Thursday, 19 March 2015

The Bullitt

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

Kit cars are polarising things. For some they’re a way of life; replica Cobras and Chesil 356s offer a slice of the sports car pie that would otherwise be, financially speaking, pie-in-the-sky. For others, the likes of the Dutton Phaeton and Ginetta G32 represent all that’s weird and jarring about homebuilt automobiles. People don’t tend to sit on the fence with kit cars, they’re like Marmite – brownish, sticky, and come in jars. Or something.

I’ll always be a champion of the kit car, not least because they represent the possibility that the common man can live out their sports car dreams on a tight budget. When I was a nipper, my dad built a DMS Bullitt – a replica Aston Martin Volante Vantage, based on a Mk2 Capri 3.0 Ghia. He’d never tried anything like it before, he just fancied having a go, and I have wonderful memories of handing him spanners and mugs of coffee while he lay underneath it and somehow breathed life into what had previously been a huge stack of oily parts.

The body consisted of one huge Vantage-shaped chunk of fibreglass, while everything below the skin was pure Capri. It was a bit of a scrapyard bitsa, with Mini headlights, Chevette tail-lights, Volvo chrome trim on the sides and what-have-you, and the huge panel gaps and 13” Capri wheels were an immediate giveaway that this car was more Dagenham than Gaydon. Nevertheless, it was a true head-turner, and all the more special for the fact that my dad had built it himself in quite a small garage. I was enormously proud. He used to drop us at the train station in it on school days, we went over to France in it on holiday, it was a part of the family. My dad’s Bullitt. I loved it.

After a time, and with me a bit more grown-up - well, older anyway - my parents decided to move to France. They couldn’t get the Bullitt registered over there, as the French equivalent of the DVLA refused to recognise it as a car (‘What, it’s a Ford and it’s a DMS, and it looks like an Aston Martin? Mais, non…’), so they couldn’t take it with them. My dad kindly gifted it to me. Unfortunately I had nowhere to park it, and couldn’t really afford to run it, so I trailered it down to South Wales and parked it in an uncle’s barn for a little sleep.

That little sleep turned into several years, and I started to feel really guilty about the old girl. So one day, another uncle and I drove down there, trailered it back to London and set about getting the Bullitt running again. Mechanically she was tip-top – the donor car had been a very low-mileage Capri, and my dad had looked after it – so it took little more than a fresh battery and some fuel dribbled into the carb to get that Essex V6 roaring back into life. The electrics were a little trickier – years of Welsh mice weeing on them, presumably – but after a few weeks of fiddling and swearing, we’d got everything ship-shape. A fresh set of Firestones were sourced (it’s surprisingly tricky to find 13” tyres in a 205-section, we discovered), we drove it to the MOT station… and it passed first time, with no advisories! We were thrilled, to say the least.

Now, the best end to this story would be to say that this cherished motor that played such a central role in my childhood was now parked outside my home, in regular use. But unfortunately that’s not the case. You see, having got it roadworthy and refreshed, I still had nowhere to keep it and still couldn’t afford to run it. So I sold it.
An ignominious end? Well, no, not really. The chap who bought it was a volunteer at the Brooklands Museum – the last time I saw the Bullitt, it was giving excitable children thrill-rides around the historic Brooklands banking. And that’s better than crumbling away in a dusty barn, isn’t it?

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