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Paul Latham-JacksonPaul (Latham-Jackson) is often asked about the history behind the F2; how and why it came to be designed and eventually produced. This is his account of the story - currently with few pictures, but more will be added shortly. It was written in late 1990, but we have not altered his words to reflect the passage of time. . . . .

"I have been fortunate enough to have driven a wide variety of some of the best sports cars produced since the war; ranging from competition Ferraris down to the humblest and tattiest of Spridgets and 'fifties Ford and Austin specials. I've always had a soft spot for the products of Lotus and Jaguar, but they have usually been too expensive for me to own a really good example of either.

Like many enthusiasts, I was disappointed when impending American legislation threatened the future of the traditional open-top two-seater. The development of the front-engined sports car also came to a grinding halt when mid-engine configuration became fashionable in the 'sixties. The mid-engined road burners that followed always had a crouching aggression that was most attractive, but for reasons of space utilisation, gearbox type and position and tyre fashion, they were less practical, generally more expensive and rarely as elegant as the more traditional roadsters and sports tourers.

The driver appeal had changed too. On the race track - smooth surfaced and built for flat-out competition driving - the last iota of handling and roadholding must be extracted from the complex system that is a race car chassis. At much lower touring or even fast road driving speeds, such cars are often unsuited to the unpredictable road surfaces, narrow lanes and changeable weather that so often seems to be part and parcel of the joyous experience of driving a good car on the open road.

I am a great believer in the old adage that racing improves the breed, but I also believe that when racing cars became primarily mid-engined and wide tyred they were so far removed from road vehicles that it became difficult to see how they were going to benefit the sporting road driver. Of course there have been some desirable mid-engined cars - who would deny the appeal of the Lamborghini Muira or the Ferrari 308 GTB? - but they have tended to be at the more expensive end of the market. When Porsche (who have won an awful lot of sports car races!) decided to produce a new generation of roadgoing sports cars to replace their ageing 911 series, the 924 and 928 cars appeared with their engines at the front.

Of course there have been other front-engined sports cars produced since the 'sixties. Alfa Romeo soldier on still with the Pininfarina bodied Spyder: a lovely body (designed by the people responsible for the Daytona Ferrari) around a competent chassis and desirable engine, but hardly the car for Everyman! The Fiat 124 Spyder was a pleasant sporting tourer but not for sale in the UK.

Here in England we produced the TR7. I've always liked TRs and looked forward to the announcement of the TR7, but why, oh why, didn't they produce it with a soft-top and Sprint engine in the first place? By the time these options were available, the poor car had already established itself (unfairly, I think) with a reputation as an emasculated poseur's car. Part of the problem was undoubtedly the American regulations, with their insistence on high, indestructible bumpers and fears of acid rain, but the main problem, I'm certain, was the body design. The TR7 looked great from the front, but after that it turned into a poorly executed pastiche of a mid-engined car.

Things went a bit quiet after that, apart from Morgan filling up their waiting lists and TVR producing the angular Tasmin. Then Reliant turned out the SS100; with a body designed (apparently!) by Michelotti, who should really have known better, but with strong TR7 overtones and lots of unnecessary detail moulding. They have since learned their lesson and revised the body mouldings to smooth out the shape and improve the car's appearance immeasurably, though possibly too late to salvage dwindling sales.

In the meantime, the kit car industry had gathered a large band of followers, mostly unhappy with what the mass manufacturers were turning out. Not everyone wanted to restrict their sporting motoring to a shopping car with extra stripes or even a soft top, and few could afford the silly prices beginning to be asked for the older sporting machinery. By the late 'seventies any five year old car was already beginning to rust very badly. The kit car boom enabled the young man without a fortune to put together an exciting open bolide using the perfectly reliable mechanical bits from the decaying family car. Lets face it; MG, Jaguar and Lotus all started in a similar way. The problems with most of the early 'eighties kit cars was that they were so unrefined. A doorless cramped machine with a massive ladder chassis is fine for a few summer afternoons, but after a rainy trip of a few hundred miles the appeal begins to wane.

At this time I had left my work in motor racing and was running the Specialist Cars workshop in Oxfordshire in partnership with my wife, Julia. We spent some time repairing and rebuilding the odd Lotus, Marcos or Ginetta, but most of our business was building new kit cars for people who had neither the time nor the facilities to do it themselves. We built several of the better types, such as Marlin and NG, and a few less delightful products from manufacturers who shall remain nameless.

It was during this time that the germ of the F2 idea began to take shape. Because we were not aligned with any one kit manufacturer, many potential customers would ask our advice about which kits to consider, and it soon became apparent that there was a significant demand for something more sophisticated than the 'thirties replicas that were so prevalent at the time. It couldn't be a replica because most of the people involved knew quite a lot about car history and didn't really want to admit that they were driving a copy of something. They wanted the real thing, and it had to be practical, good looking, fast and relatively cheap to buy, so that more money could be spent on things like leather seats and decent wheels and tyres.

After a lot of thought and nattering we came up with a basic specification. The car would have to be an open two-seater but with room behind the seats for the odd baggage or baby. There would have to be adequate and simple weather equipment and a boot sufficiently large and secure enough for a couple of weeks' continental touring. In order to propel this package along sufficiently rapidly we would need something around 100 bhp minimum, and the car would have to be low and smooth enough not to cost a fortune in petrol.

