MCLAREN INSPIRED GT
World’s first customer-built DDR Miami – and it’s in the UK. American TOY / Reader’s Car: #DDR
Miami GT4 / #DDR-Miami-GT4
Running Reporter James Shipperley was unhindered by building his DDR Miami GT4 several thousand miles from the factory. In fact, he was the first DDR customer to complete a build anywhere in the world. Words and pictures: Adam Wilkins.
It was James Shipperley’s girlfriend, Candice, who had a major influencing factor on which kit car he build, having set the criteria that it would be waterproof and not mess up her hair. Having already assessed the options in Complete Kit Car magazine, the obvious choices appeared to either be an Ultima or a body conversion. The Ultima was ruled out for being over budget, while James didn’t think that a bodykit would offer the challenge he was looking for. “I’ve always wanted to build a kit car, and I wanted to learn more about a car mechanically,” he says.
The search continued, and he came across the DDR Miami online. Being a new offering, he couldn’t find any completed privately built examples, but that didn’t put him off. During a holiday in Florida, he made the trip to DDR’s factory in Miami to see the car. “It was the worst weather in history, and we spent an hour looking around the car in the rain.” Decision made, order placed.
If he feared that a bodykit would be too easy, he’d now gone to the other extreme: a GT car from another country that comes with no build manual must rate on the ambitious end of the first-time kit car builder’s scale. His previous experience with working on cars was limited to changing brake pads and spark plugs. If you’ve been reading about James’s progress via his Running Reports, you’ll know that he has made quite remarkable progress. The car was IVA’d and registered within 10 months of the kit arriving. He reckons he spent 650 hours on the build, so that’s almost every waking hour of that 10 months when he wasn’t at work. It was a fear of the car becoming an abandoned project that spurred him on: “I didn’t want to lose momentum.” We’d been impressed by James’s rate of progress. The quality of the end result is even more impressive.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In the three months between ordering the kit and its arrival, James bought and stripped his Toyota MR2 Mk2 donor car, and studied the IVA manual hard. In fact, he had revised it so thoroughly that when he came to the build he only had to refer back to it once; with no other instructions to go by, it became his sole guide to the build.
Being in a different country to the manufacturer, James went into the project well aware that it would be down to him to build the car with minimal factory back-up. “You shouldn’t expect back-up, because the regulations in America are nowhere near as strict as the UK’s,” he says. A prime example of that is the windscreen and Perspex side windows, none of which are E-marked and therefore had to be remanufactured in the UK.
Having gone through that process, having the glass made by Pilkington via National Windscreens, James now has moulds for all the DDR’s glass to be made to IVA standard. Not only does that make life easier for future UK builders – and one customer has recently taken delivery of a kit – it also means James can have replacements made if ever he needs them. “I can’t thank National Windscreens enough; the car wouldn’t be on the road without them.”
So, by the time James had binned the windows and headlights (which were for a left-hand-drive car), the kit he had to start with was fairly basic: it comprised the chassis, body and some coolant pipes. With hindsight, James would recommend importing a kit from the USA in the most basic form possible anyway, as you can read in the separate panel elsewhere. And he is full of praise for the parts that came from DDR. “As a chassis and a shell, it went together very easily.”
Although it was a challenging project, it was never frustrating: “I never once got angry with the build, it all bolted together really well – to my own surprise” says James. “Don’t get me wrong, there were times when you really need to get stuck in and solve a problem.”
And sometimes overcoming those problems were highlights in themselves. “I didn’t want to touch the engine initially, so I paid a mechanic change the head gasket and put it all back together. When I came to fire it up, I was really struggling.” James went back and double-checked all his own work, and could find no fault with anything he had done, so then started looking into what the mechanic had done. “I took the rocker cover off, and saw that the cams weren’t lined up. When I lined them up to what I thought they should be, it fired into life. That’s when I realised I can complete the build. It was the defining moment.”
