Tommy kaira ZZ - history

Not an answer to the S1 Elise

15w ago
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extracted from "The Phantom Sportscar - Tommy kaira history"

[...] Tuning cars and selling them as a recognized automaker was no longer enough.

It was early 1991 and the dream of Tomita and Kaira was always the same: building their own car from scratch. The ideal sports car, simple, extremely light, affordable but with intense driving feeling.

They discussed the project at a board meeting, where they were ironically called “grandfathers” for being close to 50 years old.

Being both of them half-a-century-aged gentlemen, they named their fulfilled dream with the abbreviation "ZZ", transcription of twice "Ji", which in Japanese translates indeed to "grandfather".

The car that Tomita and Kaira have in mind is a sixties-fashioned racing "barchetta", inspired by the cars with which, as a young, Yoshikazu used to run back and forth the National Route 1 at high speeds, and to the formulas that Kikuo had raced and designed; by the Lotus Seven for the aluminium tub monocoque, by the Porsche 356 for its short overhangs, by the Porsche 904 GTS for the mechanical layout (approx., due to the boxer engine) and driving experience, by the Alpine A108 for the headlights, by the Porsche 912 for choosing a smaller engine, less powerful but also less heavier, which made the car handle more friendly.

The simplicity of the car was a determining factor even in the design process: the car was conceived by placing on the floor parts picked from their shelves, like the engine, the transmission, the wheels, the seats, as they wanted to use as much existing parts as possible to keep costs down.

By 1992 a test mule was ready and the setup and chassis development with Dunlop tires began, with Keiji Nakajima and Kikuo Kaira himself behind the wheel (you can see Kikuo in the picture). The test bed was so light that after some laps the tires weren’t even worn at all, opposing to what the Dunlop staff expected.

In 1993 a research and development center was opened in Kameoka, near Kyoto. The design was entrusted to the team of vice-president Kaira, and after months of testing, with the support of various drivers, the "ideal sportscar" was revealed on July 24th 1995 at the Prince Hotel in Tokyo, on live TV, in front of 150 people including 10 foreign magazines and the president of Nissan America Takashi Ishihara to attend the event.

After a month, Tomita closed the orders with 430 deposits received.

On June 3, 1996, Tomita Auto UK Ltd. was born, in the Ironside way industrial complex in Hingham, Norfolk: it was a branch of Tomita Auto Co. Ltd. (the corporate company) conceived to manufacture the ideal sports car in the time window of three years at the rate of 12 cars a month.

The president and managing director of the company was nothing less than the former F1 and prototypes driver Hiroshi Fushida, also president of TOM’S GB and already living in Norwich, a legend in Japan still today.

He himself, having lived in Kyoto, knew about the ZZ project since the beginning. He knew Tomita since 1972, when Tomita Auto had just been created. On the other hand, Fushida worked with Kaira in the Esso Racing Team competing in the small displacement formulas (Formula Libre 500, Formula Junior 1300, Formula Junior 2000, and so on).

[TOM’S GB was the english subsidiary of TOM’S established in order to provide engines for TOM’S Euro F3s and to build the Taka-Q group C Toyotas: the company was later bought by Audi in 1998 and turned into Racing Technology Norfolk, which manufactured and campaigned the Bentley Speed 8, with Fushida as operations director.]

In July, instead, the Dream Factory becomes a company: the manufacturing of the car is no longer headed by Tomita Auto Co., but by Tomita Yume Koujou Ltd., which handles importation, registration and sale in the Japanese market.

Why building in the UK a car to be sold only in Japan?

In addition to practical matters, that is to take advantage of the facilitations on crash tests for small makers, England was the home of small production racing and sportscars, so it would have been easier and less expensive to find a factory and trained workers there instead of in Japan. In fact, most of the workers at Tomita Auto UK were former Lotus mechanics.

During 1993, the design of the car was carried over together with Mooncraft designer, Takuya Yura, who managed the clay modeling of the scale body and therefore the realization of the styling. The design proposed by Yura was so awesome that Tomita fell in love with it, the kind of love that a person can feel for their pet.

The fiberglass bodywork boasts unique shapes, starting from the waistline, but tidy in the rear; the very short overhangs, with a round front end and uncovered circular headlights, by half recessed in the bonnet and for the other half in relief as for the Alpine A110 from which inspiration was drawn, and a cut-off tail that faces upwards.

