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Car Magazine, November 1988Two years after he wrote his first preview of the Latham F2, Ian Hyne revisited Latham Sports Cars to have a look at Paul Latham Jackson's original, and by this stage, rather weary prototype. . .

It's been a long time coming but, overlooking the shortcomings of a hardworked prototype development car, Ian Hyne thinks the Latham F2 has a good deal to offer as a high performance, touring car.

The name Paul Latham Jackson will be familiar to many a long term kit car enthusiast as the name behind Specialist Cars in Souldern, Oxfordshire who produced some superb examples of good quality kits from 1981 onwards. I suppose their most publicised efforts were a pair of NG TCs that they built for export which, as well as being the first V8 powered cars and overcoming all the problems caused by differences between MG and Rover engines, were also excellent examples of what could be achieved with a little careful thought and imagination.

It is those same qualities that make the Latham F2 such a hot prospect for future success even though the prototype currently features many aspects which require improvement. The idea for the car was hatched a long time ago while the current car has emerged after four years dedicated research and development. Indeed, it was Paul's experience at Specialist Cars that prompted him to take his ideas one step further. At that time, he built only the kits which he considered to be worth the effort while his contact with the industry showed him much that was very primitive and of poor quality. He reasoned that there was a demand for something more sophisticated than the batch of period roadsters that seemed to head the field in terms of quality and popularity so he set to work.

Click to view enlargement. Permit pop-upsThe design parameters were many. The car had to be an open two seater with room behind the seats for, as the blurb so neatly puts it, 'the odd baggage or baby', it had to be capable of accepting a hardtop for all year round use, it had to have an easy to operate hood, it had to have a decent sized boot sufficient to carry a couple of weeks touring luggage, it had to have at least 100 bhp on tap and be smooth and light enough not to cost a fortune in petrol. In addition, it had to be practical, good looking, fast and relatively cheap and it had to be fresh for the chap who didn't want to go round explaining his car as a lesser copy of something else. (Click image right to view enlargement) A tall order but does the car live up to it? I think it does.

As well as his experience of building kits, Paul has also had the opportunity of driving a wide variety of cars from competition Ferraris right down to the tattiest Midget while he also spent a couple of years driving a Davrian as his personal everyday transport. The car was a glassfibre monocoque propelled by a Hillman Imp engine and it was extremely successful in modsports racing,' beating everything except heavily modified Elans with far more power on tap. Having conducted experiments with various chassis for his car, Paul then began to wonder whether the same principles would ensure the success of a larger car with a heavier engine, thus the monocoque route was chosen.

Car Magazine, November 1988The central tub of the car is a complex moulding with the sills and bulkhead moulded separately. When the sills are added they are capped and filled with foam which adds amazing strength for very little weight. The bulkhead is double skinned for additional strength and the mechanics are carried on two 16 gauge tubular subframes which bolt to the tub through kevlar reinforced mountings at either end.

The choice of mechanics is also an interesting one when everyone seems to automatically go for Cortina for the convenience of the customer and their ready availability. The Triumph Dolomite provides a far more sophisticated package which includes a choice of two engines, a standard 1850 and the 16-valve Sprint version, an overdrive gearbox which is the more usual to discover, a well located live axle and even a good set of instruments. In addition, Paul has designed his car to use as many parts as possible from the donor even down to the door handles. The only problem is the front suspension which mounted the coil spring damper unit above the upper wishbone. However, this one has been neatly overcome in a manner that adds greatly to the road performance of the car (see inset photo left, where the inboard dampers and rocker arm can just be made out).

As stated, the front subframe bolts to the monocoque and in order to balance the weight distribution, the engine is moved well back in the frame. This leaves a decent gap between the engine and the Dolomite radiator which has been utilised for the front suspension. The top wishbone has been modified to form a rocking arm and the Spax adjustable coilover dampers are mounted inboard.

Car Magazine, November 1988Again, everything else is standard Dolomite. At the back, the rear suspension bolts straight into another 16 gauge, tubular steel sub-frame and features the standard set up, currently with standard springs and dampers. Behind that, the boot floor is moulded to accept the Dolomite fuel tank and spare wheel side by side and these are protected by a tubular steel crumple zone.

The car was designed to accept either 13' or 14' with 185/70 tyres while, for the purposes of experiment, the car was fitted with 60 profile tyres on 13' rims on the day of my visit.

The body design is also unique. To my mind it presents a pleasingly flowing shape which will improve with the fitment of the larger wheels and tyres, The bonnet is a one piece, forward hinging unit which incorporates the inner wheel arches. It is easily detatched from the car by pulling two pip pins to afford unrestricted access to the engine. The only slight criticism was that the day I drove it was a little windy and it moves about a great deal when raised so perhaps a little more stiffness would not go amiss while the fixings when closed, which comprise the Dolomite spring catch and a Dzus fastener either side, still allow it to move about. Of course, there is no danger but it is a little disconcerting nevertheless.

Moving back, the screen is MGB and the bonnet sweeps up at the base to conceal the wipers. Behind the screen, the dashboard, houses all the Dolomite clocks, heater controls, ash tray, fresh air vents and stereo recess. The main clocks are grouped in front of the driver along with the Triumph multi warning light cluster and the hazard warning switch. To the left, the three auxilliary clocks are ranged above the manual switch for the Kenlowe electric fan. Further over the heater controls are sandwiched between the clock and a map light while below, the rest of the bits and pieces are fitted into a specially designed centre console.

The seats are excellent. They look very similar to Lotus Elan but are the product of Latham Sports Cars while the driving position is fine, if a little light on legroom for the taller driver.

