Lee Ballard Photography

A photo journal


Nice pair of 'Cats

Nice pair of ‘Cats

If you didn’t see the article in the February 2013 issue of Land Rover World then now is your chance.

Were you to look in the dictionary, you would find it describes the word “Tomcat” merely as a male feline or a promiscuous human male. Nothing overly impressive in the dictionary then. In most people’s everyday life that is all it means to them.

This my friends is a deep shame. You see in competitive 4×4 terms it means something so much more than those two meanings. To be honest it’s a perfect case and point that the whole is far greater than the sum of it’s constituent parts.

On a cool yet dry foggy morning I was invited to a former WWII airfield just outside Lincoln. Actually I went to a chainsaw massacre fog ridden woodland first in error but that’s a whole other story. Anyway, the airfield in question, or rather the reason for being in said airfield in question was to meet Paul Williamson from Tomcat Motorsport and a couple of examples of his creations.

A brief history of Tomcat Motorsport. Formed in 2001 to take over production of the Tomcat vehicle when it’s designer, Drew Bowler, moved on to create the Wildcat. Tomcat Motorsport took on the existing three Tomcat models, 80, 88 and 100 inch and almost immediately added a 93inch and a 106inch into the mix. Hundreds have now been built and can be found all over the world. The options available should you want one are almost endless and can suit most pockets. Tomcats were designed to be built and modified by the home mechanic and Paul can sell you individual parts or build you a vehicle from scratch, depending on your budget.

We’ll be taking a trip to Paul’s workshop in the near future (keep and eye out for that in an issue soon) but in the meantime let’s get back to the toys, sorry, cars in question. Paul had brought along a 100inch Comp Safari vehicle and his friend and customer (and generous airfield owner) Martin had brought along his newly completed 80 trialer. Neither vehicle had been tested fully so this day was to be a shake down as well as showing me what they can do.

80" Trialer

80″ Trialer

Lets begin with the 80”. Built to adhere to the strict requirements of the ALRC regulations, this is far from a standard 80” vehicle. Actually the only thing it has in common with an early 80” is it’s dimensions.

You can find a fully specification list of the two vehicles at the end of this feature. Were I to list every little detail here, I’d run out of space!

In very brief summary however it’s a shortened and modified Discovery 1 chassis with a Tomcat skeleton and GRP body panels (all powder coated/coloured to be as close to original 80” sage green as possible). It runs a 3.9 Rover V8 through a modified R380, into a Borg Warner (again modified) through Tomcat spec props and through Discovery 1 axles. That is indeed very (very) brief and barely scratches the surface of what makes up this vehicle and makes it as special as it is.

After a very informative walk round the vehicles with Paul (the man KNOWS his stuff) and clean photos taken the always fun question, “Want to go for a drive?” was posed to this writer. Well of course, any answer other than “Yes” would have been rude to my hosts. As I say, the 80” had only been fully finished a matter of days before so both Martin and Paul were keen to give it a go. I, after much loosening of the three point belts, squeezed into the Tomcat clubman bucket seat (built by Motordrive) and once buckled up we headed off.

I did mention the airfield. I didn’t mention the comp safari and trials courses built on and along the runway. Anyway, that is where we were to head to try the trialer out. Martin, a very experienced trial driver at the wheel and Paul waking round looking to see how the suspension acts and look out for any (albeit very unlikely) niggles.

Martin struck up the beautiful sounding V8 and we headed for the first “mound” Martin knew was suitable to try. The site at Wickenby has been used over the years for a number of events and so can test a Land Rover to it’s limit with ease. Second gear low box engaged and up we go. The 80” not even having to think about the steep incline. First gear selected on the apex of the hill and the almost sheer descent of the drop conquered without a pedal touch in a proper controlled manner.

We trekked off to the next mound and track section which the little Tomcat burbled around as if it were a car park. We kept going up and down and over and round, through axle twisters and water all with ease and just as surprisingly with Martin barely working for it, as if he were out for a drive in the country on a Sunday afternoon.

