STEVE HOLE tells the story of the STRADA 4/88. Pix courtesy of

A real curiosity this one. It wasn’t a kitcar but was very specialist. The Strada 4/88 was the brainchild of a Suffolk carpet shop proprietor called John Hillier, from Woodbridge with vital input from his engineer friend, John Brighty.

The two had met in the late sixties and Brighty had ‘form’ as he’d previously worked at Bill Last’s Trident Cars, a marque that Hillier supplied Wilton carpeting to.

Between them, they developed what became the Strada 4/88 with design from none other than BMC designer Harris Mann (Austin Princess, ZT versions of the Rover 75 and Triumph TR7).

Indeed, Mann had previously created a mid-engined TR concept for Triumph and it’s said that there were some styling cues from it in the 4/88.

Hillier clearly wasn’t messing about because he had the moulds and bodies produced by Specialised Mouldings in Huntingdon, with wind tunnel testing and aerodynamics cues by Peter Wright (he later designed the Lotus 78, don’t forget).

There was a myth that Hillier had engaged the services of Specialised Mouldings’ next-door neighbours and frequent collaborators, Arch Motor, but that isn’t true. The 4/88 was actually underpinned by an old – unknown, although possibly Van Diemen in origin – Formula Ford chassis.

The car was a bit of a parts bin special as components came from all over – door handles and locks from Hillman Avenger, gearbox from VW Transporter T3, suspension from Triumph GT6 and the steering column from Triumph Toledo 1500. Meanwhile, the engine was a Ford ‘Kent’ Crossflow 1600cc in Escort Mexico-spec.

John Hillier originally intended to call the car, the Cougar, but Ford had registered that name and objected. A decision to use the Puma name did work out well as he’d registered it before Ford wanted to use it.

Ford paid Hillier for full rights to use the Puma name which they wanted to use in the nineties. In return, they gave them permission to use the Strada name, which they’d had on retention.

Hillier and Brighty set themselves up an old mill, that Hillier had been using to store rolls of carpet. They debuted their car at the British Motor Show in 1974 at Earls Court and even Colin Chapman told them he liked the 4/88 and is quoted as telling Hillier and Brighty: “Congratulations, welcome to the club.”

They took over 100 orders pretty quickly but sadly when Hillier became seriously ill, it went wrong for the little company. Add in the dire state of the British economy, it basically put paid to the project before it had really got going.

Brighty ran the company until a new investor arrived. A chap called Nic Portway joined the company but he and Brighty had a disagreement and he left quite quickly. The result was that Saxmundham-based Strada Cars entered voluntary liquidation in late 1974.

However, Portway kept hold of the un-registered 4/88, while a second was last heard of in Wales and a third owned by Norfolk brothers Nigel and Neal Davis.