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We interviewed Jim Schenck of Factory Five Racing, Wayne Presley of VeryCool Parts and Andrew Wallace of AJW Performance about the new 818....

 

Factory Five Racing 818

by Michael Allen

 

factoryfive8183squarterviewsmallKit cars have come a long way since the days when everything was based on the VW Bug.  Factory Five Racing has been at the forefront of the expansion and sophistication of the “kit car” market.  They established themselves with their replica of the Cobra and are now expanding the line-up of cars available with the new 818S and 818R.  FFR is keeping both its weight and price down, giving this new model excellent potential as a choice for your next dedicated track day vehicle.   

 

FFR has taken kit cars to a new level by integrating a high level of technology into their design and manufacturing process.  The entire process is guided by Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CADCAM).  Designers work in front of computer stations and what they come up with is routed directly to a high tech shop where machines are directed via computer commands.  Robotics and laser cutters are employed to make parts consistent and precise to high tolerance levels.  Panels and parts will ultimately fit together well when they always come out the same and when they are accurate up to thousandths of an inch.  These are procedures pioneered in the aviation construction industry and bode well for a new and high level of quality control in the kit car arena.  Another plus to choosing a FFR product is that the kit is American made. 

 

The 818 derives its name from the weight of the car in kilograms, which translates to a complete vehicle of 1800 pounds; not a bad weight for a car that can have around 300 horsepower, depending on the donor car selected.  Speaking of donors, the goal was to produce a “world” car that could be made in either right or left hand drive variants.  FFR needed a donor that was available internationally and meshed well with design and assembly requirements.  The Subaru Impreza WRX was chosen for those reasons and also because of the low center of gravity of the boxer engine and its all wheel drive design.  The AWD meshes well with driving the rear hubs with a rear-mounted engine.  Another reason for choosing the WRX is the wide availability of aftermarket support, parts and enhancements.  The 818 can be used out of the box, but can also be highly modified by the end user.  FFR even offers some enhancements when ordering the kit.  The advertised price sounds very reasonable at $9,900 for the 818S and $10,990 for the 818R, but shipping options and those 6 piston, Wilwood upgraded brakes which sound very tempting can make the price of admission much higher.  The “advertised” price of the donor cars is also in question.  FFR claims that one could be had for as low as $1,800, but others suggest that starting donor prices may realistically be more in the $4,500 range. 

 

We had a question and answer session with Jim Schenck, the Director of Research and Design on the 818 project for FFR.  When asked about the factoryfive818tubeframesmalldesign plusses of the 818 for the track day customer, Schenck stated that the “Advantages for track days would include, low operating costs and ease of finding replacement parts due to re-using stock Subaru components like brakes, clutches sensors, and other driveline parts.  Also due to the low weight and extremely low center of gravity the car can be made very fast with a modest amount of power and no expensive parts.”  Regarding safety, speed and reliability for track day use Schenk went on to explain that “With all of the running gear coming from a much heavier car it become much more reliable under race conditions.  Also the chassis incorporates a safety cage design with smaller sizes of tubing at the ends to allow for crumple zones and maintains the factory collapsible steering column.” 

 

So how then will the 818 compare to other track day choices?  Schenk offers that “The 818 performs like a purpose built race car for the cost of a converted street car.”  The car was tested on the track by FFR at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) and Watkins Glen as well as development testing at the North Carolina Center for Automotive Research (NCCAR).  The former two tracks offer a benchmark for performance in that there is a long archive of lap times recorded there for other cars. Again, Schenck informs us that “We have run the car at Watkins Glen and VIR for testing purposes and have some baseline times to use as comparison.  Our VIR session was cut short with a transmission issue but we were able to run some clean laps at Watkins Glen in the 2:02.0 range which is moving pretty good for any car at this price point.”

 

Pretty good indeed!  The 818 bests such stellar track cars as the Corvette C6 at 2:03, a Dodge Viper SRT 10 at 2:05.7, a Porsche 993 Cup at 2:06 and a stock Porsche 911 (996) at 2:13.  It is in the same category as the Ferrari 355 Challenge which is listed in the 2:00-2:06 range.  Needless to say, the price point is very much lower than any of those.  Speaking of price, this is what Schenk had to say on that matter:  “Prices for the 818S start at $9900 and for the 818R is $10990.  Donor cars range from around 1800 for non-turbo Imprezas to 5500 for later model WRX's.  For a full track car we also recommend a fire system, fuel cell, and containment seat.  Cost to build this type of car would be in the mid 20K range using the donor for as much as possible and skipping a paint job and going with decals.”

