And the ghost said to Alan: 'Now build me a green car'

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The Independent Online
THIS is the car born out of a drive through the Norfolk countryside by a retired teacher who had a vision that Colin Chapman, the founder of Lotus Cars, who died in 1982, was sitting next to him. In the vision, Chapman told Alan Ridge, from Bedfordshire, that it was his duty to produce the ultimate 'green' car. Last Thursday, in west Wales, the car made its debut.

The Chapman apparition suggested that Frank Costin, a former Lotus colleague, should design the prototype single-seater. Mr Ridge tracked him down, drawings were made and, courtesy of some funding from the Department of Trade and Industry, the car was produced.

Mr Ridge, 58, has no technical qualifications and admits that the genesis of his new vehicle was very odd: 'I was driving in my Mini one day and I had a strong impression of Colin Chapman. It was almost as if he was in the car next to me. I had never met him but I knew what he looked like.

'Immediately following that, there was a voice in my head, but not me speaking, saying 'You should be in a single-seater'. It added, 'Get Frank to design it'.

'I was in a state of shock and I then I remembered that one of the designers who helped him in the early days was Frank Costin and I set about finding him.'

Mr Ridge, a former soldier who left the Army to teach, now works with the elderly near his home in Sandy. He shares a 19 May birthday with Colin Chapman. He found Frank Costin living in Kent. 'I told him about the idea but he said he was not interested in cars but was working on aeroplanes. I went back and suddenly he said, 'I think you have something here'.'

An application to the DTI's Enterprise Initiative led to half the pounds 5,000 design fee being paid by the Government. Mr Costin suggested Friend Wood, a vehicle builder in Wales, as the best person to make the prototype.

Powered by an 850 Reliant Kitten engine, the car's light and aerodynamic shape is said to provide performance equivalent to the average saloon car.

'It's a method of transport, not a status symbol,' said Mr Wood at the vehicle's first public outing at the Welsh Motor Sport Centre's Pembury Circuit, Carmarthen.

After driving it for the first time, Mr Ridge said: 'It was the most exciting experience of my life.' Others at the track remained to be convinced.

David Sears, putting his 170bhp Formula Vauxhall single- seater racing cars through their paces before a race at the circuit later this summer, said: 'I can't see it being a very popular choice for social driving.'

But with 80 per cent of car journeys being made by the driver only, Mr Ridge believes there is enormous potential for a vehicle designed for sole occupancy. He maintained it would be ideal as a second car or as specialist transport for the commercial traveller while combining fun and economy.

Lower component costs - it would not have to bear the weight and strain of being able to cope with five adult occupants - would make it cheap to produce while it would be extremely miserly with petrol.

Marketing the car starts immediately, and Mr Ridge contacted the Punters programme on BBC Radio 4, which will broadcast a report on the project on Tuesday.

He will be writing again to motor manufacturers to try to find a commercial backer.

'This car will demonstrate that there is a market for it. Anybody who makes it will clean up. It will sell more than the Beetle,' Mr Ridge believes.

(Photograph omitted)

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