More than twenty-five years ago, Factory Five was founded with a pretty simple purpose: Give people a chance to build their dream car using Factory Five's
kit, a wrecked example of a high-performance car that was built in large numbers, and a few hundred hours of their own labor. In 1995, the dream car was
the 427 Cobra and the donor car was the five-liter Fox Mustang. Needless to say, eager builder-buyers soon made Factory Five the largest kit-car maker in
Fast-forward to 2013 and the company's rebooted the script. This time, the target isn't the old Cobra. Track-focused, quasi-sports-prototype cars from
bespoke builders like Radical, Caterham, and Lotus have captured the imagination of the modern enthusiast the way the Cobra captured those their fathers'
imaginations decades ago. That's why new car bears a striking resemblance to the fiberglass two-seaters squabbling for the production Nurburgring record.
To underpin the striking new 818 (so named because the weight target is 818 kilograms), Factory Five chose the twenty-first-century equivalent of the old
"five-point-oh": the Subaru WRX. Bugeye, frogeye, pignose, any of the variants of the old turbocharged Subaru can be used as the donor car for an 818. For
best results, use a 2006 WRX sedan; it has aluminum control arms and uprated brakes. Of course, builders who find the power-to-weight ratio that results
from putting 227 or more horsepower into an 1800-pound, mid-engined, tube-framed sports car a bit, shall we say, excessive can also build an 818
using the powertrain from a normally-aspirated Impreza.
I don't think there's such thing as excessive power-to-weight, so I borrowed a prototype 818 and took it to Gingerman Raceway in western Michigan.
The 818 will be supplied one of two ways. The 818 "S" is street-focused, with an optional soft-top and functional doors. The 818 "R" has a built-in,
Radical-style rollbar and a wicked-looking set of ground effects, including a splitter that sits just a few inches from the ground.
How's it drive? The easy answer is this: it drives like a race car. That's both good and bad. The good parts: The power from the turbocharged 2.5-liter
boxer is strong, insistent, and predictable. It has enough pace to match modern Corvettes and Porsches in a straight line. Steering is direct and
slop-free, directing the 818's low-sniffing nose with inch-level precision without power assistance. The brakes, too, are entirely unboosted, requiring
significant pressure but delivering trustworthy feedback up to the locking point.
The 818's driver sits very low to the ground, in a single-position, bolted-in Kirkey race seat, and enjoys sensations remarkably similar to those
experienced by a Lotus 2-Eleven or Radical driver. This race-car thrill ride isn't without compromise, however. On Gingerman's occasionally ragged track
surface, the Factory Five tramlines and hunts out imperfections with an alacrity that is something alarming. Kickback through the steering wheel can be
violent. It should also go without saying that a mid-engined car with 43/57 weight distribution, a turbocharged engine, and a complete lack of power
assistance or electronic driver enhancements must be treated with respect at all times. If you get the back end swinging, the computers won't save you and
your own hands might not be fast enough. This isn't a car for novice drivers.
Building your own Factory Five 818 will cost you between $10,000 and $12,000 for the kit, your donor Subaru, an estimated 250 hours of labor.
It's not a commitment that you can or should make lightly. If you have the time and skills, however, Factory Five's newest offering is a credible and
not-all-that-crude alternative to the Lotus Exige S or Porsche Boxster Spyder. After a dozen or so laps of Gingerman, hearing the frantic boxer blat behind
me while fellow trackday drivers fell back on the straights and the corners as if their rear bumpers were connected by rubber bands to the 818's
square-tubed frame, I'm ready to believe.