The body was manufactured in Kent and painted at Tomita Auto UK.

The removable roof has a double bulge, a Zagato's sign; visually it is a slender extension of the windshield that reclines gently on the roll-hoop in steel tubes. It has the peculiarity of being removable to be stored above the hood, in a way that reminds the rear of the classic Porsche 718.

Strangely, the peculiar doors of the ZZ were not actually intended to be in the initial concept to avoid the cost of more hinges, and were added later, but without an external handle, since locks were not to be featured. Also for this reason, fixed windows were not supplied even with the purchase of the hardtop, since the internal handle had to be reachable without getting locked out.

The small roof can be fixed to the engine cover with four bolts, one on each of its four angle, purposely designed to leave the panel floating and to draw some air into the hood vents.

A detail featured in the concept, but probably discarded in production, was a rubber profile to be applied on the edge of the wheel, to avoid damaging the wheel against the sidewalks… It was even patented...

... As evidence of how the car was designed to be used in any context, albeit without even windows (the hardtop was an option weighing about twenty kilos), rewarding any inconvenience with pure and distilled driving pleasure.

The hardtop featured an acrylic rear window and polypropylene side windows, which could be opened with a zip along their perimeter.

The internal door handle, instead, was set in a mold slot, under the door. Indeed, the handle was the slot itself, through which one can act directly on the lever that disengages the door latch.

The chassis was built by the same Arch Motor of Huntingdon that supplied the frames to the Lotus Type 7 and 23 and that produced parts for Lolas, GT40s and other sport prototypes. It was a tub of welded square-section aluminum extrusions, to which two steel subframes were bolted: one to support the front suspensions and the front shell, one supporting the engine, the rear suspensions and the rear shell. More precisely, each triangle of the front suspension had a link connected directly to the chassis, as on racecars.

Other bits of the chassis were manufactured at Tomita Auto UK, or imported from Japan.

The lack of any comfort and refinement (exposed gearshift linkage and pedals, bare aluminum floor...) helped to keep the weight of the car 50kg lower than the Lotus, at 670kg.

Also note how, as "this car has no glovebox" (cit), the only usable space for storing personal effects is obtained into the frame sill, within easy reach by hand, and by raindrops, too.

The brakes were made of four AP Racing discs (ventilated in front only), with optional Brembo two-piston calipers at the front.

The shocks were Bilstein and harder springs of 4 and 6 kg/mm respectively at the front and at the rear could have been be installed.

If this was not enough, there’s not a weak Rover K series to power the rear wheels with 205mm tread, but what would be legit to call a Nissan SR20DS, taken in block together with the Nissan Primera HP10 transmission, shipped "naked" from Nissan Japan to Norwich.

If you wonder where is the "E" that usually stands in the engine code, you'll be surprised to know that it has been "swept away" by two motorcycle carburetors, Keihin FCR 45, capable of feeding the engine up to 180PS in the base trim, or 195 in the hottest version (ZZ-S).

Thanks to the ZZ's lightness and despite the engine being carburetted, fuel consumption averages 10km/l and tops at 12 with careful driving.

As for other Tommy Kairas, various stages and options for the engine and chassis were available in the price list. The Stage 1 for 600 JPY included: polished valve seats, balanced shaft, increased lift cams, new timing pulleys, new head gasket and a general intake setting. Stage 2 for 1,060 JPY added to Stage 1: SR16VE pistons, reinforced connecting rods, new valve springs, NGK spark plugs, bronze valve guides, balanced pistons, polished head. Stage 3, using special pistons with CR of 12: 1, carried the displacement to 2 liters and 2, while Stage 4 provided for an electronic injection head with a tuned ECU, operating on timing advance and injection.

To improve responsiveness, a lightened flywheel (from 8.7kg to half of that) and a shortened final drive were available.

The fuel was stored in a 45L tank placed right behind the passenger’s seat, so that it wouldn’t take up space for the driver in an already tiny car.

Initially it was judged as a copycat of the Lotus Elise. Tomita made clear that the ZZ was conceived first. In fact, a ZZ test bed was already out testing in 1992, while Lotus was sold to ACBN Holdings (Artioli) on August 27, 1993 and production plans for the M111 were approved in the same period. The project director Tony Shute stated the Elise project began in 1994, while the design contest held by Benedini and won by Thompson was launched in early 1993.

