Home » Here’s What Happens When An Ex-Formula E Engineer And His Friend Get Their Hands On An Audi TT, A Kit Car, And A Welder

Here’s What Happens When An Ex-Formula E Engineer And His Friend Get Their Hands On An Audi TT, A Kit Car, And A Welder

A front three-quarter shot of Chris' mid-engined sports car

Chris Rimmer is a genius. The UK-based Formula E engineer-turned-programmer is currently working on a Rover SD1 project and a 1966 Ford Thunderbird, and yet neither of these projects hold a candle to the sheer insanity of the mid-engined Audi TT sports car he’s co-building with his friend Adrian “Ade” Gordon.

Wait, back up. A mid-engined Audi TT sports car? Well, yes, kind-of. The chassis started life from blueprints provided by a Haynes manual called Build Your Own Sports Car: On a Budget. Now, I happen to have a copy of that book and the sports car it instructs readers to build is about as far from mid-engined as a water buffalo is from an F-35 fighter jet. It’s supposed to be this Ford Sierra-based Lotus Seven clone, the sort of thing designed for puttering about the Cotswolds. Chris and Ade didn’t want to simply putter about the Cotswolds looking like Patrick McGoohan, so after obtaining the chassis, the two friends decided to slice it up a bit.

The state of the sports car chassis when Chris and Ade picked it up
Photo credit: Chris Rimmer

It turns out that slicing the chassis up was a good idea. Chris mused, “We sort of assumed the folks who built the frame originally were more competent than us, which seemed a good assumption given how low we’d set the bar!” Good assumption, but nevertheless an optimistic one. “…the left and right sides of the frame were about 2 cm different in length to each other. The whole thing was wonky in every dimension we checked, and surely in several we didn’t,” said Chris. I’m sure the chief engineer of the Renault 4 would’ve signed off on it, but such sloppy work wasn’t good enough for Chris and Ade.

First with flux core and then with gas, Chris and Ade slowly reworked the chassis into something more their speed. The 225-horsepower 1.8T 20-valve turbo powertrain from a Mk1 Audi TT was obtained for everyone’s favorite price of free, with plans made to slot it into the back of the kit car. I don’t know about you, but 225 mid-engined horsepower in a very light sports car sounds like an absolute riot.

The sports car from the rear without bodywork
Photo credit: Chris Rimmer

To get the Audi lump back there, the entire back half of the chassis had to be reworked. New chassis rails were welded in place to cradle the turbocharged four-cylinder engine while new turrets for the rear dampers were fabricated around Subaru Forester top mounts. Why Forester top mounts? They were the ones sitting on the workbench, of course! In fact, the only things remaining from the TT are the engine and a handful of suspension bits. The Audi’s trailing arms play a big role in keeping the rear end reasonably planted, while the front suspension is even more ingenious.

“We cheated on the front,” said Chris. “We re-used the Audi lower arm, and made an insert for the top of the hub to take an upper A-arm rather than the bottom of a MacPherson strut tube.” Honestly, that sounds more like brilliance than cheating to me.

With the engine situated firmly midship, it was time to Chris and Ade to turn their attention to plumbing and wiring. The cooling lines for the car come from an MG TF, a very sensible choice. The sports car’s intercooler is off of a Land Rover Freelander. Clever stuff. As for engine management, Chris is likely sticking with the standard Audi ECU for now. While a Megasquirt 3 engine management system is on hand, it’ll likely be reserved for a different project. “I might keep that for my Rover K Series-swapped Mk1 Golf,” said Chris.

I responded to this comment about how that should make for a really fizzy little hatchback, and Chris said, “Especially when said hatchback is a speedster. But that’s another story.” Christ on a bike, that’s going to be hot.

A side shot of Chris' mid-engined sports car
Photo credit: Chris Rimmer

As for bodywork, Chris and Ade’s budget sports car doesn’t look anything like a Lotus Seven, nor like anything I’ve ever seen. There’s a hint of Jaguar XJS to the front, wide Alfa Romeo 159 headlamps set into even wider fenders. The hood features an enormous scoop to extract air from the radiator, side pods bulge from the rear fenders and a full roll cage is welded into the car’s structure for safety. No cocking about here. Around the back, two round Alfa Romeo MiTo taillights look absolutely fabulous while a big mesh grille clears air through the aforementioned intercooler. The rear combination fog and reverse lamp is off a modern Mini, while a Toyobaru muffler’s exhaust tips look like a pair of cannons given the car’s truly small size.

While the spirit of this project is cheap and DIY, it does pack a couple of necessary extravagances. A proper pedal box and fuel cell are safety-critical items that were a good idea to splash out on. Chris reckons, “One of them was three hundred odd quid and the other about two hundred, and there’s a solid chance they cost more than pretty much the whole rest of the car.” Fair play. I wouldn’t want to go up in a high-octane fireball or have my pedals take a short but terrifying walk away from their intended positions either.

