Kit Car Builder – Reliving the Glory Days of Racing

January 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Home, Press and Media Coverage


Story & photos by Steve Temple

While many kit companies build wonderful replica racers, how many folks in our business can say they actually competed as well? Chris Ardern of Active Power, for one.


Before getting into the kit business, he worked in IMSA Endurance Racing for Kendall Racing.


For those not familiar with that name, Chuck Kendall is the father of four-time Trans Am Champ Tommy Kendall.


That association had its perks for Ardern. “I had my hands on all the trick cars of the time-Porsche 935, BMW M1 and Lola T600,” he notes. “While the endurance racing was our primary concern, Chuck also had an amazing stable of vintage cars. Most notably one of the John Wyer Gulf cars #1076.” And one memorable evening with that prized GT40 gave Ardern a whole new direction in life.


Gt Reproductions' demo GT is powered by a Ford small-block V-8, a 302 bored out to 306 cubic inches. It sports Edelbrock aluminum heads and intake, MSD ignition, electric fuel pump, electric water pump and it's backed by an Audi Getrag 5-speed transaxle. The signature 180 degree "bundle o' snakes" exhaust are made of stainless steel.

Gt Reproductions’ demo GT is powered by a Ford small-block V-8, a 302 bored out to 306 cubic inches. It sports Edelbrock aluminum heads and intake, MSD ignition, electric fuel pump, electric water pump and it’s backed by an Audi Getrag 5-speed transaxle. The signature 180 degree “bundle o’ snakes” exhaust are made of stainless steel.


“One night while prepping 1076 for Monterey I took it out on the street,” he recalls. “After squirting up to 100-something in third gear, I looked in the mirror and I was getting pulled over. The cop walked up to the car and I opened the door and looked through the roof and said, ‘I’m over here.’ He told me my taillights were out. He also said he was going off duty in 20 minutes and if he wrote me up he’d have to impound the car and by the time he finished the paperwork it would be two hours. So he asked me to turn around and take it back to the shop and park it. I did and fixed the taillights.”


And of course he was done for the night, right? Nah. “Figuring he wasn’t on duty anymore I took it back out one more time-what an experience!”



Ardern later left that fast-paced life in order to pursue his desire to own a business. Feeling a bit burned out from professional motor racing, he gravitated toward the calmer and steadier profession of a fabricating shop. As that settled into a routine over the years, he observed the kit car industry from a distance, dreaming of the day when he’d replicate some of the cars that were so meaningful to him.


Taking a detour from that dream, initially he experimented with an SUV project after noticing that the HMMWV and a Chevy truck were about the same wheelbase. That idea turned into the Urban Gorilla and got Active Power into the kit car business, and later into the street rod side of things. But “that certain sound” of Wyer’s GT40 still rang in his ears, which would lead him back to his original desire.



“It was while I was launching a new hot rod at the Carlisle Kit Car Show three years ago when I saw Fran Hall of Race Car Replicas showing his wares that I realized it was time to get into the GT business,” Ardern admits. “What I’m bringing to market now in the line of GT Reproductions by Active Power represents 30 years of planning and three years of R&D all coming together in our line of GTs.”


The overall plan consists of four (for now) of history’s most significant GT Prototypes: GTR MKI, GTR 2D, M6 GTR, GTR 70. (These are Active Power’s model names, but the lines of the original racers are obvious.)


Wisely using a platform engineering approach (in line with Hall’s example), all of the fiberglass bodies are supported by essentially the same chassis using the proven, high-performance Corvette C5 suspension. The ZSR (refers to Zero Scrub Radius, to keep pace with modern tire technology) frame consists of a semi-stressed space frame fabricated from mild steel tubing, wrapped with a steel and aluminum skin.



However, in line with Ardern’s competition background, and experience at vintage races as well, the need for a race-only package became clear. It’s a comp package (using a full rollcage, fuel cell,and fire system) for racers with a passion for these magnificent cars that represent the era of motor racing that was really the beginning of the end. These are the cars that the rules were written for.


Active Power’s new motto is. “The Thrill is Real,” and that’s exactly the case. The experience in driving one of these amazing replicas is virtually the same as Bruce McLaren and Dan Gurney must have experienced. Except that they never got pulled over for a broken taillight, of course.







This article is a reprint. It was originally published in the December 2008 issue of Kit Car Builder.
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