The magazines that drove it (especially british ones) were impressed: it was the first time after so long a Japanese car reached the cover of a foreign car magazine. In testing some reviewers felt the steering had less groove than the Elise, while it proved faster than the Lotus, more stuck on the ground, with a racecar feeling, but with a behaviour not very keen on forgiving brave corner-entries, in benefit of a very nimble front end. It beated the regular Elise, but being hand made with higher quality components meant that at 5 million yen it costed nearly as much as an Elise Sport 190, which was closer to a racecar than the ZZ was.

In a Best Motoring test drive at the Tsukuba Circuit, Keiichi Tsuchiya concluded a lap on a ZZ in one minute, seven seconds and 40 cents, equal to a 2015 Civic Type-R, a Skyline GT-R R32 V-Spec, a Lancer Evolution IV, a 993 4S... however, two seconds faster than an Elise S1 driven by himself. Not bad for a car created primarily to satisfy driving pleasure and not lap time itch.

The car was capable of getting to 100kph in a bit more than 4 seconds and to 240kph as its top speed.

The deliveries of the ZZ started in July 1997, but production was stopped as early as March 1999, after the Japanese Ministry of Transportation announced the update of safety standards in head on collisions from European (and therefore also British) criteria to American standards, which did not allowed exceptions for small builders. The ZZ exploited this very one legislative loophole in order to avoid having to take expensive tests within the reach of only the major car manufacturers, which could afford to invest much bigger capitals upstream.

The sudden halt of the homologations prevented Tomita from selling the exemplars which were finished but not yet registered at that time. The production was stopped at 185 units, and the lack of income led to the collapse of the English company linked to the factory, which found itself with a hundred units left collecting dust waiting for a future.

The economical damage was between a quarter and a half billion yen.

Tomita has in mind to solve this problem with a radical evolution of the ZZ: the ZZ-III, more comfortable and slightly heavier, available with 1.6 and 2.0 electronically controlled engines and also a CVT gearbox upon request for those who would have driven it in city commuting.

The Tommy Kaira Owner’s Club, a group of fellow owners who were close with the company itself (new models were revealed during the meets), started a fundraiser to support the losses of the Tomita Yume Koujou.

The Ministry retraced their steps a few months later. In December 1999 an agreement was reached between Tommy Kaira and AUTOBACS, so that in 2000 Tomita Yume Koujou was sold to AUTOBACS itself, along with Kameoka research and development site.

The British government needed someone to take over Tomita Auto UK. Engineer Mike Rawlings was offered to do that, so he in turn asked Mark Easton to join and set up Breckland Technology (later they will build the Mosler MT900 and the Breckland Beira). This allowed the restart of ZZ production, moving manufacturing to East Dereham, about thirty kilometers from Norwich. Then they bought Tomita Auto UK’s toolings and a complete ZZ (the yellow Mk1 used by the press) at an auction and were ready to start production. Later on, an agreement with Tomita and Kaira was reached, so that Tommy kaira would take 5 ZZs per month from them.

On 26 September 2000 it was announced that the ZZ would be back on sale in an updated version with slight modifications (noticeable in some articles in the previous images): 195mm front tires instead of 205, reinforced toe links, front radiator, new colours, 5PS more power, 5Nm more torque and a weight about 30kg higher. The car was therefore produced by Breckland Technology and also sold by both Tommy Kaira and AUTOBACS in their stores, by the latter with a customized trim called ZZ'A. The style was updated by the new acquirement of the Dream Factory: Design Apple’s Noriyuki Nishida.

It is said that between 15 and 25 units of the revised ZZ were produced, including those in the upgraded spec, the ZZ’A.

A ZZ EVO was initially planned as a ZZ replacement, based on the same chassis, with a fixed roof coupé body style. The development got up to a clay model, but the acquisition by AUTOBACS meant that other projects had higher priority. Anyway, its design didn’t get wasted...

The synergy between the two brands gave birth to the ASL (AUTOBACS Sportscar Laboratory Co Ltd) on April 2nd 2001. The ASL logo is a hummingbird that, with its ability to keep its elevation by flapping its wings 18 times per second, is a source of inspiration for the light and agile sportscars of AUTOBACS.