A shot of the rear detailing on Chris' sports car

Considering the bonkers concept of slotting an Audi 1.8T behind the seats of a car never designed to be mid-engined, you’d really think that Chris and Ade had planned this build out from the very start. The truth is, the wrench-happy duo are simply out here winging it.

“I remember reading a while ago about a bloke called Charlie Broomfield who wedged a Rolls-Royce Meteor tank engine into a Rover SD1. He was on the hunt for a steering rack, and the first one he found in a scrap yard that looked right would have to be mounted upside down to fit. So on that day, the car became left hand drive. I think that kind of ethos is alive and well in this project,” said Chris.

Perhaps best of all, Chris and Ade have documented the whole project on their YouTube channel called PedalBox. Their videos are genuinely brilliant and I urge you to check them out. Personally, I can’t wait to see Chris and Ade giving their homebuilt “kit car” a bit of a thrashing. A homebuilt mid-engined sports car on the cheap. What’s not to love?

Lead photo credit: Chris Rimmer

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22 Responses

  1. This is why I came here. Forget why, rather ask why not?

    Sure it is insane, but that is what makes it a fun project.

    Side note: Did David catch the reference? 🙂

      1. Trick question. The article references British actor Patrick McGoohan, who wheeled a Lotus 7 in cult 60s sci-fi drama The Prisoner.

        98Z28 broadly paraphrases Robert Kennedy, who said “Some men see things as they are, and say why. I dream of things that never were, and say why not.”

        Trust me, if you want to build a robust social life, this is the stuff you really need to know…

        1. Yep, I totally meant the RFK reference. Sure, meant to do that. Umm…look a convenient distraction. *zoinks*

          In defense of David, while I am have more knowledge that I should of pop culture. If you put me in front a Jeep, I would be that is the vroom vrroom noise maker, while David can tell me all the specs while fixing it.

          1. Am an old person here. But seem to recall this being a JFK quote. Damn you kids, now I got to google, again. But yeah this is like another fun thing here. Thanks.

  2. I’ve been following this channel for a couple years. They definitely deserve more subscribers. Y’all should invite Peter Monshizadeh over here to contribute. He’s done some EXCELLENT DIY write-ups for Jalopnik, and his channel “The Practical Enthusiast” is fantastic.

    1. He used to be one of my favorite writers on the “old site,” but I never knew where he went. Thanks for the heads up on his new channel. I’d love to see him write some more articles here.

  3. I would be interested to see the details of how power is sent to the wheels. If I have the image right in my brain, the propshaft that should drive the front wheels on this would be pointing rearward.

    1. The engine is still the normal way around, so the propshafts from the diff to the front wheels are (relative to the engine) in their normal place and powering our rear wheels.

      I actually can’t remember if the prop shaft that normally runs off to the back of the car is currently just blanked off, or if we’ve completely removed the transfer case. I’ll be out today working on it (hopefully putting in something that loosely resembles a dashboard) so I’ll check and get back to you!

  4. I gotta say, the ol’ Jello Picnic had moments of fun, but I generally went glazed-eye and sleepwalked past all the motorsports stuff and military jet stuff and new-car review stuff. I can not over-emphasize how thoroughly delighted I am by the sheer volume of content here that is devoted to my own automotive hobbyhorses: the DIY shadetree hotrod stuff, the joyful shitbox revelry, the weirdo design histories… everything here is either devoted to rolling up sleeves and getting greasy for the pure fun of it (or the gotta-get-to-work-tomorrow-morning of it), or, when it comes to the high-dollar, rare, and unobtainable, pointing and laughing at it like it all so richly deserves.

    I used to read maybe 30%-50% of the articles on the old site. I have read 100% of the Autopian articles and thoroughly enjoyed each one. Never a dull or wasted line! THIS is what it’s all about!

    1. This is officially the second meanest thing anyone has said about our two clowns in a driveway project. And also the most presumptive thing. ????

  5. Mid-engined, all-wheel-drive, manual transmission featherweight car? On a budget?

    THIS is why I am interested in this site.

    Too bad they don’t appear to be making a streamliner out of it. 225 horsepower could push a stock Audi TT quattro to 145 mph, and it would get ~30 mpg @ 70 mph. If this custom build had half the TT’s drag and optimized gearing for the power curve, 180 mph would be possible on that same engine, and fuel economy on the highway would be somewhere near 50 mpg.

    That all said, I see what they are going for and it’s going to be glorious!

    1. I would absolutely love to have done something a bit nicer, but less brutal for the body design but we’re really really limited by tools and knowledge!

      I don’t think we ever really considered a streamliner to be honest but we probably couldn’t have pulled it off if we tried – everything we’ve done so far has been nice and simple but the kind of metal forms needed for such a body are probably beyond us.

  6. This is wild, brilliant work.
    Nice to get a mention of Charlie Broomfield in, if he’d have been doing the Meteor engine now he’d have a very successful YouTube channel project.

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