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Almac

Alex McDonald started Almac Plastics in 1971.
Filed under:  Companies
 
Comment(s): 1
 
 

Alex McDonald started Almac Plastics in 1971. But his interest in cars goes back many years to when he was a lad in England and purchased a 90 pound kit car from Gem Marsh before he started Marcos. This was in the early days of kit cars and the Sirocco reflected that in its poor quality and the fact that it was not complete. To complete it Alex had to learn how to fibreglass. His mother regularly complained of the smell that drifted into her kitchen from the garage that was attached to the house and Alex occasionally had fibreglass tasting sandwiches for his lunch. Still this first car was eventually finished.


almac logo 1.gif

Almac logo.

Later he sold the Sirocco for a TVR which was later upgraded for a MG midget. As the MG had no hard top he made one out of fibreglass. This time it was his new Kiwi wife Diana who was complaining about the smell of fibreglass in the kitchen and again his sandwiches tasted funny. Diana and Alex immigrated to New Zealand where Alex started working at the Dunlop Tyre factory in Upper Hutt as a Draughtsman Engineer. Not content with working for somebody else Alex decided to set up a fibreglass business and went back to the skills he had learnt on his mom's kitchen table.

Now that he had the space he returned to his earlier passion of building cars. At that time most cars were based on VW Beetles. Beach buggies were the rage and a car that was getting a lot of news at the time was the Purvis Eureka as five were up for grabs in a competition. It was then that Alex started to realise just how difficult it was to design and build a car from scratch. It was made a little easier using a VW chassis but a lot of work had to be done getting the body which was a hardtop coupe right. Alex persevered and eventually he had a wedge shaped body, which was the popular style at the time and shared by cars such as TVR and the Lotus Esprite. Still he had doubts about how successful the car would be but at least it would be his own design.

Birth of the 427SC.
His friends however were not so convinced and they eventually managed to talk him into having a go at something not so groundbreaking and to go the replica way for his first project car. They also encouraged him to have a go at the Cobra which was a different type of car completely and moved away from the VW based type of kits which were, by the end of the 70's, in their twilight years. The beach buggy craze was over and although Alex did not know it, the Cobra craze was about to start. Using a plastic kitset model and turning some photographs, with the help of George Ulyate, into scale drawings work started on a 427 Cobra.

It was while the buck was taking shape that Alex met Graham Berry of Berry Race Cars. When Alex mentioned his project to him Graham said that he would like to get involved so Alex contracted him to make the chassis. Being a patternmaker by trade Graham also made several patterns for the unique aluminium parts such as the AC pedals and a replica of the original Cobra wheel centre. Because of sensitivity about the Cobra name the car has always been called an Almac 427SC. A rolling chassis of the Cobra, with the body and steering fitted, was first displayed at the 1984 National Hot Rod show. Demand was such that the original VW based car was moved out of the way to make way for all the Cobra work that was now coming in. Seventeen Cobras were sold in its first year. An interesting bit of trivia is that Cobra number 1 which was at the Hot Rod show is still not finished twenty plus years on. Alex has been so busy that he has not been able to get back to it. The VW car was eventually sold to Phil Derby and now resides in his garage where it is being converted into a track car.

Alex was never happy making a replica and wanted to build something that he himself had designed. Another issue was that although the car was selling well nobody called it an Almac although it was an Almac produced car. Alex never fitted an Almac badge to the car and everybody that built one called it a Cobra. There has even been an unfinished kit on sold to an unsuspecting Auckland gentleman as a genuine AC Cobra. He had been told it was one of the last to leave the AC factory in the sixties. His mistake was only revealed when he phoned Almac Cars to see if any of their bright work could be fitted to his "genuine" Cobra. Needless to say he was a little annoyed when Alex was able to identify the car as one of his. He was even more annoyed when he discovered that the price for a new Cobra kit, with all the bright work, was far cheaper than what he had paid for his.

The TC/TD is Born.
The Cobra was selling so well Alex decided to add another model to his marque. This time it would be more of his own design. The intention was that this car would be cheaper and easier to build than its big brother. Due to the success of the Cobra he was a little reluctant to move into uncharted territory so he stuck with the retro them and designed a car inspired by the MG TCTD. It was never intended to be a replica so no measurements match the original and the car was designed to fit a Triumph Herald chassis. The Almac TC was released to the public in 1986 and by New Zealand kit car standards could be called a success with 25 kits being sold in two years. Although the car had spaces to allow the fitting of Almac badges on the grill surround and the boot several buyers filled them in and fitted MG badges.