 

factoryfive818ontracksmallThe 818S is a street car and the 818R is a track car.  Schenck felt that the R version would be the choice for a track day enthusiast.  “My personal recommendation is to still go with the R model.  You can never be too safe and all of the street stuff can still be hooked up (including a full windshield).  You just have to get used to climbing in over the doors.” 

 

We asked the FFR R & D director about the reliability and testing of the components coming from older Impreza models.  “I had a WRX that I tracked in the past and many other people still do the same so there is a large amount of knowledge in terms of weaknesses and strengths of those cars.  For us taking over 1000lbs out of the equation only made a good thing better.  We logged many test miles on the 818S and 818R at an auto testing facility in North Carolina (NCCAR).”  About the choice of the Subaru, Schenck had this to say:  “For the type of car we wanted it made the most sense. The flat four makes tons of power in turbocharged form and has a tremendous aftermarket already established.  Also the layout gives a really good balance and center of gravity.  Also having a car that was AWD meant we could drive the rear hubs and retain the front suspension parts for the front of our car.  We couldn't have done that with a Focus or Civic even though those both have good parts to choose from.”  So the AWD nature of the Impreza offers an advantage over front wheel drive vehicles. 

 

The Subaru Impreza WRX and especially the STI version are fairly capable track day cars in their own right.  We asked Schenck, “Why not just buy a used WRX STI and have plenty of cash for modifications?”  He said “The performance envelope isn't the same.  The WRX is a very well sorted and equipped version of a base economy car.  Things like CG, Aero, Chassis Stiffness, weight balance, and overall vehicle weight could never be approached by what we can get with a mid-engine space frame chassis as opposed to modifying the stock shell.”

 

FFR offers a three day school for those who want to learn about the build process.  They will rebate the price of the school if a kit is purchased.  factoryfive818runninggearsmallThe 818 is slated to be included as a subject of the build school.  Schenck explained, “The school is near Detroit Michigan and operates about once a month and the students build the entire car in 3 days.  The body remains in Gel-coat so no painting is done but otherwise the car is running and driving at the end of every school.  The 818 is lined up to become part of the curriculum this year, most likely early summer.”  For those who do not have the skills, time nor space to do a kit build themselves, Schenck informed us that “We have a list of builders who can do an entire assembly or can do just the hard parts, or even guys who will make house calls just to help people when they get stuck.  Builders usually add about $7000-$8000 to assemble a car, so for a basic car they would probably start in the mid to high 20s.”  Schenck told us that the current assemblers doing the 818 are “…Very Cool Parts in Alabama and AJW Performance in New Hampshire.”

 

We reached out to Wayne Presley of VeryCoolParts (VCP) for more information on the services an assembler can offer to FFR customers.  About his personal background and experience Presley stated:  “I provide complete car builds, finishing partially built cars, custom fuel injection systems, custom turbo systems, dyno tuning and consulting. I started road racing motorcycles in 1982, worked for the California Superbike School from 84-88 as on track instructor and mechanic. Left racing motorcycles in 88 and built my first FFR Cobra in 1997. VeryCoolParts started in 1999 with fuel injection parts that I wanted for my own GT40 replica. 15 years and 25+ FFR cars later VCP is bigger and better than ever. Currently we run 2 Lotus Elises in the SCCA. I was SAARC champion in T3 in 2012, finished 2nd in 2013, hold T3 SCCA track records at Roebling Road, Sebring, and Barber Motorsports park.”

 

VCP offers a range of services to FFR customers.  They can provide a turnkey vehicle or they will find a donor, strip it and palletize the needed parts for shipment to your front door or local shop.  Here is what Presely told us about their donor part package:  “The user will receive all the parts from the Subaru to complete the FFR 818 kit. The short list is the engine, trans, lower suspension parts, spindles, brakes, half shafts, wiring harness, ECU, dash cluster, steering column, steering rack, radiator, fuel pump, emergency brake handles, door handles, latches and strikers, door hinges, seats, wheels and tires. You can get a naturally aspirated Impreza donor, 2.0L WRX donor (2002-2005) or 2.5L WRX (2006-2007). The prices depend on mileage of the donor. The NA donors start at $4500, 2.0L turbo $5800 and the 2.5L at $7500. The 06 is the preferred year as it comes with aluminum control arms and lateral links. The 06-07 have larger brakes to go along with the more HP from the 2.5 L turbo motor.”  

