Last Saturday was epic. Not only did I become the first journalist to ride in the Hulme CanAm test mule, but I also bought Shapeshifter’s new CD. It is awesome. Wave after wave of deep bass is suffused by driving, punctuating rhythms and a sweet harmonic counterpoint that lifts you up and makes your hair stand on end.
Am I talking about the CD, or am I talking about the car? Both. The Hulme is to supercars what Shapeshifter is to soulful drum and bass: masterful. But rather than samplers and subharmonic generators, the aural assault is provided by the seven-litre Chevrolet LS7 that sits right behind your kidneys producing a shade under 600hp. And that’s in a car that weighs just over 1,000kg in its current form, and will be even less when it enters production (most probably with a supercharger and another 80-100hp).
The naysayers were out in full force when the Hulme was first unveiled back in 2005. Can a Kiwi company make a supercar that will be successful on the world stage? “Oh yeah, nah!” was the typical chorus. But they forget about how the Britten motorbike dominated the tracks, and then there’s the most visible of all New Zealand icons: McLaren.
In this case it’s McLaren’s right-hand man, Denny Hulme, who gets the naming rights. This was granted by his widow, Greeta, which makes this car the only car that will bear the name of a Formula 1 champion (McLaren, if you remember, was only CanAm champion).
That’s not the Hulme’s only unique point, though: its F1-inspired design and historic McLaren-themed CanAm orange hue sets this apart from supercars like the new McLaren MP4-12C, which looks derivative of a great many supercars.
Undoubtedly there is a market for a car like this, even at a projected £220,000 (CanAm) and up to £350,000 (‘F1’ model with launch control and creature comforts). With hundreds, if not thousands, of cashed up car collectors who remember the heyday of unrestricted racing in the late 1960s that was the Canadian-American Challenge Cup (CanAm), a vehicle as distinctive and exclusive as the Hulme will certainly make its way into the climate controlled warehouses alongside all manner of Bugattis and Ferraris. A production run of 20-30 a year will ensure exclusivity, and the quality target is that of Pagani.
This particular car, though, has taken well over a million dollars to make. It’s the test mule — ‘Bear 1’, named after Denny’s nickname — developed to fine-tune the handling. It’s done some reasonably rapid laps of the Southern Hemisphere’s fastest circuit, Pukekohe Park Raceway, in the hands of veteran racer Kenny Smith, and of the Southern Hemisphere’s newest circuit, Hampton Downs piloted by F5000 driver (and circuit co-owner) Tony Roberts.
Unlike the car shown at Goodwood, which was a rolling chassis version of the hardtop F1, this is a working version of the CanAm, an open top, open wheel road/race car. The purpose is to evaluate aerodynamics, chassis performance, driving position and driving dynamics before the final specification is decided upon and the final prototype built.
The chassis has been developed with input from Bruce Turnbull. His own racecars, the Saker GT and Sprint, dominate in European racing, even having their own one-make series. The Hulme Supercars have been stylized by Tony Parker, professor of design at Massey University, renowned Chaparral and F1 designer Chuck Pelly is the overall design consultant, and a number of the team are leaders in various automotive fields.
This great pedigree has resulted in something quite astonishing. The Hulme CanAm seems less jarring on the road than my (dearly departed) version 4 Subaru WRX STI Type R with its standard suspension. It’s far less bumpy than the Radical SR3 (though perhaps a fraction of a second slower to 100kph). It’s also far more comfortable than an Ariel Atom (read our review here), in which you get a hard plastic seat and scaffolding for bodywork.
Despite its compliant springing, it sits flat in the corners like a true racecar. Every hedonistic press of the throttle results in a punishing assault on the tarmac as the 315-section Pirelli tyres scrabble for grip, propelling the car into the distance almost before your vision has a chance to catch up. Huge volumes of air are sucked through the air intake next to your head and you hear every angry breath it takes. The atmosphere not commandeered by the intake is channeled either into the radiators or over the aerodynamics, making the car stable at speed and giving it some impressive g-forces in the bends.
Jock Freemantle, Managing Director for Hulme Supercars is understandably cagey when I press him for actual performance figures, not wanting to set himself up for an impossibly expensive task like Bugatti did with the Veyron. However, he concedes that (for the price of a very nice house) it will have a top speed in excess of 320kph, and the kind of overtaking prowess reserved for superbikes. With the expected power-to-weight ratio expect 0-62mph/100kph times around the three-second mark, and equally impressive braking.
But will anyone ever get to experience it? Funding became difficult to get during the economic crisis, but the team is optimistic, despite the project being two years behind schedule. An initial public offering will be unveiled shortly and that should provide Hulme Supercars with the funds to commercialize it.
We live in a world that is cosseting, convenient and comfortable. We have electric blankets, chairs that massage us, and TVs that are wider than our field of vision. Cars like the Hulme CanAm appeal to our primal side — enough of a fright for your average millionaire. They are shape-shifters; radical designs that will influence supercars to come.
What we like
- Unique styling
- Epic performance
- It’s homegrown Kiwi ingenuity
What we don’t like
- At that price point it’s got stiff competition in the form of the Caparo T1
Words and photos Darren Cottingham