Behind the passenger space, the boot sweeps up in a feature now common on production cars as it allows the boot space to be significantly increased and this car is no exception giving a very good 11 cubic feet while the boot, released from inside the car, also plays host to the fuel filler.

Car Magazine, November 1988The doors are on the Dolomite hinges and though, these ones sagged a little, it is a fault of worn hinges rather than the design of the car. The windows, which wind up on Spitfire mechanisms, are currently Perspex while they will soon be replaced with toughened glass. The shape suggests Lotus Elan again while there is no frame. The leading edge features an aluminium channel but this will be in stainless steel on production cars as a better finish can be achieved and the end caps are easier to fabricate.

Overall, the package offers a stylish car with sophisticated and powerful mechanics, spacious accommodation for two and their luggage along with an advanced method of construction that will endure and hold its value. I like it and, when the completed production car makes its debut at Stoneleigh in 1989, I'm sure many will agree.

Behind The Wheel

Opening the door and dropping into the seat, you are aware of how low the driving position is. For tall drivers, legroom can be a little short but the pedals can be moved forward by about six inches. The problem is caused by the long travel clutch which has a very small master cylinder. A larger cylinder will reduce the travel and allow the pedals to move forward. The column is also adjustable. Foot space for the passenger is also restricted by the siting of the battery on the other side of the bulkhead. All the clocks are easily visible through the attractive Dolomite wheel and the rest of the controls are well placed. The chassis frame provides mounting points for either three or four point harnesses which is again indicative of forethought and planning.

The interior mirror gives a decent view over the high boot line while the hood folds down below the level of the boot so does not impede rear vision. The car was fitted with an overtaking mirror but for me it was awkwardly positioned and did not prove very practical. To my mind it was the wrong tool for the job as far better mirrors are available.

Car Magazine, November 1988The car was fitted with a standard 1850 engine mated to an early four-speed box with no overdrive driving through the lower 3.63:1 diff unit. At 680 kgs the car is a good 5 or 6 cwt lighter than the donor so it was no surprise when moving off that acceleration, even from the tired development engine, was very rapid. Indeed, Paul has taken performance figures on a disused airfield where the car recorded 0 - 60 in 7.2 seconds and a top speed of 122 mph! The red line is set at 6500 but in its current state, it was not happy to go more than 5000 in the gears but that was plenty for rapid progress round the lanes of Oxfordshire.

On smooth roads, the car was a joy but come the bumps, it seemed very harsh and rattly; unusual in a monocoque design. However, ignoring the noise and the occasional grounding of the skid plates. I pressed on.
It was a pleasure to drive a car fitted with a large wheel as I always feel far more relaxed in control while, on the handling side, the front end was superb pitching into anything it was aimed at with well controlled enthusiasm and minimal roll. The steering felt good and the column transmitted marvellous feel. However, the rear end is currently one inch lower than the production cars will be and this, combined with the experimental fitting of the 60-profile tyre, caused the bottoming. In addition, the rear rode on standard springs and dampers which we all agreed were too soft and, though I didn't push it to break away, I felt it would not be difficult to do, especially if fitted with the more powerful Sprint engine.

Car Magazine, November 1988The other thing was that the engine tended to run out of revs. I know it was tired but I reckon the overdrive box with the 3.45:1 diff will be a much better bet driving 14 inch wheels with either 60 or 70 profile tyres.

Apart from the shortcomings of its current spec, I enjoyed the car very much. The steering allowed you to place it very accurately while the disc / drum brakes proved very efficient at stopping the lighter charge. The box was a delight with a good clean, fast change but it was strange to find a box with such a wide gate. I kept going from second to neutral as I failed to take the stick far enough across.

On the engine front, the standard 1850 gives 91 bhp at 5200 and 105 ft lbs torque at 3500 while the Sprint, which is sure to prove the more attractive gives 127 blip at 5700 and 122 ft lbs torque at 4500.
So the car has certainly got performance with the availability of a good deal more, it is attractive, spacious, good to drive while it is also easy to live with.

The hood frame is MGB while the hood is a special item which uses the MGB fixings to attach to the screen and although you have to stop and undo the poppers to lower it, when attacked by a sudden burst of rain, you can reach over your shoulder and pull it up in one go even at 30 mph. When all the hatches are battened down, headroom is fine even for the tallest chaps while the large rear window maintains good rear vision. For parking or tight manoeuvring, the high tail can be an obstacle but there are plenty of cars that suffer in a similar manner while the benefits of the design outweigh it.

Now, what does it cost? Well the basic kit comes to you for £1695 plus vat for a very comprehensive package while, unfortunately, kit prices are set to rise by about £200. However, don't be put off as I think the price is still very reasonable for a car that offers so much.

Car Magazine, November 1988Finally, as I said, the current demonstrator is a little tatty having suffered in the course of a hard life as a development and test car so, if you go and see it, don't be put off by the ragged edges and less than pristine condition while if you want to see a top example fitted with all the right trim and other bells and whistles, go to Stoneleigh next year. The car will still be around and, I think it has a bright future.

The company are currently in the process of relocating in Oxfordshire but, for the moment, all enquiries can be sent to . . .

With thanks to Ian Hyne
Kit Car Magazine, November 1988, pages 54-56/63

Paul's car remained the only F2 for some little while, even after this article was written, and he continued to delight in throwing the nimble beast around the back lanes of Oxfordshire. Tired it may have been, but the 1850 engine continued for several more years, and the car never did get the larger wheels, or stiffer springs, that Ian Hyne wanted. Paul still has the car, and has been talking about restoring it for some (not inconsiderable) time.

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