John Morrison’s HARDDRIVERS….

SCRAPBOOK

WELCOME to this, my extreme auto-enthusiast’s blog site …

RELATIVELY, circuit based shakedown running is a piece of cake. There’s only one parameter that is of interest : your lap time … and that usually put into the care of your tame race driver.

His rather blind, one sided view is filled by two major, measurable criteria. One, how long can he/she keep the throttle wide wide open. And two, how broad is the limit of adhesion when you are running out – and two, it’s effect on one?

That’s where Mr Racing Driver must live … we would never suggest that they are simple-minded, but race cars are easy – compared to low speed sophistication demanded by a road car.

Now the N1a is road registered, the emphasis changes dramatically; and even more critically, if you intend to take your car to market. The scrutiny stakes are ramped up by maybe a factor of 10. Or 20. Or 1000.

And you won’t even be in the driving seat when commercial pressures are applied. Requirements are turned on their heads. Your commercial competition will decide what the conditions are … it doesn’t matter how narrow you take aim, someone somewhere has better. Even if, they don’t …

So your vehicle package needs to be, watertight with fundamental drivability beyond reproach. A world market place, particularly the world car market is about a weird a place as you can imagine. You better be ready …

AFTER our SHAKEDOWN START at Silverstone in 32 deg C in September, we left with a proper job list. This was my very first experience with the N1a; while it was NOT about making sure the N1a was a race car, it WAS about ensuring the latest Nichols offering felt like it was way back in 1964 when it ran as a super fast sports car to become a V8 forerunner for the mighty CanAm racers that followed.

But before I get into the detail of post-Silverstone shakedown, there are TWO VERY IMPORTANT POINTS I want to add here now. They illuminate I hope some of the background philosophies that instigators John Minett and Steve Nichols enjoy and assist in the understanding of this very special car.

First Point. During my time selling, representing a few of the world’s top performance car manufacturers, I never saw what I see here. While the design is underpinned by a chassis so beautifully pure in it’s inception, quite what you’d expect from race car genius Steve, what I really craved was a not only a unique pure-sports car, but also an outstandingly beautiful lightweight two seater, but BEAUTIFUL …

I spent some time eventually in Italy where beauty is a preoccupation in itself. No male in Italy would dream of producing a car (an apartment, a suit, a key ring) that wasn’t spellbinding in the simple beauty of it’s form. I saw it as a dynamic romance. Enticing & charismatic.

Certainly in the last 20 years, while the UK produced many good performing, good driving sports cars, for the most time, they looked like … kit cars, no disrespect. Really, I was ashamed to admit to my foreign work mates, that they were the work of auto crafts people in this country. Of course, there was so much brilliant concept & design energy post-war that found an outlet on race circuits in the UK but so few produced world beating beauties. Jaguar & Lotus were the exception. So it could be done, even in the UK …

Whereas, in Italy, design houses like Zagato, Pininfarina, Touring and even some of the in-house design teams produced year after year of – works of art.

So you can imagine my delight when I first laid eyes on John Minett’s first draft for the N1a? I think there & then, I told him I wanted to work on this project. I’m not about to trot out all the similes that accompany something so good on the eye. It’s extreme & personal. I could not believe it. It is absolutely beautifully balanced, elegant from every angle.

So that’s point number one. Point number two is that for all those involved in the Nichols project are devoted. Devoted to producing the very best, whatever their department. Steve demanded it of all who worked at McLaren with him to get Ayrton Senna – Alain Prost that 1988 Grand Prix World Championship whitewash with the MP4/4; John J completely embraced that total commitment to materials & the manufacture, to the way HIS car was produced. There is no detail on the N1a that is bought in to make do, that missed out being right first time. It’s taken some 5 years continuous application to get it somewhere near right (John’s words).

Just as a further pointer to the NIchols strategy of producing the very finest, if you haven’t seen a copy of the N1a’s accompanying literature, get it! Not only that, READ IT … proper scrutiny will emphasize this continuing commitment in every deed … & will be rewarded. John Minett’s work again.

Performance of the Nichols N1a is due to be the best. Fit and finish is designed to be the best. The driving experience is designed to be the best. Ownership is due to be the best available. Our commitment with this idiosyncratic work, is defining ‘the best’ …

And so we continue …

After the Silverstone Shakedown in September, we then composed a job list. I stress again, this was not as an out and out sports racing car, though it’s fine if it looks like one; nor was it to exclude it’s dynamic role as an Analogue Age sports car. If JJM & Steve wanted to make a current 2 seater open sports racing car, then this would not be it’s stating point.

We came away from Silverstone with two vitally important criteria reached. The N1a had monumental performance, not unexpectedly, but also that at the pace I could use, and given some fairly nasty handling maneuvers as far as I the driver executed, the chassis completely shrugged off my worse efforts.

In fact, our job list contained two categories of attention. One, settings & adjustments; two, driver-preferenced options. Yes of course, we enjoyed a couple of inconvenient malfunctions and workshop strip downs revealed under or over performing details. However …

However, part two of the shakedown programme had to wait until the car enjoyed it’s status as a ‘low volume’ automobile and was road registered with the DVLA. Indeed, this was arguably, the bigger of it’s performance related programmes and very much, the tougher. It would take us on the open road. That’s the inconsistently surfaced, worn-out motley repaired & potholed, varied mud & slime, salted, mal-drained all-level, the narrow camber-laden terrain path of generally poor visibility, not to mention overcrowded & overloaded commercial shrapnel that constitutes the cluttered road network around our little Island.

