Birkin America offers the...
Birkin America offers the S3 racer chassis for racing enthusiasts, and with an 87-inch wheelbase and a track of 49 inches at the front and 52 inches in back, the Birkin is small enough to be a threat in any autocross competition.
Harold Pace puts this Birkin...
Harold Pace puts this Birkin S3 Zetec twin-cam through its paces at Motorsport Ranch outside of Fort Worth.
Inside, black vinyl covers...
Inside, black vinyl covers the two bucket seats. The Momo steering wheel is a good size for quick maneuvers, and the VDO gauges are logically placed.
Standard wheels are 15x7 Panasports...
Standard wheels are 15x7 Panasports that carry Yokohama P205/50R15 fronts and P225/50R15 rears.
Theres nothing like wringing out an agile kit car on a real racetrack. There I was, blasting around a road circuit in a midnight-blue Birkin propelled by a hot Ford Zetec twincam, and having a wonderful timeits a tough job, but someones got to do it.
The Birkin and I whistled down the back straight and charged into a series of challenging turns. Leaning into a gentle righthand corner, the back of the car started to come around and I fed it some more thrust, balancing the mild understeer with a gentle application of power.
The Birkin tracked to the outside of the turn and leapt down the short straight into a hard downhill lefthander. Here, the nose started to lose grip and a more vigorous stab at the loud pedal was needed to break the back end loose and tighten up the corner, but the Birkin stayed under control and gave me more confidence as my lap times slowly started to come down.
Down the straights, the buffeting from the wind-in-the-face seating is not so noticeable when youre encased in a full-coverage helmet and three-layer firesuit, but I imagine it would be invigorating alfresco. The seating position is not bad, although the seat and belt combo were a tad loose, resulting in my sliding around pinball-style in the cockpit. Superficial bruising is a small price to pay for this much fun, but next time I would do a better job of making the belts snug.
Some lightweight Lotus-style sports cars look the part, but once on the track, betray their street-only designs with terminal understeer or bumpsteer that brings the rear end around when you least expect it.
This is not so with the Birkin. It inspires confidence and can be pitched and caught in tight corners (which would be useful if you were jockeying for position). All too soon, my session was over. Driving a Birkin on a track is an experience not to be missed.
This unique experience was courtesy of Birkin America, the Birkins U.S. importer. Dick Brink, BAs leader, has years of experience racing Birkins and Caterhams, and believes racing to be one of the best ways to appreciate these agile little beauties. When he offered to bring a new Zetec-powered Birkin Series Three to Motorsport Ranch outside of Fort Worth, Texas, for me to try, I didnt hesitate.
Motorsport Ranch is a country club for sports- and race-car freaks with its own lovely track winding up, down, and around the low hills of central Texas. Its an ideal place to try out a proper sports car.
Youll notice I didnt write, proper British sports car, since, despite their Chapman-esque looks, Birkins are built in a 90,000-plus square-foot manufacturing plant near Durbin, South Africa. Although the bulk of its business has been in Japan for the last few years, that market has slowed, and Birkin is serious about expanding its American base. Birkin has been building Lotus 7 clones since 1982 and has made a number of improvements to the basic light-car/great-handling concept.
The material and assembly of the Birkin is vastly superior to the original Lotus 7 and comparable to its principal rival, Caterham. The Birkin is roughly the same size as an original Lotus 7 Series One through Three and a little smaller than a Series Four. With an 87-inch wheelbase and a track of 49 inches at the front and 52 inches in back, the Birkin is small enough to be a threat in any autocross competition.
Starting with a conventional space-frame chassis, Birkin skins it in aluminum sheet for added rigidity. The front suspension uses fabricated A-arms with Heim joints for adjustability. This allows the front end to be maximized for track conditions or for less-demanding street use. Coilover double-adjustable Carrera shocks provide springing, and adjustable sway bars provide control of handling. Rack-and-pinion steering is set for a quick 2-¾ turns lock-to-lock. In back, a Toyota live rear axle carries a sophisticated Quaife limited-slip differential with 3.9:1 gears. The axle is set by four parallel links with a Panhard rod for lateral location and an adjustable rear sway bar.
Braking is vitally important for a car that can be used in track events (it certainly was to me at the end of the straights at Motorsport Ranch), and the Birkin does not disappoint. Ten-inch-diameter VW front discs work with Honda rear discs of the same size. An adjustable pedal assembly allows the buyer to tailor the front-to-rear brake bias to suit his or her personal preference. Wheels and tires can be selected by the buyer; otherwise, the standard Panasports are 15x7 inches and typically carry Yokohama P205/50R15 fronts and P225/50R15 rears. Unlike some classic sports-car replicas, the Birkins look good with the taller rims (standard Lotus wheels were 13-inchers).
The standard Birkin S3 has fiberglass body panels, but this particular car has a carbon-fiber nose and fenders with a unique translucent tinting that provides color yet allows the distinctive carbon-fiber pattern to show through. This is very high-tech yet subtle enough to not look out of place on a street machine.
Inside, black vinyl covers the two bucket seats, which were the only sore spot for me. They were a bit wide and did not provide much upper-body support (although a wider driver might appreciate this). The five-point racing seatbelt assembly could not be easily adjusted to cinch down tightly, which left me bouncing from side to side around every corner. This is nothing that couldnt be put right in the shop, which points out the fact that the Birkin, like purpose-built racing cars, can be adjusted or optioned for a wide variety of drivers and uses. The Momo steering wheel is a good size for quick maneuvers, and the VDO gauges are logically placed, if a bit hard to see when youre in a hurry.
Pricing varies with options and degree of assembly. The basic S3 starter kit includes the chassis, suspension, steering, wiring loom, body panels, and some trim. Interior and weather equipment are available in option groups that can be added as needed. There are individual options including everything from wheels and tires to shock absorbers and running gear. The buyer can also supply these himself.
For those who dont have the time or inclination to build it themselves, Birkin America sells an assembled rolling chassis, less engine and gearbox. This package includes 15x7-inch TSW or 13x6-inch Minilite-style alloy wheels. A full complement of VDO gauges is included, along with vinyl-covered seats and interior panels. A rollover bar is standard. The metal body panels are left bright aluminum, while the fenders and nose can be purchased in white, green, blue, red, yellow, or black at no charge (other colors can be specified at extra cost). Although the standard panels are fiberglass, carbon-fiber panels are optional.
If you like lightweight, great-handling head-turners, the Birkin is a dream come true from Lotus-land.