HMC Handmadecars has achieved the impossible – they have obtained EU approval for their Backdraft HMC Classic, and next year, series production will begin in Vadstena. We took a spin in the prototype. This car should not be confused with an amateur-built Cobra replica!
A thin seat cushion, that's what I have under my backside. A prerequisite to bring a 191-centimeter writer to an acceptable level in HMC's Cobra.
"We're working on a solution to bring down and back the seat, apologies," says Thomas Kümmerling. It's in progress! It's completely okay. The car I'm sitting in is, after all, a prototype. The crucial point here is that it is a fully EU-approved prototype, and serial production is actually set to start. Serial number one is already under construction in the 'factory' on the grounds outside Vadstena.
Oh yes, next year, the eager enthusiast should be able to buy a turnkey Cobra, but you can't use the model name, so HMC Handmadecars calls it the Backdraft HMC Classic. Completely street-legal, meeting all current EU requirements. Made in Sweden! Then with a seat where you don't have to remove the cushions in the seat and backrest even if you happen to be a bit above average height.
Dull rumbling Once in place, there's surprisingly plenty of room. The field of view falls well below the low windshield, and the seemingly peculiar gear lever for the six-speed Tremec gearbox is easy to deal with. You sit askew, the pedals are far to the left, but that's how it is in all Cobras. It's a small car with the engine and gearbox encroaching on the driver's space. I recall my only test drive of an amateur-built Cobra, and HMC's car feels so much more genuine. In front of me, there's a dull rumbling LT1-V8. I would have liked it to sound more, but the EU doesn't agree. The clutch is relatively hard with a short stroke, so the first starts are a bit jumpy, but it probably gets fast to get used to. The strong character of the engine forgives the beginner's mistakes; there are no stalls. The specification says 460 horsepower on 1,365 kilos.
Mad corner-hugger The front and rear suspension components are taken from the BMW E36, with all the geometry retained, providing exemplary behavior on the road. The steering is direct and precise; everything feels very well-worked, and the car quickly changes character from a kind and easy-to-drive glider to a mad corner-hugger. But the road here has been anything but straight. It's important to emphasize that the beast I'm sitting in is not one in the line of amateur-built Cobra replicas. As mentioned earlier, this is an EU-approved car that is to be serially produced, with all the testing procedures, certifications, and battles against bureaucratic regulations. It all started when Thomas moved from Stockholm to Vadstena in 1998. Entrepreneur Thomas, with a wide range of businesses, dismantled everything in Stockholm in 2017 and began sketching to build Cobras with individual approval but eventually shifted to EU approval. – We've been dealing with the authorities for two and a half years, besides rebuilding the car several times, he sighs.
A handshake Why the Cobra?
– I was big on Porsche in the 80s, Thomas explains. But the Cobra is a cool classic sports car. We were in the USA with Shelby and Superformance, trying to get agreements, but it was too expensive. A visit to Backdraft in South Africa, where Thomas found Tony Martin, turned out to be the solution. – Not so many lawyers; it was a handshake, and we were in agreement.
Two street cars and a racing car were brought home, and Thomas turned to Bengt Lidmalm, the founder of Indigo, who had valuable knowledge in type approval processes. With technician Edvardas Lybus, they gradually rebuilt one of the cars to meet all requirements. Just finding the right asphalt for the noise tests was a huge problem, but now the car roars at 70.2 dB against the requirement of 74 dB. The COVID outbreak also caused trouble; when the whole world went into lockdown, Thomas was in Italy with the car. – It was hell; those two years, we were dealing with our approvals! A Swedish product Finally, the eye of the needle was passed, and in December 2022, EU type approval came through the Transport Agency responsible for issuance. – Everyone advised us to certify the car in Spain, but we wanted a Swedish product, Thomas proudly explains.
As a small-scale manufacturer, HMC now has the opportunity to build up to 1,500 cars per year, although the ambitions are somewhat more modest. – We'll deliver cars in 2024; we've said we'll deliver one car a month.
The car contains many OEM products like Chevrolet's LS engine LT1, the Tremec gearbox, and chassis parts from BMW. Reliable and proven components that also guarantee affordable maintenance. A prototype body was developed in Sweden, but despite Thomas scouring the market, he has not managed to find any Swedish company that can undertake to cast bodies in larger series. Comments on Facebook Instead, chassis and bodies come from Backdraft in South Africa and are assembled into a car in the premises in Vadstena. Visually, they have had to make some concessions to meet EU requirements. Like the steering wheel, seats, hoops with belt fasteners, and the exhaust system.
– We've received comments on Facebook about things like the seats, Thomas says. But then you don't understand that we have to have it like this. Fortunately, they are spared electronic driver aids like ABS brakes, traction control, and automatic braking.
– The only assist system we have is power steering, Thomas laughs. This is a car with driving pleasure!
Wants to build racing cars There is no order book yet; they haven't started taking orders.
– But we have over 200 interested parties, Thomas points out. We want to build this up slowly, with quality. Must not lose anything along the way! There are two body types to choose from, the one in the pictures, and a GT variant with air outlets behind all wheels. The latter brings thoughts more towards racing – for a reason.
– We want to build racing cars too if there's demand for it, with a cheap setup.
A natural development, and it's not without anticipation that I long for a racetrack to stretch out on during the test drive over the plains around Vadstena. The precision in behavior constantly calls for more, and it would be fun to test the limits, which probably lie more in the driver than in the car.
Thomas, you are welcome to Bilsport Superstage anytime!