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JULY 6, 1998

Volkswagen to buy TOM'S GB factory

GERMAN carmaker Volkswagen AG continues its buying spree, despite the news last week that it has abandoned attempts to buy the Bugatti name. Significantly, however, the company has moved to buy the TOM'S GB factory at Hingham, in Norfolk. TOM'SÊGBÊLtd. has been in existence since 1987 when Nobuhide Tachi's company in Japan decided to set up a European offshoot under Glenn Waters and Dave Sims. The original factory was the former headquarters of the Percival Hodges Formula 1 powerboat team and initially housed the TOM'S engine shops and Waters's Formula 3 team, which enjoyed some success in the late 1980s with drivers Damon Hill and Martin Donnelly and others. The team then turned its attention to sportscar racing but was not very successful and scored only one Sportscar World Championship race win, at Monza in 1992.

That year Tachi tried to lure Toyota into F1 by embarking on a Formula 1 feasibility study. He funded the establishment of a 40,000 sq. ft. research and development center which included full composite facilities and engine dynos. The design of the R&D center was overseen by John Barnard and a TOM'S F1 car was designed but never built and after Toyota rejected the idea of F1 Barnard went to Ferrari. In recent months TOM'S has fallen from favor at Toyota, which has prompted Tachi to put the facility up for sale.

It remains to be seen whether Volkswagen intend to use the Hingham site to build sportscars or whether the company will enter Formula 1 with its own cars. The only thing missing from the Hingham facility is a windtunnel but we understand that there is space behind the factory for such a unit to be built.

There have long been rumors of an assault at the Le Mans 24 Hours by Volkswagen subsidiary Audi, but theoretically there is still time, if the company moves quickly, for a F1 car to be designed and built in time for next season.

A more cautious approach is probably more likely with a sportscar program followed by F1 if that proves to be a success. It is a pattern which has become well-established in the past with Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot and currently with BMW.

The attempts to purchase TOM'S GB underline that Volkswagen is serious about becoming involved in the sport. Now it is just a matter of waiting to find out if the company will mount a challenge in sportscars, in F1 or in CART - or a combination of the three...