Kits ‘n’ Cruisin’…The Quantum Saloon…

Men and Motors - Quantum Saloon

Back in the broadcast day of Men & Motors Neil Winnington created Kits ‘n’ Cruisin’ the Worlds first magazine programme featuring kit cars and hot rods. Neil worked for ten years in the specialist car industry as a prototype car upholsterer before joining Men and Motors in 1998 becoming the series producer.Still an avid fan of the kit car Neil gives us the low down on his Quantum Saloon.

“I like the car, Sir,” the security guard smiles as I drive past into Men and Motors HQ
“Thank you,” I reply, glowing with the feel-good freebee that such a nice compliment always brings.I hear that a lot driving the Quantum Saloon and the other question people always ask is “What is it?”That usually follows the first comment if I’m not driving past at the time. It feels special getting this attention and even better that it always comes with a smile.

So what is it? Why is it on the Men and Motors page? Which of the old programmes is it from? Well those who remember far back enough, or wish to check out Kits ‘n’ Cruisin’ on the Men and Motors Youtube channel will not be surprised to see a picture of an older looking me when you hear that it is/was a kit car. Not a two-seater or track day refugee though. This is a fully functioning family car, with seats in the back, central locking (yes, central locking), electric windows, a sunroof and a 6 CD multi-stacker hidden away for entertainment. It has a heater that keeps you in a light shirt even on the coldest winter day and is useable every day.

Quantum launched their first car, the Coupe, in November 1985. It looked much like my saloon from the front, but was a hatchback like the donor Fiesta. It had been a project by one of the Wooldridge brothers, who founded the company for his engineering degree, but the four brothers brought their individual talents to the project and Quantum was born.

Only 17 Coupe’s were built before all went quiet, but then they came back with the Saloon, as you see here. This is number 193 of the 214 that were built, later joined by the 2+2, which was a convertible version switching to a semi-monocoque construction and the H4 with its folding hard top and galvanised backbone steel chassis.

The final car to join the range was the Xtreme, which started out as the Savant 175. We followed its development on Kits ‘n’ Cruisin’ and started building one until the series came to a premature end.The Xtreme is still in production, but the Quantum of today has a different team at the helm, but the owners club work hard to keep track of the original cars and have restored the oldest surviving Coupe, 003. I hope to pay that car a visit someday for a feature, but back to our car…

The engineer who built this car used it as his daily car for almost the entire 19 years he owned it from assembling the kit using an old Mk2 Ford Fiesta XR2 as the donor for engine, gearbox, wiring, lights, glass and even the full interior apart from the carpets and headlining carpet. To explain in the simplest terms this is a rust free re-shell for a Mk2 Ford Fiesta. The composite monocoque works to the same monoshell principle as the donor. However the GRP used in the monocoque is 70% stronger per kg than sheet steel, which is why formula one uses the more glamorous (but using the same principle) carbonfibre reinforced resins in their construction, and the Quantum is much, much stiffer than any ford in a crash scenario. You have to go up to Volvo V70 for similar structural strength.

Whereas the Fiesta it was based on was a hatchback the Quantum is a saloon. This added overhang at the rear balances the extra length of the aerodynamic nose cone with drop down flaps, behind which the donor headlamps are attached to the same solid bulkhead as the radiator. The nose cone is both removable and provides the initial crumple zone before the substantial box sections around the engine bay absorb any further intrusion long before it reaches the cockpit. The saloon boot adds even further rigidity over the larger opening a hatchback would provide and the spoiler moulded in genuinely cancels out lift at the back. As well as creating a massive boot for the Quantum the extended rear again adds to the crash protection this car provides. It also makes the Quantum feel more like an old school grand tourer than a hot hatch and it is extremely comfortable on a long run. The biggest limitation on touring is the need to refill the donor Fiesta’s thimble sized petrol tank. Not the Quantum’s fault, but annoying on a very long run if you need to stop more often than you’d otherwise want to.

So that’s the techy stuff out of the way, it’s going to be badly built and unreliable, right? Well no, because it’s every bit as reliable as the donor. Parts, although harder to come by, are still cheap, and the bits that I’ve replaced have been Ford components that have suffered 20 years of use. So far that has been one headlight bulb (which has annoyingly gone again, so there is a deeper problem to sort out methinks), the exhaust, the spring mount rusted away on the front offside strut, so we’ve fitted new springs and shock absorbers at the front. A new radiator after the original sprung a leak and coolant pipes replaced by blue silicone jobbies after one of the old ones gave up the ghost. The water bottle also sprang a leak and we couldn’t find a replacement, so had a brass one made, which I think looks pretty good anyway. I also had the rear screen re-bonded to the car.

