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Page Updated 16th May 2009

Born Again Pilgrim

The words below are by Ian Hyne. They formed part of his Hynesight page at the beginning of the Dec 2008 edition of Kit Car magazine.

In 1985 a company started up that would transform the kit car scene and play a major role in really getting the modern industry moving. It was Den Tanner’s Pilgrim Cars.

In 1989, Den launched the Pilgrim Sumo. It was a bit of lateral thinking in deciding to manufacture the most popular of replicas on the cheapest and most widely available of donor bases as well as a move that attracted a good deal of comment expressing doubt over the potential for success of a kit that lacked everything that made its inspiration an all time classic, save for the shape. Everybody now knows that the doubters were 100% wrong as the Sumo went on to sell more kits than all the other Cobra replica manufacturers put together. That’s well over 3,000 kits.

In addition,  the Sumo was constantly developed and improved to keep pace with the market. As always, kit car builders wanted to install the biggest and most powerful engines possible, starting first with the Ford V6 and subsequently the Rover V8 and, in order to make the car as competent as possible, Pilgrim set about developing the chassis to handle the increased power. The original tubular ladder frame gradually became a semi-monocoque with sheet steel floors, bulkheads and tunnel while dynamic improvements were enhanced with the switch from Cortina to Sierra donor components bringing a new double wishbone front end and independent rear suspension with it. Chassis development culminated in a successful TUV Hydropulse test in which the rolling chassis with weights added to simulate the fitting of a Chevy 350 V8, was subjected to a simulated 100,000 kms test to assess chassis strength, stiffness and integrity. It passed first time.

And though the cost of completion rose steadily alongside the advances in quality and dynamic ability, the Sumo always maintained its price attraction (this PDF shows how one can still be built for £10,000). Although it had long abandoned the bargain basement, pipsqueak performance, make-do approach of the original Cortina based car, swapping its early attributes for chassis sophistication, V8 power and top class finish in keeping with the increased demands and ever greater expectations of its customers, it has kept its crown as the industry’s best blend of cost and performance in a Cobra replica.

In 2002, Pilgrim was sold to Tony Holmes in the aftermath of Den Tanner’s long running dispute with Peter Filby. I don’t intend to go into the reasons for that; suffice to say there was no reason to expect Pilgrim’s progress to falter under the new management. It was a healthy company and, seemingly, its future was assured. Pilgrim continued to manufacture its Cobra replicas in kit and factory finished form whilst dabbling in Porsche Speedster replicas and then getting involved in the Minotaur project and it would seem that developing this car was a step too far. Pilgrim Cars went bust in October 2008.

Naturally, when any company goes down it’s a sad event, but when the assets of the defunct company are bought by its founder, things look very different and that’s what has happened here. Den Tanner has bought back the company he founded and naturally intends to return it to sound commercial health.

Of course everybody knows that Den is also the owner of Kit Car magazine and in the past there have been accusations that the dual roles of manufacturer and publisher represented a conflict of interests. Certainly there is the potential for that to be so as we saw in Peter Filby’s unashamed promotion of non-existent kits. However, Kit Car now has effective and credible competition and any overstepping of the mark will be noted and commented upon.

That said, if Den can take a busted company and return it to successfully doing what it does for the benefit and enjoyment of its customers and if he can start a new show and build it up to benefit the exhibitors as he has recently demonstrated the potential to do at Stafford, then rather than a conflict of interests, I think it benefits the industry as a whole. Naturally, he doesn’t do it for nothing. Indeed, he can’t otherwise it would all go bust again but no matter what people think of Den, whether they’re with him or against him and there are numerous opinions in both camps, success with Pilgrim will ultimately benefit everybody.

Telephone (01273) 493860 or email the new owner.

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