The partnership among the Thoroughbred Sports Car Club, Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, having brought a succession of special and unique cars to their Cultra Hillclimb event over the past five years, has scored another coup for 2016. A unique Lightweight Special built by the legendary Sir Alec Issigonis, designer of the Mini, will compete in the Cultra Hillclimb this Saturday, June 11, on the grounds of the Folk Museum. It will be driven in the Ards and North Down Borough Council-supported event by its present owner, Andy Storer, who hails from Newark, Nottinghamshire.
Although it was built prior to World War II, many of the car’s design ideas can be found in Issigonis’ post-war family cars. The chassis was a monocoque made of aluminum/plywood sandwich panels that made it both strong and lightweight. The side panels were linked by steel cross-members, while the wishbone front suspension and “trailing arm” swing rear axle were unique in that they used rubber as the springing medium — in compression at the front and in tension at the rear.
To reduce unsprung weight further, more unique features were used, such as ultra lightweight Elektron wheels and hubs with integral brake drums. His weight-saving philosophy even meant that the aluminum alloy skin of the Special was left unpainted.
Power initially came from a supercharged 750cc Austin Seven Ulster engine that accounted for some 20 percent of the Special’s 587 pounds, but it was replaced after World War II with an experimental OHC engine made by Morris Cars, which boosted the little car’s power-to-weight ratio to more than 200 hp per ton! This engine is in the car today.
Issigonis believed that, “There is no use designing and studying one part of a car. Everything is too tightly integrated for that.” He demonstrated this philosophy successfully with the Special, and would later repeat it in both the Morris Minor and the Mini. He later described the Lightweight Special as: “A frivolity in my life. It was not so much a design exercise as a means of teaching me to use my hands.”