The production of the Tommy kaira ZZ ended in December 2001, so that ASL could manufacture the Garaiya, showed exactly on December 4th 2001.

The Garaiya was set at 6.5 mln JPY, with a production target of 100 units and a rate of 4 units per month, but already 60 of them were signed before the official release.

Breckland Technology's Mark Easton and Mike Rawlings were appointed with the initial development, by reinforcing the ZZ chassis, and turning the 1/4 scale model realized by Nishida into a full scale FRP body, all done in a couple of months.

Kameoka’s complete-car development team was integrated with new staff, including Aguri Suzuki himself and other professional drivers, and in late August 2002 they completed testing and developing of the new car at Millbrook Proving Ground complex, located between Bedford, Luton and Milton Keynes.

The Garaiya is assumingly the continuation of the ZZ-III project: a revised ZZ for all-around usage, weighing 900kg to 950kg, equipped with an electronically managed 206PS-claimed SR20VE mated to a 6-speed box straight from the Primera P12 20V, featuring closed roof, glass windows, upgraded brakes with 4 pistons, radio, air conditioning, and the taillights of the Alfa Romeo 147, blended in the styling by Design Apple. The car also has scissors doors, but they’re designed to clear a height of 150cm, so they can be fully opened in parking stores.

The new engine struggled to meet the claimed power output, maxing at 175PS, and the back window manbufactured in Spain could cause annoying glazes at night.

The Garaiya should have been manufactured in Portugal, but after 1 early prototype built in Kameoka, 7 pre-production units and 4 production cars built in Norfolk, it didn’t get to regular production.

While the car was being shown for several years at salons, motor shows, and SuperAutobacs Stores, in 2005 the project was abandoned and the Garaiya found its only real use as a prototype in GT300, scoring with the Autobacs Racing Team Aguri (ARTA, of Aguri Suzuki) significant results including four podiums in the final standings between 2004 and 2010.

The Garaiya only missed 2007 season: in 2006 Suzuki threatened to close the team if they didn’t win the championship. He actually did, but the next year they came back to GT300.

Garaiya special articles featured in monthly issues by Autobacs. Some photos from the factory thanks to Kikuo Kaira.

Garaiya special articles featured in monthly issues by Autobacs. Some photos from the factory thanks to Kikuo Kaira.

12 is the amount of Garaiyas ever built: 1 prototype, 7 pre-production cars and 4 production cars.

The prototype and preproduction units feature the original split gauge cluster and have their fuel cap mounted on the roof pillar.

The production units feature the later one piece dashboard, NACA ducts on their rear quarter panels and the fuel cap moved next to the left hand side NACA duct.

The wheels of the prototype car were probably custom made by Tan-ei-sya, but for later units have been replaced by Rays Volk CE28N first and Emotion CR Kai then.

The wing was probably an option included in a sportier trim, and had its mounting point distanced for production cars in order to decrease the boot lid flexion under load and improve stability, although the wing was more of a styling feature than a performance one.

The last two pictures are a speculation on what are the 12 units like, assuming that none of them was repainted or had their key features changed (dashboard, fuel cap, wing)

Tomita then returns to devote himself to tuning and, on May 1 2002, coinciding with the anniversary of the foundation of Tomita Auto Inc, he establishes Tomita Dream Sales Inc, with headquarters in Kyoto a few miles away from the Dream Factory, to manage the sales of tuned cars independently.

Unfortunately, the debts concerning the plant were too high, so in June 2002 the production of the ZZ was eventually ended, after only 220 units produced, 206 registered as Tommy Kairas, one crash tested, and 12 Garaiyas, out of 430 units initially planned. The factory was entirely divested to Breckland Technology, which was already building the Garaiyas for Autobacs. Easton and Rawlings were joined by Oliver Winterbottom (famous Lotus designer who had worked with Rawlings at TVR twenty years earlier) in 2001 and by Paul Mickleburgh in 2002.

Mickleburgh wanted to sell the car in the US, so he set up on June 7th 2002 the Leading Edge Sports Car Company (LESCC), located in Tasburgh, with an aeronautical-inspired logo to witness the quality of the driving experience. The new company developed a reviewed version of the ZZ: the Leading Edge RT, perfected through the modification of the fuel tank (now levelled behind both seats), the redesign of rear suspensions to help reducing oversteer, the switch to 235mm rear tires, and the adoption of crumple zones in the subframes. It was planned in two versions, 160, with Mikoni carburetors, and 240HP, the latter with EFI and SR20VE head. In 2004, the brakes were upgraded to Wilwood 4pot calipers, while an hardtop and a two-profile wing were added as options. Aesthetic changes were made with smaller separate TVR-style headlights and 17” Lotus-ish alloy wheels.