Jobs to do include a new pair of Avon front tyres, and new wheel bearings all round. The sender for the temperature gauge keeps popping off the engine, so that needs fixing, and I shall continue replacing Ford bits as and when they wear out. In the longer term, the factory fitted sunroof was disconnected by the previous owner after it became a bit sticky in operation, but the chap who re-bonded the rear screen to the car said he could clean up the mechanism and fix that and also adjust the electric door window mechanisms that are starting to get a bit sticky now. The gel coat finish on the body is a bit faded in places, and chipped or cracked in others and I plan to visit one of the boat GRP repair specialists on the South coast who can match and repair the damaged bits before I get the whole body t-cut professionally to bring the rest of the shell back up to snuff. The display on the stereo has faded away, but I’ve worked out how it works and can live with that. The rev counter doesn’t work, springing back to life intermittently with wildly inaccurate readings, but I’m told this is a common fault on XR2’s of this age and I was blessed with ears, so I don’t care.

Insurance for me and my old man to drive the car started at £160 in year one with 4000 mile limit on a specialist kit car policy sourced through the brilliant Quantum Owners Club. We found we had used all the mileage up within the year, such is the desire to drive the thing, so had to leave it sitting in the drive for the last few months of 2015. This year, and having both acquired three points on our driving licenses (in other cars m’laud), that has shot up to £286, but with a 10,000 mile policy.

On a recent round trip to Men and Motors HQ from my Northwest base and travelling on A-roads and motorways doing 70-ish on the latter the car did 45 mpg, which is about 7 better than expected and way better than the donor Fiesta could do with the same carb fed 1600 CVH engine. We actually calculated it as 47 MPG but rounded it down to 45 until we can further test this on other trips.

Bad points? There are a few if you live near any sort of speed bump the Quantum is too low to go over them without a really nasty scraping sound from the exhaust which sounds too excruciating to do at crawling pace and expensive any faster if you leave the exhaust behind. There is no power steering, and the brakes have nothing like the over assistance of a modern hatch. A pain if you like life to be finger tip light, but the upshot is feeling through the steering of the road surface no modern system can match and feel through the brake pedal you soon appreciate on a good bit of road. The gear change is as notchy and bulky as all Fords early front drivers were. The latest Fiesta is night and day better in this respect and has better balance to its handling. The Quantum is better than the donor Mk2, with keener turn in, balance and grip, but handling that you read motoring journo’s like me talk about isn’t mechanical grip. A set of wide tyres gives you that, right up to the point the road gets wet and you exit stage left wondering what happened as you climb out of the ditch. Handling is the natural balance of the car, the ability to change course mid-bend, dance around its centre of gravity and flow between corners. It’s the difference between Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney. Rooney is a talented player and has his moments of brilliance, but Messi can dance between several players leaving them wondering how he did it. The Quantum is Rooney, the top new Fiestas are Messi, the donor Fiesta is Bentner. No more football analogies I promise.

So how much does this sophisticated well engineered composite monocoque car cost in today’s market? Well to build from a kit with your donor car stripped and ready cost builders in the region of £5-7000 when the kit was new, but in recent years the track day phenomenon has flourished and people look for the lightweight track kits on the second hand market.

Practical saloon kits are out of fashion even though you could use this car as your daily transport. We picked this one up for an amazing £1200 and you see them on eBay or the owners club website for between £1000 and £2000. There are signs of prices hardening though, so now is the time to seek one out and buy it before they start going up. There were only 214 produced, so it has exclusivity on its side too!

So here’s the experiment I am going to carry out with you able to follow every step. We bought this from the engineer who built it and used the car daily for most of its first 19 years as a Quantum. I am going to keep this car as my main transport indefinitely. This is a car that could be a car for life, and that’s exactly what I intend to find out. Along the way I will keep track of costs, and try to work out the environmental impact of the car compared with the manufacturing, shipping and running the modern cars I could have bought instead. Remember this car runs a very un-PC carb fed CVH engine, so can the lower carbon footprint from effectively recycling the donor components and running a car for 20+ years counter the dirty engine? Other owners have fitted newer Ford engines too! Mostly Zetec units and I hear of one doing an electric conversion on his saloon, so I am keen to meet them and find out how well those updates work.

To set things off though I am doing a road trip to Sweden in August, planning to meet interesting people along the way and some great places. It will all be filmed exclusively for the Men and Motors Youtube channel. I have no doubt the car will make it, although I am certain there’s a sweepstake at Men and Motors towers over how many miles before it breaks down. If you want to play along, that round trip to drop off some tapes and take these photo’s was about 500 miles, which should be what I need to do each day en route to Sweden. The car didn’t miss a beat, and the only casualty was that headlamp bulb I mentioned earlier. Does that count as a break down? Not in my book, but I’ll let you all decide on that. For now I am doing the little jobs a bit at a time and running the car as often as I can. Even a short trip is an event and brings nice comments and enquiries about the car, so I am one happy camper… I could go for a two seater next though, as a summer fun thing though. The Quantum for touring and long road trips and something nimbler for my favourite Welsh roads or race days. Watch this space!