Once more early work in 2019/2020 with the special prototype 003, an almost one-off open two seater, V8 powered nevertheless, had revealed the sort of performance they’d hoped for, sometimes two-up, but required a much better-educated design & build programme to make any commercial sense for regular and pleasant road use. Top line in fact, a big-bike return on operational satisfaction. And fun! The best was some way off …

And so it emerged. But with the latest version, a full production prototype, on top of everything else, we had to now consider a few superficial concessions – like ride quality, ground clearances, variable size, height & weight of occupants .…

EXCELLENCE as an EXEMPLARY

WORKSHOP – settings & adjustments

Post Silverstone, all the systems, static settings and high wear components received a thorough inspection. The detail required is frightful; priority given to any workings that were substandard. Engine management was an early focus which lead to remapping & rolling road work. It was always felt that on the road, a full throttle application misjudged could prove to be too brutal. So now the engine mapping guys have introduced a half-power switchable setting for the worst of slow traffic or inclement conditions. Mind you, 350 bhp in a vehicle so light could be deemed more than enough! We can confirm …

Like wise, ABS & traction control paraphernalia have also been fitted but in one sense, they don’t feel entirely necessary. The Nichols chassis communicates perfectly on slimy road surfaces so your natural caution appears to be fully matched to a most generous chassis instinct. However, just one error …

Switchgear optimization required some resiting and generally driver location in relation to foot controls , steering and gear shift action have all been improved dramatically without any redesigns or alterations. No question, two up it’s a snug fit, and vigorous driving techniques may result in sore ribs. But that’s part of it, is it not?

A lot of attention has been given to comments made re aerodynamics over and air movements in the cockpit. Nothing mechanical pervades the cockpit environment so far, other than the wonderful racket from the V8 taking generous quantities of air and exuding the same. Conversation most will understand, will be at a premium. But again, if you want limo comforts, we will find you the appropriate barouche … but it’s not an N1a. This is altogether a rawer edge & your choice of helmet wear will be important … That said John J does doodle, so in time there may well be some fine adjustments to internal airflow.

Suspension settings offer a whole load of tweaks and personal set up opportunities, most of it trial & error, particularly around the front axle. And considerations in this area take us pretty quickly in to the following realms of steering and customer preference. A balance needs to be struck between a system requiring some heft, particular at low speed, but glorious feeling of being in the closest touch with grip at almost a primal instinct dimension, or higher geared lighter fast responses of a power system where that close touch with road surface may be lessened. We shall see, but it is certainly an option we will investigate and advise upon thoroughly.

The quality of ride over rough surfaces seem entirely within reason, given the shortage of grip if the car is being beat up by a bad surface. Sure, you want a Range Rover, we’ll get you one. More miles on the N1a will illuminate. So far, nothing has interfered with driver comfort or control of operational issues. Talk about right first time …

Overall so far, the driver does feel completely at one, in the heart of the action. I am sure many will understand, that when a car is a proper delight, you want, you need – to go somewhere further ..! That’s the feeling I am left with every time I extricate myself; my mile wide smile giving the game away … why stop now?

For the record, we covered an initial 300 road miles or so; our understanding is in no way complete, but we are encouraged …

WORKSHOP – customer preferences

Such an entertaining proposition. So what will you chose, what are the options and what role will this car play in your life?

Starting at the top, there will be your driver comfort & location. As you know, we can make a race seat for any individual in the time honored fashion. All the pedal distances are adjustable; so too the steering column.

The real interest lies in what individuals plan to do with their cars. Our intention is to produce a ‘standard’ N1a which after detailed discussion, can be angled towards a ‘harder sport’ specification or indeed a ‘softer touring’ spec, with closer attention to springs & dampers, throttle mapping etc etc. Neither direction will be a total focus so cross use is we see as perfectly possible. Until we get some serious feedback however, we won’t know where potential customers will take us.

Of course at present, we are drawing up the appropriate manuals so that detailed specifications can be discussed. We also intend to work very closely with the customer at point of order, and point of delivery. We want to ensure proper understanding of the N1a performance to the point of attending at a suitable closed road venue and spending some time on the driver safe handling of a car so light, yet so powerful.

There is of course, this opening special celebratory sales offer referred to in all our opening media print material. To celebrate the Nichols N1a’s arrival in the market, the first 15 cars will be numbered to commemorate each of Steve Nichol’s 1988 F1 Grand Prix World Championship wins that year, with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in his iconic McLaren MP4/4. Each car can sport the colours & demarcation of which ever victory, but the customer can chose between their own choice of colour scheme or a full blown reflection of the period racing livery.

Mechanically however, each of the 15 cars will have a maxed out selection of performance extras as standard with such options as a full carbon fibre body, inconel exhaust system, carbon composite wheels and lightweight ceramic brake system and naturally the magical full 7 litre Chevrolet LS3 small block V8.

These options when added to the standard car would amount to over £80,000 worth of extras, but hopefully result in a valuable and eminently collectable model in the years to come.