It was around about this time that Alex hired more staff to build turnkey models, such was public demand. However it was after building up a couple of these he became aware of its limitations. The Herald chassis was getting old, most were rusty and there was a limit in the size of engine that you could put into them. Thus it was that late in 1988 the TC ended production and work began on the car that would be called the TG. A major difference between the TC and the TG was that the TG would have an Almac designed chassis and would be based on a modern donor car the Holden Gemini. With this kit Alex addressed all the shortcomings of the TC and the kit could be bought in a box. In the box was everything that the builder needed to complete the car including every nut and bolt. The car went on sale during 1989 and was visually the same as the TC other than the fact that the fibreglass radiator surround had now been replaced by one made from stainless steel and the car now had bumpers. Another feature was a hardtop although this could be retrofitted to earlier models. Strangely enough this model did not sell as well as its predecessor and demand tapered off after only another 16 or so had been made.

Now retired from full production, Almac can still provide the Almac TG body, comprising of the outer shell with bulkhead and floors bonded in, manufactured from Glass Reinforced Plastic with a gelcoat in your choice of colour. Included are the doors, bonnet, and a GRP grille surround. Price: $3,500.00 inc. GST.

The Sabre.
It was time to start another project. Alex had still not been able to build a car that was a unique Almac. The Almac 427SC was still called a Cobra and the TC and TG were called either MGs or MG look-alikes. Cobra production was still pretty consistent but Alex reasoned that it could not go on forever. There are just so many Cobra buyers in New Zealand and it was time to have a go at building a more modern car. By now Alex's family had grown up and his son Stuart had picked up his fathers fascination for cars and would regularly doodle car designs on his schoolbooks and sketch pads. The two of them started work on a car was intended to be a modern interpretation of the Cobra but it would be all original. The first attempt went under the codename of "Car" and would take some of its design cues from the MGB. While the buck was taking shape Alex became disenchanted with it and it was eventually consigned to the tip. The photographs shown give an indication of how far along the design process the "Car" got. It was back to the sketchbooks again.

If it was going to be a modern interpretation of a Cobra, that is where they would start. Taking a Cobra boot and lots of bog another car started to take shape in the Almac factory during 1991. Once again Alex was reminded just how complex a job it is to build a production kit car from scratch. It is a constant case of designing something and then redesigning it to see if it looks or fits any better. Again following on from what Alex had learnt with the TG this would be based on a single donor car. The car he chose this time was the Ford Cortina, which had not changed mechanically from the 1973 until production ended in 1984. As with the TG it would have a chassis solely designed and produced in house.

The Almac Sabre was first featured in the Classic Car magazine in May of 1994 and Alex received a huge number of inquiries about the car. Unfortunately the kit car market had changed. Its main competition the MX5, due to the invasion of Japanese imports, could now be purchased for about $11,000 which was only a thousand dollars more expensive than the Sabre kit. The Cortina was not seen as a good lineage to build a sports car from. Although magazines such as Driver (1995), Which Kit (1996), Classic Car again (2000) gave the car good publicity production ceased in 2001 after only nine models had been made.

Diversion: The Clubsprint.
As Alex now heads towards retirement most would have thought that car production would start to slow down but the kit car industry is again going through a revival. So much so that in 2002 Alex started his final car, the Almac Sabre Series 2. Like the TC and TG Alex has again looked at all the shortcomings of the original Sabre and improved them. The car has been moved away from the MX5, further upmarket where although it will be more expensive to build it will be able to compete more favourably. A new and stronger chassis has been designed. All the Cortina bits are gone apart from the windscreen and a Lexus V8 is the preferred motor. The body has received a significant face lift and the car now only resembles its predecessor in profile. The new Sabre was launched at the Hamilton Motor Show in March 2004 and already he has orders for five on his books. It is still too early to tell how successful this car will be but the early indications are quite promising. Production has already started and the first example of this car could be seen in the 2004 Targa Rally.

What is next on the horizon? Well after a quarter century of designing and building cars Alex will now be content to just build them and the short-term future looks quite promising. The Cobra now sells itself and almost two hundred have gone through the door. Clubsprint production has also started to increase.

(source: Almac).

almac clubsprint xl logo

ALMAC Clubsprint XL logo.

LINKS
Almac   Official site.
 
 
COMMENTS
Derrick Halford3384 days ago

It would be nice if Almac were included in th open top 'car' pages too, there are plnty of photos of the Sabre and Cobra replicas on the web site: www.almac.co.nz.

Like the site though, plenty to read.

Derrick

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