The one and only F1, at Castle CombeWe prepared an exploratory prototype using an old TR4 chassis and a heavily modified 1950's bodyshell and it was very well received at Stoneleigh that year. We had obviously got the formula right but we had to find a more suitable donor car and re-design the slightly ungainly body so that it was completely original, more practical and a lot prettier. There was also the question of the chassis. The TR frame was rather flexible without its steel bodyshell so we had strengthened the GRP shell with foam-filled sills and a massive rear bulkhead that incorporated the aluminium fuel tank. There was also a strong tubular steel hoop bolted through to the chassis and extending across the car behind the dashboard. The body itself formed a very rigid monocoque, and when it was bolted to the TR chassis with the engine moved six inches back the whole assembly was far more stiff than I'd expected. I began to wonder if we could do without the chassis entirely.

By that time I had spent a couple of years driving a Davrian as my personal car. The Davrian is a tiny streamlined coupe with a Hillman Imp engine stuck in the back. They were (and still are! ) immensely successful in Modsports racing and just about the only things that could beat them consistently were highly modified Lotus Elans.

The Davrian also had a glass-fibre monocoque. Large section sills were filled with hard-set polyurethane foam and connected by thick GRP bulkheads and glass/plywood sandwich floors. It worked perfectly. The only question was whether the same principles could be applied to a rather larger structure with a heavier engine. Careful study of composite race car chassis and the foam-filled hulls of modern racing yachts convinced me that it was not only possible, but likely to be a far more practical method of construction than the space frame.

Space frames are wonderful for competition cars. They are relatively simple to make (not easy to design though!), very strong and simple to repair. Their main drawback is that they do not keep the weather out. By their very nature they define the areas of the car into engine bay, passenger compartment etc, but then need panels rivetted or glued into position to form bulkheads, floors and footwells etc.

Our experience at Specialist Cars had taught us that the best way to make a cockpit weatherproof was to incorporate the entire floor, sides and front and rear bulkheads in one moulding which is almost impossible with a true spaceframe. The monocoque lends itself very well to this type of unitary construction approach!

Having chosen - or rather, been presented with - the most suitable construction technique, a suitable donor car had to be chosen before we could carry on with the detail design of the centre section. As the car was initially to be produced in kit form, which means that the purchaser has to find his own mechanical parts, we drew on our Specialist Cars experience once again and decided that it was essential to take all the component parts from one donor vehicle. This would avoid asking people to collect together a series of previously unrelated parts.Triumph's award-winning 16-valve Sprint engine

It didn't take long to select the Triumph Dolomite, with its well-located live rear axle, overdrive gearbox and the wonderful 16-valve engine of the Sprint as an option. With the exception of an oil pressure gauge it even had a good set of instruments. I was initially worried by the engine's reputation for overheating, but after talking to a number of people who knew the engine well I realised that it was something that could be overcome with a little care and attention to detail. It is amazing how a car can get a tainted reputation in the first few months of its production life, and that taint will stay with it long after the problem has been solved - and even after the car has gone out of production.

The spring damper units fitted between the engine and radiatorThe only real problem with the Dolomite was the front suspension. Firstly; the spring/damper units are mounted above the top wishbone assembly, which means that they go far too high for the low bonnet line I had envisaged for the F2, and secondly; the steering rack is mounted behind the front axle line rather than in front. This means that if the engine were to be lowered in relation to the front suspension it would also have to move a long way back in the chassis. This in turn leads to complications in the design of the exhaust system where it tries to go through the passenger footwell. Both problems could have been overcome by using front suspension units from the Triumph Herald or Spitfire, but this would of course have meant more cost to the customer. So we decided to stick with the Dolomite parts and make them work.

A detail shot of the suspension arrangementThe solution to the first problem is, I think, particularly ingenious and has since become quite a feature of the F2 design: The lower ball joint is not designed for the sort of loading that would be imposed if we were to mount the spring/damper unit on the lower wishbone, even if there was anywhere suitable to mount it. Also, since the engine had to be moved so far back to keep the bonnet line down, there was now a large gap between the radiator and the front of the engine. It seemed an ideal place to put the springs and dampers; well inboard and operated by rocker arms just like a modern Formula One car! The rockers could be fabricated using the original top wishbone pressings as a base and be offered on exchange as part of the kit.

Having established this new relationship for the Dolomite parts we then had an approximate outline around which to design the body. Many people have asked me what influenced the shape of the Latham and whether it is supposed to look like some previous design. It isn't. Nor is it intended to recreate the spirit of the fifties sports racer or sixties road car. Most of the design decisions on the bodywork were predetermined by our initial parameters, the requirements of practicality, or the Construction and Use Regulations which effect all cars to be driven on public roads in this country. Certainly there have been particular cars that I have admired, and most people have been able to detect styling influences from one period or another in the F2. But rather than borrowing features from other cars I tended to study the way in which their designers had overcome particular problems and then apply these to my own design situation.

Headlights were covered with plastic fairings rather than being retractable in order to save cost and complication. As many parts from the donor car as possible were used, except where they were likely to compromise the sporting character of the Latham, and that decision in itself determined a great many of the design details; from the type of lights we used to such things as door handles, locks, instruments, pedals etc. So, as the various parts were put into place the number of design decisions became fewer, until I felt that I'd hardly designed the car at all - I had just uncovered something that was already there!

Paul's F2So, there you are! The Latham F2 has now been designed and built. Some people may not like the design - it isn't perfect for me, so it's unlikely to be perfect for everyone else, but a lot of thought and hours of development went into arriving at the unique character and visual appeal of the F2. Combined with this is its immense performance potential and the practical detailing that makes it as suitable for driving to the office every day as for setting out on a tour of Europe for a few weeks. Perhaps most important of all; when someone asks you what you're driving you don't have to say "a kit car", or "a GT40, but it's only a replica". You can look them in the eye and say (proudly?) that it's "a Latham - come and have a look!"

Paul Latham-Jackson