The next time James handed over the project to someone else, this time for the paintjob after the IVA test, wasn’t easy. “By then, I’d spent so long on the build that I didn’t like handing it over to someone else,” he says. Giving responsibility for the final look to someone else was a wrench, but he’s delighted with the end result. His first choice of colour was a deep metallic red from Mazda, but that’s five separate coats and therefore very expensive. The second choice, a Range Rover Evoque hue, is a close call and only three coats.
It contrasts nicely with the hydrodipped carbon fibre effect detailing that’s evident on the car. That finish is used for the wheels, front splitter and headlight surrounds, and creates a convincing finish. James has been successful in avoiding the ‘kit car’ look and creating a production car level of cohesion for the finished car.
The fact that the car has McLaren F1 inspired looks, without trying to be a replica, caused some headaches. “At first people thought it was a bad replica,” says James. “In a way, that’s a complement because it means it has a look of its own.”
To combat that, he had a DDR badge lasercut for the front, and has plans to badge the back of the car too. As the Miami was never meant to be a replica, so there’s no question it should carry its own identity. The paintshop was very complementary about the finish of the panels. The GRP is thick, and it required very little preparation before paint. The shutlines around the doors are very tight and uniform, although the ones for the engine cover are less so. The paintshop offered James the option of either building up the shutlines with filler, or leaving them as they are. “I decided to leave the shutlines, because I’m sure they can be further adjusted, whereas if a filled panel started to crack you have to live with that.” It doesn’t detract from the overall look that’s been achieved.
Back at the IVA test, one of the failure points was a radius on the top of the door which required sanding down. It was because of that kind of eventuality that James had the foresight to take the car unpainted. Other points included the height of the brake and clutch reservoirs (which you can now see through the top of the front bonnet) and emissions thanks to a failed Lambda sensor. The test itself took eight hours, the extreme thoroughness perhaps because this is the first DDR Miami in the UK. Usually we’d think a four-hour IVA test rather lengthy. However, James found the inspectors at Southampton fair. “They wanted to help me pass, and suggested ways of addressing the failure points,” he says.
For balance, registration was quick. “Everyone tells me it’s difficult, but I had no problems at all. However, I did pester them!” He wonders whether they had a joke with him when they allocated the registration, as the letters spelt out LOSA, which could be interpreted as ‘loser’.
“Everyone noticed it,” says James, “so I switched to my personal plate ASAP! I took it on the chin, I thought it was very funny.” Because the project has continued since being registered, James’s Running Reports have covered the first 1300 or so miles the car has covered. Initial teething problems centred around a failed head gasket (again, the work of the same mechanic we mentioned earlier!), so James stripped the engine and rebuilt it himself. After that, it ran hot but never overheated, so he created some ducting from the front air intake to feed air directly to the radiator which has fixed the issue completely – as you’ll know if you’ve been following the reports.
More recently, the car has taken on longer runs with no problems at all. James is very pleased with how solid the car feels, with no rattles evident. The body bolts to the chassis in no fewer than 16 places. The only noise that he wants to eradicate is some squeaking from the suspension bushes, which could have done with some more grease. That’s a job for the winter. He also wants to replace the LED front indicators with brighter ones, and redesign the back of the car with new lighting. The fitment of a rear wing is currently under debate.
Another job on the to-do list is the much more significant aim of retrimming the interior so that its finish matches the standard of the exterior. That will involve the build of a whole new interior, and the replacement of the current seats. “I’ll strip everything from the dashboard, and either flock the whole thing or have some of it hydrodipped,” says James. Flocking appeals not only because it won’t reflect in the windscreen but also because it’s easier to repair than conventional upholstered trim. He’s also planning to fit a larger screen to link to the rear view camera. He plans to make a return to Running Reports to cover that job.
As it stands, this car is a remarkable achievement. An enclosed, fully-trimmed GT car is always an ambitious build for a first-timer, and with this car that’s compounded by the fact that he had to develop the car alone for IVA compliance and went without a build manual. Oh, and it’s also the first customer-build Miami to be completed. That’s quite something.
