By on May 8, 2002

OK, so you want a fast car. A really fast car. A car so absurdly rapid that you'd stop for the police because you're a law-abiding citizen-not because you have to. The only trouble is money. To buy anything monstrously quick with enough finesse to keep you on the road, you're going to have to pay mortgage money to the Germans or Italians. Sure, you could modify a Rice Burner, but that ain't cheap either, and a bit too Fast and Furious for style conscious Brits. Then check out the Ultima Can Am.

You want fast? In all my Ferrari-owning, Lambo-loving, Pagani pestering life, I have never driven a road car as searingly quick as the Ultima Can Am. Pop in the light but solid clutch, press the starter button, give her some revs, release the clutch and objects in front of you are suddenly closer than they appear. Wind it up to the 6000 rpm redline and you're issuing a direct challenge to your brain to compute information as fast as it's being received. This at the same time that the G-force is throwing you back into your seat, the wind is trying to tear your head off, and the engine is screaming, 'Look at me! I'm a RACE CAR!' Luckily, the Can Am's 18' tyres maintain a death grip on the tarmac- giving drivers freedom to pick bugs out of their teeth while recovering from endorphin overload.

It's often said a car's only as fast as its brakes. When it comes to shedding speed, the Can Am's four-wheel discs are as close as you can get to a pause button. Press the go pedal and your internal organs are thrust backwards. Press the brakes and they're trying to pop out of your chest like that snake thing in Alien. Add in the severe lateral forces created by cornering, and the Can Am provides a menu of physical sensations only available to race car drivers and fighter pilots. In fact, it's a car fully capable of making people violently ill. But the really sick part is that it doesn't take more than ten minutes before the whole experience starts to feel very, very good.

The Can Am does the fast thing with a straightforward formula: keep it light, strip out all the fancy stuff and pour on the power. The car doesn't have power steering, ABS braking, fuel injection, traction control or anything terribly clever. What it does have is a Chevrolet 6.3 litre small block V8. In standard tune, it's good for 355bhp. The hotter version (survived above) pumps out a whopping 530bhp. For the technically minded, that engine generates 520 foot-pounds of torque at 4000 rpms. For the non-technically minded, it has enough brute force to scare the bejesus out of any passenger that hasn't competed in open car racing. Not that you'd hear them begging you to stop…

Meanwhile, back here in the real world, where children want new running shoes and the wife can't understand that a sports car is a better investment than a new kitchen, you've got to balance fun with fiscal responsibility. Balance this: the extra spicy edition of the mid-engined Can Am goes from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.3 seconds. The McLaren F1- still the world's fastest passenger car- does the same sprint in 3.2 seconds. Give up .1 of a second and a roof to the Big Mac, forget the 46mph top end difference, and you'll save £657,865.67. That's right: the Ultima Can Am costs from just £28,000.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention one little thing: the Can Am is a kit car.

Wait! Don't dismiss the idea as an invitation to construct- or try to construct- a shoddy replica. Unlike the majority of 'self-builds', the Can Am isn't an imitation anything. The looks may hark back to the Can Am racers of the 70's, but the car is a fresh design. Ultima boss and former racer Ted Marlow started with a clean sheet of paper. Drawing on twenty years experience in the field and an adrenalin addiction of monumental proportions, Marlow has created a road-legal racecar that makes no apologies to anyone. All the major parts, from the adjustable wishbone suspension to the race-developed steering, were specifically built for the Can Am. While I didn't screw the demonstrator together myself, the car's consistent shut-lines and gel-coated bodywork (no need for painting) indicate a well-considered, quality product.

Yes, well, so is a Porsche, but you don't build one of those in a shed. Marlow counters by pointing out that a Porsche isn't designed to be built by amateurs. The Can Am was conceived as a right or left hand drive kit car from the word go. The instruction manual, thinner than a Highlands business directory, backs up his claim. As do the engineers who answer the phones (who have sworn an oath not to laugh at a customer's question). Ultima reckons you'll need about £150 worth of tools, a cheap PC for their CD-ROM, and 300 man-hours to do the job.

Work it out. Shelter from domestic strife a four or five months, and you could emerge from your garage with a hand-built supercar. Ultima's representatives will check it over for you free of charge (a sensible idea for a car capable of 185 miles per hour). Take it for government inspection, and voila! A Ferrari-killer for second-hand Mercedes money.

If that sounds too good to be true, I understand. I've never built anything more impressive than a sand castle. I give serious thought to calling out a tow truck to change a tyre. Still, the idea of screwing together my own car reminds me of an old Ferrari ad: 'What can be conceived can be created.' If you can imagine yourself driving the second fastest road legal car in the world, you can build it. Guess what car the McLaren team bought to develop the F1? An Ultima. Nuff said?

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