Feeling Vindicated – Vindicator Sprint
by totalkitcar, Jan 20, 2006
Vindicator Cars are amongst the hardest working and enthusiastic kit car companies around. Founded back in the mid-nineties by an affable chap called Roger Lea, they’ve always been known for honest and value for money kit cars. In 2000, current proprietor John Butler took over, with business partner Alan Taylor, and a new era dawned for the company. Gone were the low-key appearances at shows, replaced by proper stand equipment, videos, dry ice and dancing girls. Well, not dancing girls exactly, but you get the idea.
Alan, a former schoolteacher decided that specialist car manufacture wasn’t for him and departed in 2001 leaving the indefatigable John Butler in sole control. To say the intervening five years have been eventful is an understatement.
John became involved with Vindicator quite by chance. He used to be an independent financial adviser (until Mid-2004) and after an intro by a mutual friend, popped into the old Vindicator base to see if Roger and crew needed any financial planning advice. That same friend later mentioned that the company might just be coming up for sale. As a lifelong car nut, and owner of an estimated 300 cars at one time or another, the deal was as good as done when Roger let John take one of the cars out for a little ahem, blast around the block. Coming back with a perma-grin etched on his face Butler immediately set about putting a business plan together and the rest as they say is history.
I don’t think there’s anyone apart from Santa Claus on Christmas Eve perhaps, who works harder than Vindicator. This friendly Black Country lad is always looking for ways to promote his brand and his enthusiasm is totally infectious. Even on the photoshoot he was ‘selling’ the idea of the next Vindi Open Day to passers-by walking an Alsation. I’m not sure if sleep is on the Butler schedule, but it’d probably be a ‘power-sleep’ with his eyes open, dreaming-up his next idea.
Although there are three base models in the Vindicator range, the Shadow (kit from £4995) and Vulcan (£3795) are pretty low profile at the moment due to the concentration on the Sprint and its derivatives. The former two share an all-enveloping body style, with doors and a different windscreen frame being the major differences between the two. Talking of the Sprint it has several variants. In standard trim it is now in Mk4 guise, with an ‘XL’ version, adding 5in to the length in the boot area and more recently, a full four-seater called the ‘Family’ adding 12in into the wheelbase and even more in practicality.
We recently visited the company, now based in the old Lomax works in Maypole Fields, Halesowen, and wanted to find out what makes this manufacturer tick as well as sampling a couple of their demonstrators.
First up is the Sprint Mk4, which is differentiated from the Mk3 by virtue of revised bodywork, mainly around the nose area. I originally described it as looking akin to an Aardvark, which John Butler took exception to. Although it’s still not to everyone’s taste, it is now starting to make more sense to more people than not. I confess it has grown on me too!
The vibrant red GRP bodywork (one of 12 standard gelcoat colours, with 300 options costing between £50-100 extra) is of good quality with no obvious blemishes. John rightly says, “We supply the fundamental bits in the kit making it a Vindicator, the customer provides the cosmetics, and what they put into it makes it their Vindicator”. That’s true and I know where he's coming from, because my opinion has always been that a demonstrator must have an aspirational factor to encourage people to want to buy the kit in the first place.
I find the driving position to be pretty spot-on and am impressed with the general solid feel of the Mk4. I’d go so far as to say that it is on a par with many production cars and there isn’t a rattle or a bone-jarring thud to be heard. Although our drive is in a very built-up area, on less than ideal road surface conditions I can still concur with John’s claims that the Vindicator’s strength is in the handling department and it’s certainly true that a large percentage of the 200-odd owners take to the track regularly either through motor racing, hillclimbs or trackdays. Indeed, many of them take in the monthly factory-organised circuit day. Power on the demo car comes from a 1.8-litre Zetec and is more than lively enough. That fine ride is aided by Venom-style alloys with 205 x 45 R16 Goodyear Eagle tyres.
