The original created legends, and copies can be found everywhere. Now, a Swedish manufacturer has maneuvered its own interpretation all the way through the EU's type approval process. As a result, they can sell turnkey, factory-built cars to eager enthusiasts throughout the EU.
They say a cat has nine lives, a myth possibly stemming from ancient Egypt with its pharaohs and pyramids. And cats. The Egyptians believed that cats possessed magic, capable of bringing luck to their owners.
Similar to Carroll Shelby's AC Cobra. It carries magic, capable of bringing joy to its owner. And if one were to count how many lives it has, nine wouldn't be enough. When the technicians in Thames Ditton dropped a Windsor V8 from Ford into a hapless AC Ace, something happened that still sends shivers down the spines of adults today.
In its time, Cobra production split into two branches. Carroll Shelby, until 1967, built increasingly powerful and over-motorized machines in the USA, while AC Cars in England continued assembling its AC 289 Sports until 1969. Since then, a multitude of more or less faithful copies has flooded the market. Shelby, of course, has periodically re-emerged with newly manufactured cars, and amid ownership changes between bankruptcies, AC Cars has done the same. However, the majority has been produced on homemade frames and fiberglass bodies worldwide. Nine lives? More like a hundred. That's how it is today, and it's not hard to understand. Few cars in history have had the charisma of the AC Cobra. But if you want one, at least in Sweden, you have to build it yourself and register it as an amateur-built vehicle. Or, at least, that was the case until now.
In Vadstena, by the shores of Lake Vättern, lives Thomas Kümmerling, and on his property, he is establishing a small car factory. There, he and his team will serially produce the HMC Classic, a sports car with what one might call clear inspiration drawn from the AC Cobra (Thomas prefers not to call it a copy or replica). All with full EU type approval.
You heard it right. HMC, or Handmadecars, has gone through the entire homologation process to be able to serially produce cars in volumes of up to 1,500 cars per year. This puts them in the company of the two other Swedish car manufacturers, Volvo Cars, and Koenigsegg Automotive. HMC is the real deal. At the same time, they are a small family business with car production taking place in their daughter's riding arena. It's not a bad riding arena by any means and probably very well-suited for precisely this kind of hand-built cars. It all started with a request for individual approval.
"I retired in 2017 and had nothing to do when two guys came up with an idea. They knew I was in the car industry, and they wanted to build an AC Cobra for individual approval," Thomas Kümmerling recounts when we meet. But it turned out that the individual approval was complicated enough to justify a full EU certificate, especially if you are an amateur researcher with ample property space. In essence, the HMC Classic is a South African Cobra replica from Backdraft Racing, which primarily sells partially finished kits without an engine and transmission to the North American market. What Thomas did was complete the entire package with an LT1 engine from the Chevrolet Corvette, a six-speed Tremec transmission, and then adapt everything to comply with EU regulations. Sounds easy, right?
It's not. EU certification is a baptism of fire, and very few car manufacturers have managed to get through it without significant resources. Every aspect of the car is scrutinized, and the whole process has taken several years to navigate. On December 6, 2022, they finally obtained the long-awaited certificate. We stroll through the workshop, a small building where car production is underway while waiting for the large assembly hall to be completed. Here, a couple of empty bodies and a naked chassis stand. The frame construction gives a solid impression, with substantial dimensions on the longitudinal and transverse beams that make up the frame.
The front suspension struts with hubs and brakes come from the BMW M3 of the E36 generation, from the 1990s. Similarly, the entire rear suspension assembly with a multi-link axle, differential, and everything is taken from the same car. The steering gear comes from the Toyota Corolla. Here and there, Thomas points out adaptations made for Europe, such as seat belt attachments, properly sized roll bars, and a range of other safety details. It seems well thought out, especially considering they've designed an entirely new and fairly extensive electrical system, a robust web that will power every warning light required by European approval. The engine and transmission are bought new in a box from the USA, a Chevrolet LT1 small-block, similar to the one in the previous generation Chevrolet Corvette, and the gearbox is a six-speed Tremec with a twin-disc clutch, a combination not uncommon in these contexts. The wheelbase is short, the gearbox takes up a significant portion of the width in the cockpit, and the driveshaft between the gearbox and the differential is only a few decimeters long. The gear lever leans strongly forward for easy reach, and the seats point slightly outward due to the wide center console. That's how it was back then, and that's how it is now.
Oddly enough, it's not something you notice when you sit behind the wheel. The Recaro seats come from Recaro and are reupholstered in Sweden with Swedish leather, and they are just comfortable enough. However, there's limited space for the feet, and the pedal set is shifted far to the left. If you want to rest your clutch foot, you have to tuck it under the pedal.
The details in the interior feel period-appropriate and meticulously executed. The steering wheel reveals that it's not a product of the sixties; instead of a Moto-Lita with a wooden rim, the HMC Classic has a small leather-covered hoop that meets EU safety requirements. The engine comes to life with a subdued voice. The visible exhaust pipes outside the sills are only for show; the exhaust exits at the rear through four additional outlets. Of course, this is also a concession to certification, but it results in virtually no exhaust noise.
First gear engages with a click, and the clutch responds distinctly without being heavy. The elbow fits perfectly on the door edge, and cruising at low revs, with the V8's torque, on the Östergötland plain is a delight. Shifting between the gears is a pleasure; the shifts are short and crisp. The steering runs lightly, actually a bit too light, and you have to turn quite actively. The gearing is on the slow side. In that sense, it's like cars used to be, but combined with the strong power assistance, it feels a bit peculiar.
So what? Driving it feels like driving a real car, a cohesive whole with a certain charm. The finish is far from the haphazardness of garage builds, yet there's a simplicity, a mechanical closeness, not found in modern cars. Now the 6.2-liter V8 mumbles impatiently, waiting for me to let it run free. I downshift and press the throttle. The engine pulls strongly, without a specific peak torque and without making much noise. It's efficient, and the acceleration tugs at the stomach, but the power delivery is more friendly than charming. If you're buying a car of this type, you might want to consider bypassing the EU's idea of sound restriction. And maybe sharpen the cams a bit. It's not a track day car we're talking about; it's more of a comfortable cruiser for semi-highway speeds across the plains. That's when it shines the most, especially with a chrome elbow. The suspension is comfortably set, and honestly, the chassis is not the most torsion-resistant. Over bumps, there's a shake, a body shimmy typical of cars of this construction type with a separate frame. If nothing else, it gets quite breezy at higher speeds.
But the resources are there. The engine performs well, and the balance in the car is there. There's even a real heating system for those slightly raw autumn evenings. The problem with sitting behind the wheel is that you don't get to see the outside. When we return, I step out and walk a few extra laps around the car. The paint's luster is abyssal. The body gaps are well-fitted. The details are where they should be. The whole appearance is a work of art, and the shapes give a feeling of tense muscles.
So, it's as it has always been. This is something that still makes adults shiver to the core, even today.