The South African Birkin marque is a well-regarded kitcar brand and one that really should have made more impact in the UK, as those that own one of the car’s really like them.

The company is based in Durban and was founded back in 1982 by John ‘Birkin’ Watson, a huge fan of the original Lotus Seven, who set about building his own version and as invariably happens once friends saw the result of his efforts he was asked to build more.

Watson was actually born in Wales, the son of a vet, although his family moved to Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) when he was aged just four months. They later moved to Durban across the border in South Africa.

The company name was coined by Watson’s mum, after a family distant relative, Sir Henry RS ‘Tim’ Birkin, one of the Bentley Boys of the late twenties, which seemed very logical. The first Birkin demonstrator made its debut at the South African Grand Prix of 1983 (October 15) held at Kyalami circuit and won by Riccardo Patrese in a Brabham.

Visitors to the Birkin Cars stand that weekend included Colin Chapman’s widow, Helen and Lotus drivers, Nigel Mansell and Elio de Angelis. Ironically, another ‘John Watson’ the F1 was finishing his last full F1 season, and Birkin’s John Watson’s son, Stephen, was a very handy driver and was test driver for the Arrows team in the early noughties.

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Within five years, Birkin Cars had sold over 200 kits mostly sold through Lotus dealers in their homeland. In recent years North America and Australia have been happy hunting grounds for the marque.

A couple of years ago, rights to the Birkin marque in all territories except North America (where Tom Carlin’s Birkin Direct USA are in charge), were sold to Dean Knoop and Ralph Smith trading under the Birkin Performance banner, the duo are happy to hear from anyone in the UK who would like to represent the marque here.

Motorcycle racing guru, Russell Savory, had a period of marketing the Birkin range here several years ago although this didn’t develop as everyone hoped and as recently as last autumn rumours of a new operation for these shores abounded although these too came to nought

In the meantime, Dean and Ralph are happy to supply UK customers direct from the Durban factory.

Various engine options and ‘strengths’ are available starting with the S3XS, that uses a Ford Zetec unit developing 175bhp (with Subaru differential) with 200, 230, 250 and 300bhp variants can be specified.

I’ve driven several Birkins over the years and have really enjoyed them.

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