Inside the world of the small-wheel drive
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For those privileged few collectors of blue-chip classic cars like the Aston Martin DB5 and Bugatti Type 35, there’s very little left to conquer when it comes to automotive collectibles. With prices of such cars ranging from £500,000 to £5m, these prized possessions are usually passed between a select group of buyers who fastidiously maintain or aim to increase their values. In practice, it means the most celebrated cars in history are seldom seen in public, let alone on the open road.
Ben Hedley and his team at The Little Car Company are working hard to keep the classic car dream alive and well. In their own small way. Founded less than three years ago, The Little Car Company was born after 112-year-old French automaker Bugatti tasked Hedley with remaking the miniature Baby Bugatti that Ettore Bugatti first made for his son in 1926. Since then, the outfit has grown fast. Alongside the Bugatti, the range now includes shrunken replicas of 007’s iconic Aston Martin DB5 – with one variant boasting some of Q’s trimmings – and the legendary 1950s Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa racer. There’s also an eight-tenths-size take on Tamiya’s iconic 1980s radio control Wild One Max car. They’re at once small enough for young people to drive and big enough to fit adults.
“It’s going well. We’ve gone from one Bugatti to five models now and we’ve still got a few more up our sleeves,” says Hedley, the affable Little Car boss and serial entrepreneur, dressed in a white shirt and jeans. “We’ve now produced 60 cars, of which 50 are already with their owners. On top of that around 20 per cent of people that have received their car have ordered another one straight away.”
Four other gifts for the driving-obsessed
Connolly Sports Grip bag, £1,300
Founded in 1878, Connolly went on to supply most of the leather for the British car industry as well as the benches in the Houses of Lords and Commons. Its sports-grip bag is made from the brand’s signature car-upholstery leather. connollyengland.com
The Outlierman Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance tie, £126.98
This limited-edition tie is decorated with the legendary Pininfarina-designed Ferrari 375 MM Coupé Speciale, created for Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman in 1954. It is made in Italy of twill-silk fabric with a wool interlining and is limited to 50 pieces. theoutlierman.com
Pullman Editions Art Deco à la Route, £420 (unframed)
Pullman Editions creates original posters designed to capture the allure of the art deco advertising era, many of them depicting classic cars, races and rallies, with each limited to a print run of 280. pullmaneditions.com
Charabanc car freshener, £145
Charabanc uses herbs and plants to recreate the scent of driving over the Pennines, the plains of Umbria or the summits of east Asia and the Silk Road in its car-fragrance collection, which comes packaged in a steel pomander. charabanc.com
While The Little Car Company’s creations aren’t currently issued road-legal from the factory , one owner in the Netherlands has already taken the steps to register his. “Ideally, we want people to be able to take these beautiful shapes out and enjoy them,” says Hedley.
Although his classic creations are almost identical to the real deal on the surface, underneath it’s a different story. Behind the vintage skin and hand-beaten bodywork lies an automotive-grade lithium-ion battery pack and electric motor, which can power the cars to speeds of around 40mph. Made up of top-grade automotive components and materials, true to the million-pound-plus cars they’re representing, these little cars require big budgets, time and obsessive attention to detail to produce. At the factory, on an airfield in Bicester near Oxford, the detailed process of building each car by hand takes place on a shop floor that resembles a real, niche automotive production facility.
With prices for the Bugatti Type 35 recreation starting from €30,000 and the current range-topping Aston Martin DB5 Junior No Time to Die Edition weighing in at £90,000, Hedley’s cars are small but certainly not cheap. But given the full-sized, gadget-touting Aston Martin DB5 Goldfinger continuation models cost £2.75m apiece, and an original Bugatti Type 35 is a snip at under £5m, Hedley’s micro-sized tribute acts look like a bargain by comparison.
“People always think they’re expensive toys to start with,” says Hedley. “But then we show them that we’re taking a full classic car and making it 25 per cent smaller while recreating it as faithfully as we can. And then they drive one and see that it’s fast and it’s authentic.”
Working with the likes of Ferrari’s test driver Raffaele de Simone and seasoned Le Mans winner Andy Wallace, the engineering outfit has done its best to liken the miniature models to their grown-up counterparts. Aside from the lack of a combustion engine, the experience of hurtling around an old airfield at 40mph in a comically sized classic car certainly puts a smile on your face.
While The Little Car Company has made its name recreating iconic classics, Hedley’s vision extends far beyond cute collectibles. “We’re going to build some for racing in,” he says. “We’d like there to be a new electric racing category because there’s not much out there other than Formula E and it helps to bring kids into motorsport, which is needed.” Hedley’s mind wanders to other applications for his zero-emissions, compact classics. “I think there’s a lack of lightweight electric cars on the market,” he adds. “So, we think there’s a real opportunity for smaller electric vehicles on our roads that are designed by people who love cars.”
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