The Swift project started about 4 years ago. I have been a big fan of the Michelotti designed Lotus XI that was ultimately built by Ghia Aigile of Switzerland, so much so I decided to scratch build a 1/24 scale model of the car for my model collection. In making the model I renewed my general fascination for the design, so much so I posted some pics of the model on Facebook in some of the car groups I belong to.
A 3D programmer friend of mine, Dan Palatnik, who lives in Brazil, saw the model pics and sent me an email, offering to do a virtual model of the car for me, should I get serious about building one. On a lark I sent some pictures to my best overseas client, who, without hesitation, said, “Yes, I would like one – could you build it for me, please? A few emails back and forth confirmed that he was quite serious, and the project began.
I made a second model and sent it to Dan, who immediately set about creating the preliminary drawings, which we then modified to give us a uniquely Simpson design. I then contracted with Dan to make a 3d station buck model. Enter another gotod friend of mine, Raffi Minassian, another profession automotive designer and also an Industrial arts professor in San Fransisco, who took Dan’s 3D renders and had them wood laser cut for us. This let us build a 1/5 scale model to make sure the buck would work.
Raffi and I spent a fun day assembling the 1/5 scale model. Raffi, JR and I later assembled a full-sized water jet cut plywood buck also created from Dan’s 3D program. Never having done a full-sized body this way, it was an interesting learning curve. In the end, I decided that skinning the wooden buck in steel was the answer.
Once I had that done, I contacted the guys over Sunbacker Fiberglass in Monroe WA. We’ve used them for years and they produced a set of working tooling for us to lay up a composite body and interior tub.
In the meantime I scratch built a chassis in mild steel, designed to use the subframes and driveline from a second generation Mazda Miata, except shortened by 2 inches, giving us an 88“ wheel base. On completion, we took it over to Sunbacker on the trailer, fitted it to the first body Sunbacker had made – amazing, he two actually fit together – and we proceeded to bring the whole lot back to the shop for additional development.
I kept looking at the windshield opening. In some way it was familiar. I called up my glass supplier and asked him if he could get me engineering drawings and specs on a 58-62 Corvette windscreen. He laughed and said, “I can more easily get you a windshield tomorrow.” So, I ordered a glass, which arrived the next day as advertised, and much to my amazement was within a quarter inch of fitting, proving that every now and then an old dog gets lucky. We decided that the windshield would be attached in a trough below the cowl, and affixed with Butyl Rubber in the same as most modern windshields. We had a custom rubber extrusion made to trim out the top edge and an alloy channel made to go over the rubber extrusion to trim it all out.
On with more parts development – before long I had created a dashboard and underwood side panels in steel to be reproduced in fiberglass. The guys over in Monroe were as always ready to help, and we also made a trough for the windscreen to sit down into the cowl, giving us a way to attach it to the car.
Next we needed to make doors, hood and trunk lid inner to be made along with molds for inner parts. A few weeks later all this and molds had been created. I decided to utilize as many parts from the Mazda Miata as possible so hood hinges and door hinges were modified to work with the car.
Fuel tank and delivery became another challenge, so we had an alloy fuel tank made. I took the fuel sender and pump assembly from a Miata tank and modified them to work in the new aluminum tank. Not wanting to recreate some of the explosive disasters of car maker history, we moved the tank from just above the rear subframe into the trunk just behind the rear seat bulkhead. This would be fitted out with one of the Cobra style competition fuel fillers on the rear cowl just in front of the trunk lid.
We stripped the wiring out of the Miata donor car and heavily modified it. Our client would want the electronic fuel injection and instrumentation as well as switch assemblies.
I wanted to keep the wire wheels as a period nod to the Lotus street cars of the day even though we were not making a replica, and after purchasing numerous Dunlop wire wheel hubs, I was finally able to arrive at one we could lightly machine to work on the car, giving it that vintage British look.
All assembled, the car looked great overall but there was something missing – it needed distinctive badging. Chuck Simpson develop badging for the car, which we had manufactured. The front and side emblems are very old school in that they are chromed steel with cloisonne (colored glass melted into the reliefs).
The interior was trimmed out in leatherette and carpets, the tunnel diamond tufted. The dash is very old tradition, finished in wrinkle finished black paint.
Using the front and rear subframes from the second-generation Mazda Miata insured excellent suspension geometry. The balance of the MX5 engine, gearbox, instrumentation along with the ladder bar (which we modified) going from the transmission to the limited slip differential completed the drive train package. A larger than stock, custom made aluminum radiator provides engine cooling, using a single thermostatically operated electric cooling fan.
The generous trunk rapidly diminished with the addition of a spare tire and wheel. The battery is also in the trunk and helps with the near perfect weight balance.
The car currently has no top as this was originally designed as a pure roadster, although we do provide a full tonneau cover which can be unzipped down the middle for solo driving.
The Swift, as we call it, weighs in around 1,400 lbs and is pretty much a sports racer for the street – no heater, no power steering, no A/C and no top – and all this weight saving means it lives up to its name. While it was a very expensive project to make, I am delighted that I took the time and spent the money to create this amazing little car.
At this point I have made twice as many as there were of the original. Do we have any plans for production? Not really – guessing the cost alone would discourage most folks. None the less, it exists, and in its own little way, is a nod to the past.