James enjoys a project more than a finished result so may switch the current MR2 2.0-litre engine for a 3.5-litre Toyota V6. It’s a known conversion in MR2 circles, and uses the same mounts and gearbox. The only changes necessary are to the engine management and move to a fly-by-wire throttle, the result would be a step up to 330bhp from the current 190bhp. And looking beyond that, he may embark on a new build altogether. “If and when I ever finish this one, I wouldn’t mind doing an open-top car,” he says. But that would break the rules about messed up hair.
I built this
Name: James Shipperley
Occupation: IT manager
First car: Ford Fiesta 1.1 Mk2
Fastest car you’ve been in: Heavily modified Toyota Supra with 750bhp
Favourite tool in the garage: Garage floor mats – you can work for much longer with them!
Favourite thing about your car: The fact it’s the first customer-built example on the road
Lottery win car: Koenigsegg One:1
Kit: DDR Motorsport, Miami, Florida. T: 954-655-4353.
E: [email protected]
W: www. ddrmotorsport.com
Wheels: Rare Rims, Crediton, Devon. T: 01363 777007.
E: [email protected]
Windscreen: National Windscreens, nationwide.
Pilkington Classics, Sheerness, Kent. T: 0800 848 1351.
Paint: Hamworthy Bodyshop, Poole, Dorset. T: 01202 632021.
E: [email protected]
Hydrodipping: Wicked Coatings, Poole, Dorset. T: 01202 622258.
E: [email protected]
Shipping: USA: www.apx-ocean-freight.com UK: www.johngood.co.uk
Carbon fibre effect for wheels and light surrounds by hydrodipping.
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged Toyota MR2 3S-GTE engine, Field ECU, uprated intercooler, air filter, decatted, boost increased to 1bar. Approximately 190bhp.
Brakes: Front – Nissan Skyline 4-pot calipers, 324mm Toyota Supra discs. Rear – Toyota MR2 calipers on custom brackets, 323mm Maza RX-8 discs.
Wheels and tyres: 19in Rota Grid alloys finished in carbon fibre effect hydrodip. Falken 453 tyres in 235/35x19 (front) and 275/35x19 (rear).
Interior: Cobra Monaco S seats, Momo Millennium Evo steering wheel, TV screen for rear-view camera, Dakota Digital dials with own CPU control for additional modules. To be completely retrimmed.
Exterior: Range Rover Firenze metallic paint, carbon fibre effect hydrodipped wheels, headlight surrounds and splitter, LED front sidelights and indicators, 90mm projector headlights, 122mm rear lights, E-Tech mirrors, roof scoop with rally vent.
A major interior retrim is planned for the winter.
How to import a kit from the United States
The logistics of bringing the DDR kit to the UK were pretty straightforward. James had to deal with two companies: a USA based organisation to transport the kit from DDR’s factory to the UK, and a local company to bring it from the dock to home. For the former, James used Apex Ocean Freight, as recommended on DDR’s website. “They arranged everything,” says James, “and made it really simple.” James had hoped to have the car delivered to Southampton, but the only options from Miami were to Liverpool or London. He chose the latter and the cost to bring it to the UK was around $2200 (about £1500 at the time).
The company that brought it from the dock to James’s home in Dorset was John Good Shipping and charged around £900. It was easier to let them deal with the whole job, otherwise you have a time limit to remove it from the dock before storage charges start to kick in. “Both companies were excellent, and answered all the questions I had,” says James.
On top of the costs mentioned above, you need to budget for import tax and VAT. A tip James has for anyone importing a kit from the USA is to remove from the order any parts that won’t comply with IVA or anything that can easily be sourced locally. Things such as lights, glass and other parts are prime targets. As well as reducing the kit price, it will also reduce the weight (and therefore the cost) of shipping, and the import duty will reduce, too.
Other general advice? “You should go into it with your eyes wide open, knowing that you’re on your own. I didn’t expect to have any support in terms of IVA compliance, because you can’t expect a company in the States to know about regulations in all European countries.” So while importing a kit from the USA may be more complicated than sourcing a kit from a UK company, James’s project proves that it isn’t a hurdle you can’t overcome.