As the old adage goes, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. The creator of today's Nice Price or Crack Pipe Maxton Rollerskate did it himself, but will the price of this über rare and basic sports car prove to have been done right?
Bob Sutherland owned a chain of lumber yards, organized the Colorado Grand, and for a short time ran a car company. He also suffered for most of his adult life from bipolar disorder, a condition that he was able to manage, and for which in his honor was founded the Robert D. Sutherland Memorial Foundation.
Bob died in 1999 at age 56, but his legacy lives on in the vintage rally he started, the business he grew, and the Foundation that his family created in his name so that other suffers of depression may live as normal of lives as he did.
And then there are the about 50 sports cars Bob built.
An owner - and successful racer of - numerous vintage cars, Sutherland lamented that there was no contemporary equatable product on the market. This was back in the mid eighties, before the Miata's arrival, and while that car channeled the ghosts of British roadsters past, it would probably have proven too heavy and compromised to fulfill Sutherland's vision.
Assembling a team - which included auto designer Michael Mate, SCCA race car engineer Ben van der Linden, and suspension builder, Garry Valler - Sutherland set out to build a modern interpretation of the lightweight sports car - something a little more than a Lotus 7, and a little less than that company's Elan. The result looked like a melding of those two cars, with some Frogeye Sprite thrown in for good measure. The cut-down openings allowed egress without the weight of doors, while the lain on their side VW Bus tail lights look purpose built for the car. Overall, Mate's body design was at once reverent to its spiritual progenitors and wholly original.
Underneath, there's a purpose-built square tube frame to which double A-arm front suspension with Mustang II spindles and a Mazda RX7 live axle have been attached. The Mazda family line goes even deeper with the rest of the driveline as all of the Maxtons were powered by that company's Wankel engines.
When I say all the Maxtons, it should be clarified that that means all 50 cars. It should also be pointed out that these were not kit cars - they were component cars - completed in Maxton's Englewood CO factory save for the engine - which was up to the buyer to have installed. Unfortunately, few shared Sutherland's vision, and the company shuttered before any more cars could be mated with motors.
The engine in this 1993 Maxton Rollerskate is a 12A, fed through a throaty Dellorto sidedraught. That engine sits well-back of the front axle line making this a front-mid engine design, while like a Se7en, the driver and passenger sit even further back, nearly over the rear axle. Painted a two-tone black over silver, with a fat red stripe delineating the two, the car looks so fresh, it might have just left the factory.
A child of the '80s, the 6 x 13 alloys wrapped in 205-60VR-13 meats may seem quaintly diminutive by today's standards, but they do point to just how small the car is overall. Drum brakes in back, and discs up front may also call attention to the progress that has been made in the stopping department since its early ‘90s inception, but with only 1,630-lbs to pull down, they should still do just fine. The remainder of the parts - the Mustang II rack and pinion, Racing Beat limited slip diff, and Mazda 5-speed gearbox - will have years of parts availability ahead of them, leaving only the old-school round sealed beams to be of questionable sourcing down the road.
The dealer claims this Rollerskate has only rolled 1,300 miles down the road in total - a phenomenally small number considering the potential fun the car promises. Back when Maxton was cranking the cars out, Motorweek's Pat Goss put one together on the show, and then in a sweepstakes gave away the completed car to a happy PBS viewer. Goss has been quoted as saying the Rollerskate was his favorite of all the cars he's driven on that show. With a factory claimed zero to sixty time of 5.5 seconds, it's easy to see why.
Bob Sutherland may have fought bipolar disorder, but when it came to the Maxton, his vision was unique and singularly focused. This ‘Skate represents a rare opportunity to own the fruit of that vision, and a bit of American automotive history. To do so, a buyer will need to come up with American money, in the amount of $14,900. For those of you who are imagining all the nice Miatas you could buy for that kind of scratch - with their wind-up windows, airbags, and convertible tops that go up in seconds rather than requiring a troop of boy scouts - keep thinking that, this may not be the car for you.
For the rest of us - those drooling over that nothing wasted body and itching to twist the center-dash mounted ignition key - let's reflect a moment on that price. Okay, moment's up, time to vote. What do you say, is $14,900 a price that makes this Maxton a must? Or, does that make this a car you would skate on by?
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