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Ultima Sports Ltd. are a sports car manufacturer currently based in Hinckley, Leicestershire, England. Founded in 1992 by Ted Marlow, Ultima manufacture the components to construct cars derived, as road going versions, from the Noble Motorsport Ltd. originated Ultima racing cars, which were designed by Lee Noble who is more famous now for the models produced by Noble Automotive Ltd.. The original Ultima cars were launched in 1983, and featured the V6 engine from the Renault 30. These cars were primarily racing cars, with Lee Noble campaigning his example to great success, but Ted Marlow, an early customer, modified his car for road use.
There are now two models in the current Ultima range; the GTR; and the convertible Can-Am. Previous models have been the Sport and Spyder, as well as the original Ultima Mk. 1 and its successors, the Ultima Mk. 2 and Ultima Mk. 3.
All models in the Ultima range have always been primarily supplied in component form, that is Ultima produce the parts required for an owner/builder to construct the car offsite, and this is the only way to receive such a vehicle in the USA. However a few cars are manufactured onsite as "turnkey" models for the European market - cars built to a very high standard by the factory. For these cars, the sky is the limit when it comes to price - anything can be done to suit a customer's specification.
The preferred engine supplier for Ultima is currently American Speed, a company who specialise in re-engineering Chevrolet V8s for increased performance. It was with a 640hp version of the Chevrolet small block V8 built by American Speed, that Richard Marlow was able to set a number of performance records in an Ultima GTR during 2005, this combination now being dubbed the Ultima GTR640.
In 2006 Ultima beat their own 0-100mph-0 record set in the GTR640 with the GTR720, again using an American Speed SBC engine but now with 720hp. The new record shaved 0.4 seconds off the time completing the 0-100-0 dash in 9.4 seconds, a new world record for a production road car with street tyres and exhaust.
In 1983, Lee Noble launched his car manufacturing business, creating a pseudo-racing car, with looks based upon the world's best Le Mans cars. The car was called the 'Ultima', and drew heavily from donor cars, with most of the uprights and steering system coming from the Ford Cortina, and the V6 engine and transmission from the Renault 30. However, all this componentry was housed in a specially-designed steel spaceframe chassis, clothed in glass-fibre. The car was very light, and the normally-mundane Renault powerplant allowed the Ultima to reach seriously quick speeds. The first car was built specifically for racing use.
In 1984, Lee Noble registered the only Ultima for road use, and set about modifying the car to be more user-friendly and to iron out the problematic areas, such as the Renault rear suspension. Noble created a whole new setup from scratch, machined from light alloy, designed to use the standard Renault wheel bearings and the brakes from a Lancia Beta. The modifications culminated in the car being badged the Ultima Mk. 2, and also Noble's first buyer - Ted Marlow. Marlow's car, a red Mk. 2, was specified with a Ford Essex 3.1 litre V6, and was registered for road use. However, Marlow used his car equally on the British racing scene, and even created a GT championship, sponsored by his civil engineering company. Both his and Noble's Ultimas entered, and Noble came out overall victor, with the Ultimas winning every race. This attracted a lot of marketing attention, and Noble soon had more orders for his brainchild.
Around about 1986, Marlow modifies his Mk. 2 to accept a small-block Chevrolet V8, attached to the four-speed manual gearbox from the Porsche 930. The suspension was also modified. Lee Noble saw Marlow's car as a development mule, and the car was a test bed for a number of new features, such as modified rear bodywork, and a variety of engines from a Formula 5000 V8 to a 6.2 litre Chevrolet V8, fitted with Kinsler Injection, boosting torque. This made the car almost unstoppable in races, and romped on to record a large amount of wins. In fact, the Ultima broke the lap record on every race track it raced upon, and was the victor of five consecutive GT championships.
In 1989, Noble unveiled the glass-fibre bodied Ultima Mk. 3, boasting modern aerodynamic looks, despite being based upon donor parts from a Renault saloon. The Mk. 3 forms the basis of Noble's next racing venture, a roof-less, ruthless racer, painted bright yellow. This goes on to become the Ultima Spyder. However, the success of the Ultimas led to them being banned from the championship they essentially created away back in 1983, on the grounds of being unfair to the other competitors.
The Marlow genes retain their strong links with the Ultima, though, with Ted Marlow purchasing a Mk. 3 kit for road use, again painted in the evocative red of his former racer. However, he removes the Renault V6, rebuilds it and modifies it, and sells it on. Following on from the modifications made to the racer, a 5.7 litre Chevrolet V8, coupled to a Porsche G50 gearbox are installed into the car instead. This becomes the demonstrator car when Marlow purchases the rights, moulds and jigs for the Mk. 2 and Mk. 3 models from Noble Motorsports in 1992.
