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In early 1990 Peter Filby visited the new Latham workshops in Bicester. His article was as much a feature on Julia Latham-Jackson as it was an article about the F2. Upbeat and optimistic, it is hard to credit that the whole venture had folded eighteen months later . . .

Latham F2 : The New Era

The Latham F2 Super Sports seems to have been around for a long time now without ever receiving the serious attention it deserves — from either its maker or the public. Any such indecision is now about to dramatically change with the onset of a new era spearheaded by the determined Julia Latham-Jackson. Peter Filby reports.

BBC TV's Mastermind is a programme I always find memorable not just for the incredible knowledge of most of its contestants but also for its presenter's notably regular delivery of the phrase "I've started so I'll finish." For some reason, it's guaranteed to make me smile. Apply it to Julia Latham-Jackson's current mood, though, and it's deadly serious. Julia, you see, has been involved with the smooth Latham F2 sportster for longer than she cares to consider and right now she's strong on determination that the car must gain the recognition it deserves. Although several F2's have been delivered, the car's gestation period has been too long. It's time, feels Julia, that a truly original British sports car in the MGB/TR6 mould was up there in the forefront of the kit car industry — where it belongs.Julia Latham-Jackson with Latham F2 outside the new Bicester factory unit. It's small but modern and tidy and potentially efficient.

It's certainly fact that the F2 is both original in the classic British style and unique in design: it's styling is still fresh, it uses a central composite monocoque body tub with steel subframes front and rear, and it is based on Triumph Dolomite running gear. Nothing 'ordinary' about that package. Julia's position as sole director and chief inspiration behind Latham Sports Cars Ltd. is also unique: so far as I'm aware, she's the only lady running a kit car company today. Strong leadership, proven product, lost opportunities, terrific potential — there's just something about the overall mood of the situation that says now Is the time; the Latham F2 is going to happen.

Belief in the project is concrete-strong. It was always an essentially desirable car; it simply never received the background stability and full exposure any product needs to gain widespread acceptance. All that, says Julia, has changed. Home base is now a decent factory unit, a small but skilled team of craftsmen is there to make the car, and promotion this year will be more than enthusiastic. "The car is right," she says, "and I'm now taking it deadly seriously. I want to prove that I can do it. I believe that I've got much to contribute in what is basically a male-dominated scene."

Originally conceived by Paul Latham-Jackson in a workshop near Penzance, Cornwall, the F2 was the second car to bear the Latham name. The first was the FF model of 1984, a Jaguar XK SS lookalike based on a Triumph TR4 chassis. The FF looks good even now, but Paul decided to take a more original route for the F2 and so it wasn't until January 1988 that the prototype was finished. Early publicity was thin on the ground and only one body/chassis kit had been supplied before Paul moved base to a factory near Oxford. Trouble was, only one further kit was supplied before the F2 was allowed to fall dormant, although not for long . . .

Fired-up by the desire to engineer a satisfactory conclusion to a project which had absorbed so much of Paul's ability and knowledge, Julia took over the reigns in March last year. "We'd lost a lot personally and financially," she recalls, "and I wanted to prove that Paul had been right and the car was viable. I'd been heavily involved right from the beginning and it became my personal challenge."

Today, the Latham operation is at last established in a 'proper' factory. Seven kits were turned out under difficult conditions through 1989, but February this year saw the long awaited move into a 2000 sq.ft. modern unit in Bicester, near Oxford, home town of so many racing teams and racing-associated companies. It's a useful area to be in; there'll never be a shortage of expertise and skilled car builders in Bicester.

Julia Latham-Jackson with Latham F2 outside the new Bicester factory unit. It's small but modern and tidy and potentially efficient.The kit car that'll emerge from the new factory remains as individualistic as ever. Styling is a totally subjective area, but the F2's lines are unquestionably flowing — from the faired-in headlamps to the squat, chopped-off tail. Perhaps the real key to the car's visual appeal is its pure styling originality.

From under that smooth skin come more surprises: the structure draws influence from race car design with a light yet extremely strong composite monocoque central body tub. This unit's sills, floors and bulkheads are of double-skinned sandwich construction and oodles of plastic foam are injected into the box-sections to provide extra torsional rigidity and considerable impact resistance. Make no mistake, the whole assembly is quite a work of art. It should have wide appeal, too, particularly to those who care about efficiency and longevity.

In this setting, the F2 comes across as a sports car in the classic British tradition.To hold the suspension and drivetrain, the centre tub uses tubular steel front and rear sub-structures. The double wishbone front suspension is basically modified Dolomite gear using special inboard damper units, steering is rack and pinion, and the rear axle is live with appropriate springing, all basically Dolomite sourced. Where parts need modifying (as with the shortened propshaft), they are available on an exchange basis from Latham Sports Cars.

The power unit is again of Dolomite origin, either in 1850cc form or the more powerful and sophisticated 2-litre, 16-valve Sprint version, the latter being capable, in tuned form, of producing up to 200bhp. Since the F2 weights less than 14cwt, the pure entertainment factor isn't difficult to imagine. And if that isn't enough, the car enjoys more than average sporting practicality. There's a decent sized cockpit, full heating and ventilation, good weather protection, wind-up windows, plenty of storage space behind the seats and a large, lockable boot. A comfortable, long-distance tourer? Sounds like it.

Original styling in the great British sports car mould highlights Latham's appeal. Windscreen is MGB, hood of special designQuite a potent package, then, the F2. It's clearly not short on engineering integrity, originality of design, performance potential and true sports car appeal. Julia Latham-Jackson's strategy is to bind all those features together in a hard but honest promotional push that should get a unique car appealing powerfully to a niche market. With body/chassis kits available at £3220 inc. VAT and an estimated on-the-road cost of £7500 or thereabouts, I see no reason why she shouldn't succeed. Especially as she realises the need to "get some fun out of it, go for group meetings at Le Mans and things like that."

From our meeting I came away with little doubt that Julia has all the drive and ability to create every chance of acceptance for the F2 — the sort of success that the car deserves. She's a strong-willed enthusiast who sees no reason to discard — just because of its unusually long gestation period — the rich cell of design knowledge, British flair and sportscar purity that is the chariot bearing her name. As she reflects: "I've come to genuinely love cars, the car industry and the motor racing industry because they are areas full of entrepreneurs, craftsmen and people doing their own thing, using real skills. It's something we British do really well."

Making a success of the Latham F2 is something Julia Latham-Jackson aims to do really well. She'll probably achieve her wishes. We'll evaluate the car in action as soon as we get the chance.


Photograph captions: First image: Julia Latham-Jackson with Latham F2 outside the new Bicester factory unit. It's small but modern and tidy and potentially efficient. Second image: In this setting, the F2 comes across as a sports car in the classic British tradition. Black and White: Original styling in the great British sports car mould highlights Latham's appeal. Windscreen is MGB, hood of special design.

With thanks to Peter Philby
Which Kit? Magazine,
May 1990, pages 44-47

Which Kit? magazine is no longer published, having been taken over and relaunched in May 2007 as Complete Kit Car magazine. Click on the logo (right) to visit the new website: