Evolution of the Species:  The Le Mans Nota

This is a revised version of an article by Chris Buckingham, proprietor of NOTA Sports and Racing Cars, published in the April 2005 edition of the Clubman Drivers Club of Australia Inc. Newsletter.  It is the story of the evolutionary development of a car in two versions;  one as a CAMS approved supersports racing car and the other as a fully registrable road car.

A Potted History

Nota turned 50 in 2002, so on reflection we've been making sports and racing cars for a quite a while. Our first cars were in effect clubmans. They were built to the English 750 rules and rose from the old post war mud plugger class; both Lotus and Nota realizing that the mud pluggers were an excellent basis for a low cost sports car, which could be used for racing and eventually the road. My father, Guy Buckingham, an aircraft engineer, utilized his training and aircraft engineering principles to build light-weight racing cars, which embrace the power to weight concept to get their performance rather than opting for the bigger & bigger engines route. This we still adhere to today.
Aside from road clubmans, we have been building racing ones for over 40 years [winning 7 Clubman championships], along with many other classes. We made the first Australian built Formula Juniors, Vees, Formula Fords and Formula IIIs.
We also made perhaps the first mid-engined clubman in the world, the Nota Fang [the initial prototype was made in 1963]. The Fang was predominately powered by a Mini Cooper S engine although later cars were fitted with Lancia twin cam 2 litre engines along with, Suzuki Gti, Toyota 1600cc and 2000cc engines and finally, in the FI guise, the Toyota 2 litre Turbo and 3 litre Quad Cam V6.

Evolution of a New Car Begins

Because of our experience, several years ago I was asked along to a meeting of the Clubman Drivers Association and the Racing Clubman Association, and then the Clubman & Sports 1300 Racing Association, to look at a new clubman design, as CAMS had decided that the class should be a development class once again. Twin cam heads could be used, perhaps fuel injection and yes, the engines could be behind the driver. Nota produced a technical appraisal relating to the meeting’s discussions and sent the document to Chris Edward at CAMS on 16 August 1999 for their deliberations, and an initial draft was laid down.
Hence we started to build a 'Fang like car' for the class, but one shouldn't rush in! Twice within 6 months CAMS revised the formula. Motorbike 1100cc engines were included, so we changed the chassis so both could be fitted. Then it was, decided that 1600cc engines could also be used, [this also enabled us to set up for the new 1800cc VVti 141kw 6 speed Toyota Celica/Corolla engine transaxles, which we are going to put in our future road going Le Mans Notas], thus a further chassis change was made. Le Mans Nota with racing nose cone

CAMS had not finished though. They decided that, if the car had the engine behind the driver, the body had to be all-enveloping - no cycle front guards - another change. So if we had to have an all-enveloping body, let it be a good one. A low drag Cd was essential if we had to carry the extra weight of the full body, so let’s make it as slippery as possible; no unnecessary protrusions, smooth as she goes, hence the shape of the Evo Fang came into being. But every one who came into the work shop said it looked like a Le Mans car so, bowing to public pressure, it became known as the Le Mans Nota. Good news on another front too; the body we built for the racing Le Mans only weighed 29kg.
P.S. Even if CAMS won’t allow cycle front guards, we can still have them on a road car. In fact you can have a car with an alloy back with a spare wheel and look just like our traditional clubman, nose bonnet and all, only it would have the advantages of a mid-engined layout.
We have a good package with the Le Mans; the Suzuki Gti engine & gearbox weighs only 92kg and the car weighs 420kg. We have a big advantage over the front-engined cars. Their live rear axles alone weigh over 40kg, not to mention the added weight of the gearbox and tail shaft. The transverse engine/gearbox was the way to go. It was a lot easer to source as well; most other cars have to source diff, gearbox, tail shaft and engine from different donors.
CAMS then said a minimum weight of 500kg would apply to all cars in the class. Bang goes the weight advantage. Even the 3 litre V6 version nearly gets down to that weight in racing trim. Ah well, so much for a development class! I think “Dilemma class” may be more appropriate, but the evolutionary process must go on. We have at least got a neat new car, even if in the final instance we have to add weight to it [it does sort of contradicts the power to weight principle though].

ADR Compliance

Next hurdle, the RTA & ADR'S. Why you may say, why?
Well to develop a car takes a lot of time and effort so you have to spread the costs over a reasonable pool of cars or the recovery per car becomes too large making individual cars too costly, so if you can make a car that can be used for the road as well as racing and sell to both markets, the pool is larger, the development costs are spread over more cars and the price of the individual car comes down.