All the modifications lead the car to a dry weight slightly over 720kg.

The behaviour of the car was still precise in cornering, but prone to understeer when at the limit of grip, which was already high before said modifications .

In 2004 the 240RT was planned to receive the 1.8 turbocharged engine from the Seat Ibiza Cupra, tuned to 265BHP, but there is not further proof of that being happened.

The car was listed at around 30 thousand pounds and produced in very few units, probably less than 5: the demonstrative ones were a red LHD 190RT (went in the USA), a blue RHD, a yellow RHD 240RT later updated into Motorsport trim (British GT version, probably with BTCC cams and around 250PS) and a dark blue 240RT. The car was promoted between 2002 and 2003 to some shows (NEC Birmingham, Goodwood FOS), to some trackdays or in magazine collective tests (EVO; Autocar) through English club circuits (Ethel, Anglesey, Castle Combe, Donington ...). After a relaunch in 2005 with the updated dark blue 240RT (of which there is only one photo since the website was left abandoned since 2004), in 2006 the Leading Edge ceases to exist, after which the projects are sold again but without any follow-up.

Meanwhile, around 2010, a ZZ with an electric motor was already being tested, based on the demonstration run car that was used to show potential customers the capabilities of the car. Matsumoto installed an electric engine and batteries and removed the gearbox.

On December 2nd 2010, the ZZ-EV was announced, with a 300hp, 400Nm electric engine, limited to 150kph, with a range of 100km (deliberately low to keep the battery light, but still expandable) and weighing 780kg, developed by a company within the engineering department of the University of Kyoto, the Green Lord Motor, in which Yoshikazu Tomita appeared as an advisor, managed and carried on also by former employees of the Dream Factory / Dream Sales.

The car was presented in 2016 with the Tommykaira brand, taken over for the occasion after it was lent to Rowen around 2009 and was abandoned it in 2014.

The Tommykaira ZZ GLM is the first car in the world to feature a frameless stressed-member windshield by Teijin, and one of the first sports cars to feature a full driving assist system (designed by Kyocera).

The ZZ-EV was styled by Design Apple, too, based on drawings made for the ZZ EVO, but without the fixed roof.

Racing ZZs and derivatives.

The first car, the demo car and test mule ZZ, has a front radiator and was used to take customers on track for some laps with professional drivers at the wheel.

The second car, a ZZ’A, was probably used for the same purpose.

The third car is Jack Towler’s ZZ. It was bought in england and raced in the Roadsport division of 750 Motorclub (750MC) Racing series back in 2003-2004.

The fourth car is an extreme race version of a N/A ZZ. It was probably bought for 17000 pounds at LSCC, as an original bright yellow ZZ was for sale there in 2004. It features a chassis-mounted wing, front splitter and canards, pressure outlets, dynamic airbox, race adjustable AVO coilovers with spherical mounts, race Willwood brakes, straight cut 6-speed manual gearbox sourced out from a BTCC Primera, engine rebuilt to BTCC specs with billet crankshaft, electronic injection, ITBs and race ECU to more than 270PS. It was built by John Timewell to compete against Jack Towler’s ZZ .

The fifth car is the Leading Edge 240RT Motorsport, probably developed after Timewell’s ZZ.

The sixth car is a gold Garaiya prepared by SuperAutobacs Toda in 2003 to contest time attacks at Tsukuba. It also features an SR20DET with 430PS moving 1020kg. It was shown at the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show.

The seventh car is the Fuel Bank EVO’s ASL Garaiya, built by the shop at SuperAutobacs Omiya Bypass around 2007 upon the S.A. Toda’s car. The drawing shows its similarities, despite the car wearing the first iteration of its red livery. It was shown at the 2008 Tokyo Motor Show and it probably underwent further modifications than just its styling.

The eigth car is an extensively modified ZZ with an SR20DET swap producing 380BHP. The car was sold in 2013 by Run & Bell, in Hiroshima.

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