The Sprint Mk3 kit costs £2995 or an extra £500 for the Mk4 version to which you have to add a Sierra donor vehicle and a modified propshaft at £150, wiring loom £160, fuel tank £150 and items such as seats, trim, lights, wheels and tyres etc. A DIY build is possible from £4500, with an average customer spend around £5-6000, although add another £1000 and you’ll have a top-spec car. The end result as is obvious with all kit cars depends on your budget and how far you want to go with the shiny bits. Of course if you want the extra 5in boot space, the XL variant for the Mk3 or Mk4 will add another £500 to the bottom line. Weighing in at 700kg, with a 380kg front and 320kg rear split, I was pleasantly surprised at the solidity and feeling of being planted to the tarmac.
Moving onto the Family model it initially looks a little like a stretched limo, but actually up close the practicality of a four-seat kit car becomes apparent. You can probably count the amount of multiple seat kits on one hand and once you get past the Metisse and Quantum Saloon you really start to struggle. Of course the majority of people wouldn’t even entertain the notion and would choose a production car to cart the family around, but for those that are real hardcore kit car diehards then this will appeal and John tells me that he received the first order before the prototype was even driveable. Even if he hadn’t Butler wouldn’t have been deterred, he’d have come up with something else. However, he deserves a bit of long overdue success and no one works more for the cause than John.
I have to say that this one is a good piece of innovation and does feature a very pleasant interior and once behind the wheel you don’t actually notice the 12in longer wheelbase (plus the boot is moved back another 6in). The Family is a nice driving experience and even though the power in the prototype comes from a humble donor-sourced 2-litre Pinto it feels surprisingly nimble with decent acceleration and a solid build feel similar to the standard two-seater. The usual engine range is possible, as the engine bay shares the same dimensions as a two-seater, with one ‘Family’ already ordered to be fitted with a 2-litre turbo! Sure, this is almost a niche within a niche and it’s never going to sell massively but for those that want it then it’s an attractive proposition with a kit price of £5000, a DIY budget build for £6-6500 and a top spec from around £7-7500.
For those people who like to be completists here’s a quick rundown of the various Vindicator Sprint variants:-
Mk1 - Ford Cortina based with Sierra rear-end.
Mk2 - Various transitional models.
Mk3 - Ford Sierra/BMW-based. Current.
Mk4 - As Mk3 but with revised bodywork.
Underpinning the Sprint and its various derivatives is an extremely beefy MIG-welded spaceframe chassis with at the front unequal length double wishbones, Sierra uprights and brakes, with the rear end comprised of Sierra wishbones and diff with fully adjustable coil-over AVO or Gaz dampers all-round. The parts you’ll require from your Sierra donor vehicle include uprights, brakes, steering rack, propshaft (requires shortening), radiator and instruments if you’re on a budget. In addition to the ubiquitous Ford Sierra donor option there’s also a BMW choice and you can use the E30 or E36, which will add around £800 to the cost of your build. Engine choices are many including the ‘free with donor’ Pinto/CVH etc and you can also choose from Cologne V6, Zetec, Vauxhall XE, plus many others including BMW, Rover V8 and even Chevy 350.
In addition to producing Vindicators in kit and fully built forms (plus any stage in between) the build team are more than happy to take on other manufacturer’s kit build and SVA preparation work.
'Three big geezers in the Family' - Practicality highlighted here, prior to the roll cage height and profile being finalised.
He’s a likeable chap John, always good for a quote or a witty quip and is never short of an amusing play on words with the company name such as the ‘Vindi-cruise’ or the ‘Vindi-roadshow’. How about the ‘Vindi-loo’ to describe the works toilet facilities - you get the idea. I also recall the funny advert strapline. “If you think a Vindaloo’s hot, try one of these”! As I said earlier John never fails to put a wry smile on my face. So what if they are underrated, their work ethic is admirable and so is the enthusiasm and many people want good old-fashioned practicality, value for money and actually in this case pretty decent kit cars. As John Butler says, “it’s a Vindicator, now what’s the question?!” Quite.
For more information contact:
Mobile: 07703 289 833 (John)
Landline: 0121 602 1459 (messages only)
Words by Steve Hole
Photos by Carol Hardy
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