Enter the RTA. Whilst I was building the Evo Fang and then later the Le Mans car, everybody kept saying what a magic car it would make for the road. It was a development of the Compliance-plated Fang, so why not? We could use a road registrable dash, steering column and seat belts. Add some extra lights, fit a pollution-compliant engine and off we go.
Le Mans Nota at CDCofA meeting Oct 2003 - front viewI must be naive. I initially consulted an RTA Engineering Signatory to check on what might be needed. A conformance check list was drawn up and we proceeded to build the car to suit. However, three quarters through the process, he rang me and said that even though we had got this far, we may have to change the engine, as ADR37 was being replaced by ADR79. But?! We've complied with the rules as laid down when we started, so why do we have to change something as major as an engine when this near to completion? Two months later, an answer. It didn't matter how long we had been building it for or how much it had cost or even if it wasn't viable to alter it to another engine, we would either have to comply with the new regs (ADR79 compliant engine) or have the car completed and presented before the end of the year – in three weeks time!! Bust our guts time, but we got the car to the engineer, even if it wasn't painted. Great we'd done it!
Then in the following year, the RTA rings and says the car isn't acceptable because we have put the headlights on the nose beside the front guard arches [on the same bracket we mount them on our Fangs, but with the all enveloping body beside them, virtually the same place every clubman ever built puts them]. Apparently someone could fall on them if hit by the car and injure themselves. Also it didn't have a central mirror, just two side mirrors, and they said the passenger’s mirror couldn't be reached from the driver seat (which was untrue). Result they wouldn't register the car and it would now be deemed to be a 2003 car and ADR79 applicable. Fortunately the Hot Rod Boys overturned the implementation of ADR79 for a year. Whew! Breathing space again. The lights, body design and mirrors were done and the car resubmitted and initially passed.

Le Mans Nota as seen at CDCofA meeting Oct 2003 - rear view Alas! This isn't the end. The car is recalled and I'm told that because of the weight, they are concerned about its safety and strength. I'm not worried as it has already passed the regs for the rigorous CAMS Super Sports 2C. [Incorporating front, rear and side intrusion deformable structures on the outside of an extremely rigid passenger capsule with 2500Nm/degree of flex torsional rigidity]. The RTA saying initially it will have to have a beam stiffness test done; 400kg loaded in the seating position. No flex! It's passed? No! 2 months on and they decide they want a torsional stiffness test as well. I'm told that the car has to have 6000Nm/ degree of flex! Even a Mallock, which is considered the strongest clubman in the world, has only 4000Nm/ degree of flex and it has no passenger seat as 4 braces go through it for its rigidity, and the engine is completely surrounded by the chassis. The best of the alloy tubed FIs only had 3500Nm/degree of flex, and no, I can't use a carbon fibre tub. I tried to do that with the Nota FI and I was told to go away and put a chassis in it. You can't have a fibreglass chassis, I was told.
So the Le Mans was brought back here after the initial test, which it didn't pass, and diaphragms were fitted into bulkheads, a cruciform into the top of the chassis, which we coupled into a new dash roll bar, and we gusseted all the open areas where diagonals couldn't be used due to vital components, like the driver. All trying to get it up to the ridiculous flex test, which I'm sure 90% of cars on the road would not pass. Incidentally, Ford, Holden, Toyota etc. don't have to comply with ADR79 until their next major model change which could be as long away as 5 years and I'm also sure that most of their cars would fail the rigidity test I've been asked to conform to.

Le Mans Nota with roadgoing nosecone March 2005 Off to the RTA signatory again for more testing. Bondage again for the poor beast. I was pleased as nearly 5000Nm/degree of flex was achieved when tested by bolting the hub faces via the wheel bolts to the test rig rather than bolting the chassis to the floor at one end and pivoting the other, then applying the beam load. The springs were replaced with solid tubing, but the oval tubing, which our wishbones are made of, are thus loaded up in the wrong direction and would flex in the test as well. So the results were excellent by any normal standards. I asked if there were any other tests we may need to go through and he replied that they were reviewing my head light positioning, even though I had already moved them and recessed them into the body as instructed.
No, they will not accept them; they feel they are too far from the front of the car [although there is no specific regulation]. We were then told that the lights had to be in front of the wheels, so we cut the front of the guards off and made new ones. We got some Hella lights from England like the ones they use in the Ferrari 360, [they are only 80mm in diameter thus keeping the centre of the reflective surface above 500mm and the top of the guard as low as possible]. Maybe this might be the last hurdle. Sometimes it can be months before another spanner is thrown in the works. Its only been 4 years wading through the CAMS and the RTA red tape, even though we had the first prototype up and running in 4 months.

Success at Last!!

The date is the 23 Jan 2005 and the Engineering Signatory has rung me. "THEY HAVE GIVEN YOU A VIN NUMBER." Once the engineering paper work arrives I can set off for a Blue slip. At last I think I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, both for this car and the next which we are building with the 141kw Corolla engine/gearbox.
Oh the joys being a car designer, and people say how they envy me what I do for a living!! But look, I love what I do. I just wish we could get rid of those damn bureaucrats who keep moving the goal posts.

                  ...and so to the Le Mans Nota in 2007.


Chris Buckingham
Nota Sports and Racing Cars

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