Bolwell Mk. IX Ikara
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4
The sheer enthusiasm and effort of Bolwell made them a household name In the seventies. Yet despite their market acceptance and dedication on the part of the directors to make an "all Australian" sports car which could compete with Imports, they went under. Campbell Bolwell withdrew back into the security of the industrial fibre glass business, rather than send his car division broke in a hopeless attempt to comply with the ADRs as initially introduced in the seventies.
The famous shape and the growl of their modified V8s sank Into motoring history and everyone justifiably thought the marque would never be seen again. But in November 1979, Bolwell surprised the Australian motoring public with the all-new Ikara (Mk IX). It would not sell like previous Bolwells as complete and ready for the open highway, but as a kit of parts to be privately assembled prior to registration. During the halcyon days of the fifties and sixties, sports cars were less compromising and offered no pretence of sophistication or luxury.
The first priority of Campbell Bolwell was to make the car extremely light, and so he choose to revert back to the space frame chassis. Instead of doors the Ikara used step over sills, just like that of the Elfin Clubman of the sixties. High strength-to-weight fibreglass body panels and a mid-engined configuration made the Ikara a real driver's car. It used a VW 1600 Golf single overhead camshaft power plant and a manual 4 speed transmission. The motor could be converted to use either natural gas or diesel as well as gasoline, and was good for around 180bhp.
Everything about the Ikara was super lightweight. It had a tremendous power to weight ratio for a standard motor and was capable of exceeding 180 km/h while retaining an around town fuel consumption of 7.5 Iitres/100 km. A high raked windscreen and Targa enclosed roll bar enhanced the simple styling. Bolwell built less than two a week and they cost approximately $9,300 by the time they were ready for roadworthy and registration authority. If you didn’t want to build it yourself, you could get your local garage to bolt It together, but either way, the finished car had to have an independent engineer's report.
Unlike the stock Golf
, the motor sat in the back and drove the rear wheels. As the bulk of the engine and gearbox was just in front of the drive shafts, it could almost have been described as "mid engined". Although some VW
parts were used in the suspension
, most of the handling department was purpose designed with the chassis to ensure it handled exceptionally well.
A Performance Car
The Ikara was very much a performance car. There were no compromises in the design to provide passenger comfort. The suspension
was hard, steering quick and direct, styled to ensure a minimum drag and it weighed in at next to nothing, so a stock detoxed motor could push it to the limit. There was no heater, wet weather equipment was minimal, luggage space is nil. There were no doors. The driver and passenger had to step over the side structure, onto the seat and then slide down into position. If that sounded difficult, we are assured it actually was even more so – and with the hood in position you needed to be ambidextrous
The handling was brilliant, mainly due to minimal weight, its low position on the road, limited suspension movement and terrific weight distribution. It was set-up so well the driver needed only a few miles on twisting country roads to appreciate how good it really was. For most sports car buffs it was a case of believing the car would go around a certain bend at a certain speed and then having the courage to hang on; you needed big balls to try and find the limits of the Ikara – but if yours were large enough, you would be rewarded at every corner.
Because of a favourable power to weight ratio and the nature of the stock motor, any trace of power-band or gearing hassles could be forgotten. It pulled from 2,000 rpm all the way up. Hit the pedal in any gear at almost any speed and it would take off. Reaction was arguably more instant than any other small four then on the market. Although there was a tacho red line, there was no real need for it. With the motor just behind the driver's left ear and only a thin separating panel, you would need to allow noise to become your friend.
Wind noise was a problem, too. Loos wise the Ikara looked to have a wind cheating shape, but the wind would constantly blow in from where the door or side window would have been on a normal sedan. In its defence, the Ikara was never designed as a boulevard cruiser. It was more akin to a street fighter, ready to assert plenty of g-force.
Unlike earlier Bolwell’s, the Ikara is today considered to have been somewhat of a public relations exercise. There was no question that Campbell Bolwell enjoyed making cars, but t was never likely to earn much money. It did generate valuable publicity for the firm, to rub off on the all-important industrial products division. But in the end only around 20 were made and sold in Australia before the concept was sold to a company in Greece.
Information and images supplied courtesy of the Bolwell Car Club: www.bolwellcarclub.com.au