In 1992, Marlow produced the Ultima company as we know it today. The production facility was set up in Warwickshire, UK, and the Mk. 3 was re-engineered to be supplied completely in component form, removing entirely the reliance on the Renault donor cars. However, Marlow envisaged the Ultima being simple to build - unlike any other kit car on the market. In fact, for many buyers, the Ultima was to be their first build. For this to happen, however, the previous production methods had to be changed, along with the standard engine option. The engine supplied became the small-block 5.7 litre Chevrolet V8, and the transmission the Porsche G50 unit, chosen for its integrity and relative ease of source. The jigs were modified to suit.
In 1993, demand for the new car took the Marlows (Ted entered business with his relative, Richard) by storm, and Ultima Sports Ltd. relocated to the current base, in Hinckley, Leicestershire. For the first time, left-hand drive versions of the car, now named the Ultima Sport, were produced for export markets. With the relocation to the new base, Ultima began developing a road-going version of the roofless racing car which Lee Noble had created for his use. The Ultima Sport chassis was used, but extensively modified, featuring the moving of the bulkhead and the addition of more structural bracing in the form of a roll-hoop. The Ultima Spyder was born, and was sold with a Rover V6 as a standard powerplant - however, due to demand, this was soon changed to the same V8 as in the Sport. 1993 also marked another advancement for Ultima, with the sale of the company's first 'turnkey' customer car, in the shape of a metallic blue Ultima Sport.
In 1995, the company created a one-off Ultima Sport, with an entirely-carbonfibre body. However, this production method was deemed to expensive, and was scrapped soon after. But customers did not mind without a carbon body option, as sales showed - by 1997, Ultima Sports Ltd. had sold 150 cars. In 1998, the Sport replacement was being finalised, with the minor styling details being finalised. The new car, crowned the GTR, had the brief of being better engineered and more sophisticated, namely by creating more downforce and easing the home-build assembly. The new car was launched in 1999, and the GTR was complimented by Ultima's first alloy wheel design - previously, other wheel manufacturers had been used. The new wheels brought the benefits of more exclusivity as well as thoroughly engineered offsets and calibration, removing the need to compromise with other wheel designs. Once launched, the GTR also heralded the introduction of American Speed Enterprises as the factory-preferred engine option - and in fact, to this day, Ultima refuse to offer factory support to cars without this option.
After the replacement of the Ultima Sport, the Spyder was due to be replaced, and its successor was to be named the Can-Am, in homage to the legendary racing championships of the 1970s. The Can-Am featured the updated styling that appeared on the GTR, along with an increase in performance. A low plastic windscreen was placed at the top of the dashboard, but this was changed in 2001 to a full-size laminated glass example to aid road legality issues in the States - a large emerging market for the company.
The company continue to go from strength to strength, setting and beating records and selling one of the most accomplished and quickest super cars in the world.
The McLaren Cars
In the development of the McLaren F1 supercar, the team needed a series of development mules with which to trial their powerplant choices and chassis options. Naturally, the quality of the Ultima led to McLaren purchasing two Mk. 3 kits in 1991. The Ultima kit was chosen due to its dimensions being very similar to the eventual McLaren F1, as well as it being under the target weight for the F1 and also very fast. The two Ultima kits were the last Mk. 3 kits to be produced by Noble, before the company's hand-over to the Marlows. One of the cars was painted blue, the other silver, and both were earmarked for very different tasks.
The blue car was christened Albert, and was the first to be modified. The standard steel disc brakes were removed, and the new ceramic discs from the F1 put in place, to test their suitability for a road car. Albert also benefitted from the central driving position of the F1, but instead of the BMW V12 was fitted with a Chevrolet V8, tuned exactly to replicate the torque and power delivery. This was important, as Albert was also employed to test the gearbox systems. As such, the car looked only a silhouette of its Ultima roots, but was rather tame in comparison to the silver example.
Named Edward, the silver car was the BMW V12's engine and cooling system mule. Since the Ultima shipped with either a V6 or V8, a huge amount of modification was made to get the V12 and all its systems and huge exhaust into the rear of the Ultima - an event which culminated in the production of a brand new spaceframe chassis from the cockpit back.
Albert and Edward, who became known as the Heavenly Twins, were key to the development of the McLaren F1 and they were rewarded with a special badge design, depicting their engine size below their name. Due to the world's press offering tens of thousands of pounds for sneak previews of the world's newest fastest automobile, Albert and Edward were crushed once their jobs had been completed, to prevent the technology falling into the wrong hands.