This is a car that we at Motoring Weekly hadn’t heard of before – the Vemac RD180, the first in series of sports cars that should have included the RD200, RD320 and RD350. It appears that only the first two were built in limited numbers and the last two never made it to full production.
In effect the RD180 was a design concept prototype and the styling was a mix of Porsche, Honda and Lotus with an elongated rear end – there was a reason for that which we’ll come to later in this article.
The car was designed by Tokyo R&D in Japan as a road version of a car known as the Cadwell which was named after Cadwell Park in the UK which is a club racing circuit and one of the Japanese designers had raced there. The Cadwell was a success on track however the amateur racers wanted a similar fun machine for road use.
The owner of Tokyo R&D had experience in developing the Dome Le Mans sport racer and several Japanese F1 cars, and he realised he needed a European feel to the car to be successful and so gave a brief to a British designer. He enlisted Chris Craft an English racer and developer (with the famous Gordon Murray) of the Rocket Sports Car to develop the road car.
The team knew that the configuration had to map to a sports racing car, albeit with two seats. So the design used a lightweight space frame chassis, a mid-engined power-plant and a super lightweight body that could be easily configured for road or race use. The body had a targa top similar to the Honda CRX (Del Sol) and even the windscreen could be detached and a single aero-screen fitted for track use. Being Japanese, the owners selected a “local” engine from Honda.
The designers wanted to ensure that the weight distribution was correct and they knew that a mid-engined sports car from lower down the power range typically had characteristics of a rear-engined vehicle because they used a transverse engine with a combined transaxle. With a typical short rear end, that meant that was where the weight was. That meant working on the rear suspension to manage the pendulum effect when pushed hard.
Tokyo R&D took the motor from a Honda Integra Type R which was a front-engined, front-drive vehicle and put the block in the middle of the car and then repackaged the gearbox to be behind the block such that the configuration was longitudinal not transverse. That caused the body shell design to have a longer rear section! However, it solved the weight distribution problem.
With the package complete, the Vemac RD180 was born, named after the 1.8 litre donor motor that produced 180hp and revved like any good Honda VTEC motor does! With a weight of 880kg it was significantly lighter than the Integra and that only helped to push performance up.
It was built by the Rocket Car Company in the UK, chosen because of the proximity of racing materials and skills. A later vehicle, the RD200 was constructed using the Honda S2000 motor. A racing model called the RD320R was campaigned in Japan for several years using a 4-litre V8 Zytec motor.