When offered a chance to drive the truck myself I leapt at it. Now I’ve driven a vast array of Land Rovers and other 4x4s over all sorts of terrain but never a purpose built trialer. It’s when you get behind the wheel you realise suddenly that all the hundreds of Tomcat refinements show through like a lighthouse on the darkest of nights.

Let’s start with the faster ratio, lighter, Tomcat steering box. With ease you can control the car with one hand, no matter what the wheels are going through. Whilst not an “approved” style of driving it is possible. And unlike a “proper” series Land Rover the steering is as tight and accurate as on a brand new Range Rover. But that’s just the start of it. The engine, custom Tomcat exhaust manifolds and custom specification exhaust is a joy to drive. Powerful yet controllable with a very responsive throttle. The combination of the steering, the engine, the clean and tight gearboxes, the suspension set up and everything else Tomcat can provide (Martin built this one with occasional tips from Paul) shine through to make a vehicle I look forward to seeing in competition soon and hope to drive again.

Paul naturally then wanted to take the 80 for a drive himself just to put her through her paces. And if the man that builds and engineers them for a living is pleased with the machine then that’s as good a review as can be given. Paul isn’t the sort of person to say “That’ll do” he will make sure it’s the absolute best it can be. No half measures here.

Now, let’s look at the 100” Comp Safari vehicle. As Martin and I were getting my frame into the bucket seat and harness of the 80”, Paul drove off in the 100” to where we were going to test the trialer. “I’ll just drive it over, not going to do anything yet” were the immortal words he spoke. Obviously Paul’s idea of “anything” doesn’t exclude doing donuts in the beast!

Comp Safari 100"

Comp Safari 100″

Okay, brief (again, full specifications at the end of the feature) description of the 100”. Discovery 1 lightened and strengthened chassis (incidentally, Paul bought the last available Discovery chassis’) with Tomcat 100 skeleton frame (special T45 steel in this case, 30% weight saving) and powder coated. Tomcat fibreglass body panels in orange gel coat.

Disco 1 axles, strengthened and re-castered (by +12 degrees), note how the axles are re-castered , not just fitted with caster corrected arms, 3.54 diffs, Disco R380 box with Defender selector, Borg Warner box with Tomcat conversion again, Tomcat HD props and Mach 5 wheels fitted with Technic Amazon 235/70 R16 tyres. I suppose I ought to mention the 5.0 TVR engine running through Tomcat manifolds and 75mm exhaust system, all in stainless. Actually measured at 250bhp and 300-320lb torque.

Mmmm TVR V8

Mmmm TVR V8

Okay. Seeing this vehicle parked in drool-worthy enough. Hearing it start and run is heart racing. Sitting in it as you whizz down a less than smooth runway at 100mph is jaw dropping. Take a look at YouTube and search “Land Rover World visit Tomcat” to see a video that gives you a very vague idea of the ride.

The YouTube video

But that’s not all. Even at high speeds it handles like it’s on rails. And I know that’s a common analogy but it isn’t usually applied to Land Rovers on lumpy tyres!
How about on real bumpy stuff. Well, it flies, almost literally, across any terrain. We hit one part of the course, that in my Defender would have had me bouncing side to side in the seat, at 30-50mph in the Tomcat and you would think you were just driving across a cricket pitch it was that smooth.

Unfortunately due to the nature of Autumn we were fast running out of light so I didn’t get a drive of this beast. Yet. Paul has invited me back and I will report on that when it happens.

It would be easy to just put a vehicle together that looks the part but Tomcat vehicles, whether built by a keen owner or as a turn-key product from Paul not just look that part. They are the part. They do the job they’re built to do very very well indeed.

Over the years, Paul has built very close relationships with a number of highly skilled suppliers including Ashcroft Transmissions, Allysport, Super Pro and many many more. Many of the items they supply are to Tomcat’s specifications and Paul works closely with them so that if an item isn’t performing as expected, they work together to ensure the problem is overcome.

In short. If you’re looking to enter into competition then you couldn’t go wrong in building a Tomcat. The whole ethos behind Paul’s company is “upgradability” so you can add and upgrade as budget and requirements determine. I know what’s on my Christmas list.

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