduce myself and listen to his story, he tells me that he and his team have this idea for a massive challenge to take on a piece of Africa and cross a very inhospitable desert in, of all things, 3 beach buggy’s! They already have the buggy’s built on paper but need someone to help bring them to life and advise on any problems with the build his team have contacted a few people in this field, but they wanted produce their own buggy’s, not ones to the customers specifications.
There is also a very tight time limit, and as always, a budget to work to. I was already hooked on helping build the three buggys so I said yes …. the next step was to find out what the buggys he had in mind actually looked like, and what they had to achieve.
At this point he asked if I could be at the offices the next day, already intrigued and excited I agreed, this is when he told me that the designers were Clarkson, Hammond and May
Myself, Rich Neil and John Gurney were there at 9:30 the next morning sitting in front of the three most famous motoring journalists on the planet! We tried to talk about each of the presenters buggy ideas and their wants separately, not possible as everyone was too excited. All three guys had very different takes on what they wanted their buggy to look like, and more importantly how theirs would work to take on and beat the terrain of Africa. So after many cups of tea, a producer intervened and pulled us all back into line ready to put down firm ideas from each presenter.
James May had already made a list of parts he wanted to fit together to produce a very stock looking 1960’s buggy using as many standard VW classic Beetle parts as possible. Front and rear lights, dashboard gauges and switches, banded wheels with stock hubcaps in chrome and road tyres with no raised white lettering. A 1776cc engine, twin carbed with loads of chrome and stainless steel accessories, Cobra tan coloured front seats with matching rear buddy seat, Vintage Speed gearshifter, race mirrors, chrome bumpers and the most basic roll bar, no side panels and as low as we thought possible. We made suggestions to strengthen the front axle, gearbox, drive train and chassis, plus all the daft bits like brakes, stud patterns for strength etc. He was taking on the challenges of Africa with a beautiful lightweight street spec buggy … he had done his homework, but road tyres?
Richard Hammond, again, was very set on his design and ideas for his buggy, and had a totally opposite idea to James. Firstly he wanted ground clearance, as much as possible, without losing reliability, a full space roll cage, a roof rack for spares and a spare wheel/tyre, a row of off-road lights, long travel shocks (dual on the rear), big off-road wheels and rugged tyres, basic sparse interior, a bigger engine than James (1915cc air-cooled) to cope with the larger tyres and a body painted to go with the African landscape. Richard had already bought steering wheel, wheels, tyres, seats and various other parts for his take on this challenge.
We pointed out more suspension travel needs, bigger and longer shocks, bigger and thicker CV joints, thicker drive axles, modified body and chassis mounts, up rated inner engine parts, and totally different front suspension – king and link pin rather than the James style ball joint system.
So how will Jeremy Clarkson’s buggy differ from the first two? In every bloody way imaginable!!! Jeremy was straight at us with almost a complete finished buggy, even down to colour, engine interior etc. So here it is, the buggy needs to be Cadburys purple metal flake, Kawasaki
green banded steel wheels, wider than both the other buggys, green roll cage and dashboard, specific Cobra seats, Momo steering wheel, stock front and rear suspension as VW would have built it, and wait for it ….. a monster Rover V8 3500cc engine, fully polished and dressed, Edlebrock carburettor, electronic ignition, Quad outlet exhaust, modified cooling system and to top it all off, Ford Cortina Mk1 rear lights!
After the shock of that, I suggested to Jeremy that he would need a specific gearbox to handle the 180+ bhp as with very uprated Porsche CV joints, thicker drive shafts etc, solid mounted gearbox and engine to cope with both the power and the huge torque of the mighty V8, also Jeremy should run with less aggressive tyres than Richards car. These first discussions lasted nearly eight hours, but were very comprehensive and precise, loads of tea was drunk and the three presenters were brilliant in every way, making us feel at ease, very funny and full of ideas. The producers told us the more important facts such as completion date (16 weeks), budget (how much) and to enhance the
presenters’ ideas for the buggy’s, not to create alternatives. The whole idea was to challenge Africa in buggys built with their own ideas and parts.
A few days later we took a basic buggy down to the offices for James, Jeremy and Richard to try out for size, ease of use, and general feel for a buggy. With all three happy that was the way to go they told us the three body styles chosen, and more detail of each buggy separately. It was another great day of tea drinking, laughter and a general appreciation of the task before us and The Grand Tour .
Back to Kingfisher Kustoms base and first thing the next day we received various deliveries from The Grand Tour and straight away started building, parts then arrived from everywhere; Empi, Cobra, Fox, BF Goodrich, with Kingfisher Kustoms supplying many more.
With everything starting to come together all the lads got stuck into various tasks, the Kingfisher Kustoms team consisted of myself, Dave Fisher, Steve Davis, John Gurney, Rich Neil, Scott North, Martin Cox, Tim Spence, Anthony Bosworth, Mark Lander and Keith Jackson, with these seasoned buggy builders together we might just get the job done although the magnitude of the task was becoming daunting and the consequences of failure huge for The Grand Tour, Kingfisher Kustoms and myself. With regular conversations with all three presenters and numerous producers things were going well. Another trip with pictures, notes, etc to ensure the buggy’s were as each presenter had envisaged and instructed. The only downside was the finished date had been brought forward from 16 to 12 weeks, more pressure.
Another good two weeks at Kingfisher Kustoms and James, Jeremy and Richard asked us to take the buggys’ sub-assemblies down to the offices so we can all spend a day finalising specifications, finishes, fittings. Etc., everyone there loved their visions especially the main men. Jeremy loved the look of the big V8 hanging out the back of his Kingfisher Sidewinder creation saying it was a shame it wasn’t ready to fire up and listen to…….guess what?….. IT WAS…., we fired the motor up and the reaction to the sound of a roaring V8 was stunning, first step sorted. He said the metal flake body was amazing, as was the fuel cell and the roll cage and wheel colour, plenty of dash board gauges as requested Richard was super impressed with his dual sport styled full roll cage Kingfisher Predator, the tough suspension, big alloy wheels and off road tyres, spot lights etc., where all he had designed into his buggy, he didn’t realise it would be a complete one off just as his sketches, a second very pleased Grand Tour presenter.
Next to James, who takes a lot of care making sure the small details of his Kingfisher Prowler build had been adhered to, the ride height was just right as was the colour, the wheels and tyres very retro, fully chromed engine, buggy exhaust, loads of original VW styling, a true 60’s buggy, a very simple look, Momo steering wheel, stainless steel crash bars, he was so pleased he spent about an hour sitting in the buggy taking it all in, a very happy man seeing his vision brought to life.
A super long day, great reactions !
Back to Kingfisher Kustoms to do finishing touches, all the road legal stuff then a days visit from the camera men and sound men to fit camera brackets, anti-vibration fittings, water proofing and dust proofing electrical equipment etc The men from the body wrapping company turned up and turned Richards white buggy into a zebra pattern giving the buggy a completely different look, whole job finished within 6 hours, brilliant. All three buggy’s are near completion so book MOTs and rolling road, time to set up the new engines, shake down road tests to reset suspensions, brakes, check every wire, nut and bolt etc.