 

factoryfive818sinteriorsmallFor actual build services VCP will “build complete turnkey 818's, do partial builds and anything in between. Turnkey cars start at $24,000 for a NA 2.5 and with the turbo cars starting at $26,000.  I have even built one with a H6 3.0L with a Precision turbo.” As for turnaround time, Presley told us that “I currently have 7 donor pallet kits in stock in the 2.0L turbo and 2.5L turbo versions.  A complete turnkey build takes 4-5 weeks.” 

 

Since Presely is so experienced at building FFR kits, we asked for some tips that may help those who want to work on the kit.  “Fit and finish are very good. My car, which was the first off production unit, the pieces went together easily. The next 818 I assembled went together even better due to the feedback on the first cars…. I can't think of any real fitting of parts, everything bolts on out of the box. Maybe some slight bending of aluminum by hand or slight trim where the panel is right next to a weld.”  When asked about the need to fabricate parts or jigs, Presley said that none is required.  About special tools, he said “None are required but an air riveter is your best friend for the 1000 or so rivets to complete the car. Normal hand tools, drill, jack, jack stands, are all you need. Power tools are a bonus.”

 

At Schenck’s suggestion we also contacted Andrew J. Wallace of AJW Performance in New Hampshire, the only other factory recommended 818 builder.  Wallace told us that “We have been involved in the Subaru performance industry for about a decade. We offer performance parts and services to our customers. From bolt on parts to 500WHP engine builds, we offer it all in house here in our New Hampshire facility. We have an online store as well as a physical location for warehousing and vehicle service.” About the 818, Wallace is definitive in saying “I think a lot of "track cars" are going to be put to shame when the 818 comes to town.”

 

AJW Performance will provide crate kits of donor parts as well as turnkey vehicles.  “We have produced and shipped over 35 818 donor kits to date, and 2 turnkeys. For a donor kit you are looking at anywhere from $5,500.00- 10,000.00, depending on what you are looking for. We have done many high horsepower builds with fully built engines as well for customers. The end user gets the components they need in order to build their 818:  engine/drivetrain/ECU/suspension/seats/steering/etc.”  About the turnkey service Wallace says that the cost varies greatly depending on customer wants. The turnaround time for a donor kit is “…about two months.”

 

About issues with the 818, Wallace offers “People just need to realize the donor kit is a 2002-07 Subaru WRX, so it’s generally 10 years old.  You can't expect a brand new box of parts! As far as the 818, it’s a good setup.  People just need to realize it’s a kit car and not a production vehicle.  As long as those two concepts are clear, most people can do this build "problem free.  The fit and finish is impressive for sure.  It is nice that the paint is optional.”

 

About build issues, Wallace told us that he does have to make some parts of the kit fit together.  “On the 818R we fabricated a custom exhaust factoryfiveajwpwerfsmalland a custom bracket system for the rear carbon fiber wing.”  He informs us, as did Presley, that no special tools are required.  When asked about the time to complete a kit Wallace said that “It really depends on options and the individual's abilities. Wiring is what can make or break you.”

 

Although the basic 818R kit goes for $10,990, there are a few options you probably want or you will be using parts from a 2006 or older Subaru.  The chassis can be had with powder coating for $399.  If you do not select this option, painting or a coating will be required.  If you want your kit shipped in a crate, this will be $695.  A carbon fiber splitter will set you back another $520.  Carbon fiber rocker panel extensions are $450.  The carbon fiber rear diffuser is $499 and the CF wing is $1499.  A windshield costs $669.  A racing seat and harness are $418 and $131.  A leather steering wheel costs $169 and an aluminum shift knob, $49.  In case you would like some awesome brakes, a set of 6-piston Wilwood 13” fronts and 4-piston, 12.88” rears go for $1595 each with shipping and handling $65 each.  The kit and all of these very attractive and sometimes necessary options total $19,113. Add to that the cost to get your kit where you need it, painting, the donor and the assembler and you are looking at low to mid 30’s.

 

The 818 does come with a 600 page instruction manual and the factory estimates 250 hours for a build.  This is no walk in the park and the cost of a turnkey makes the kit a viable alternative to much more expensive vehicles.  For $27,000 you can run a basic version with the Ferrari 355 Challenge cars at Watkins Glen.  And how big of a dent will one of those put in your wallet?

 

Watch the video of the 818R being tested at NCCAR:

 

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