Batmobile or Bumblebee, K.I.T.T. or Camaro? Car Chase Heroes offers an affordable and accessible route to living out our Hollywood fantasies
‘You can drive a Ferrari and a Lamborghini anywhere’, says founder of Classic Car Heroes Tom Roche. He has a point. For a not too substantial fee, there are numerous experience day companies that offer a chance to drive some form of Italian exotica around a test track. But all told, it’s a limited selection confined to just one niche of the car world.
That’s why Roche set up CCH. An experience day operator that specialises in American classics, it adds depth to the market by offering something left field. A General Lee actually used in the TV show Dukes of Hazzard, a Mk1 Ford Escort RS built to resemble one of the star cars in Fast & Furious 6 and even a Gulf-liveried Ford GT40 replica all feature. As such, the company isn’t just a business that exists solely to make money. It serves to make memories for its customers and to fuel Roche’s long standing passion for cars and motorsport.
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The current Ginetta GT4 Supercup driver and race winner started out early in karts when he was eight-years-old. A national Mazda MX-5 title came in 2009 and that success opened doors.
‘People started offering me money to look after their cars and to show them what I was doing,’ he reflects. ‘I quite liked this, getting paid to mess around with race cars. That’s how my team Blendini Motorsport started and grew. At one point we were looking after 15 cars and people which was busy.’
He then worked as an instructor for experience days, and from there CCH was born. ‘A friend of mine had quite a few American cars. Our company started out of that and seemed popular so I thought we had found a gap in the market. It’s branched out a little bit to meet customer demand with what they want to do. We began with five cars on just a couple of small tracks and that was only in 2015. This is just our third full year.’
Now the fleet stands at 30 plus cars, including a Toyota Supra and a Nissan Skyline R34 for those wanting to live out their Brian O’Connor fantasies.
With that immense rate of growth to an ever changing and expanding fleet of 30 cars, what started out as a way to fund racing soon became all consuming. So much so, that the motorsport operation had to take a backseat and Roche has to looked overseas to continue racing. During the quieter off-season winter months, he heads to America to compete with Corvettes, Mustangs and vintage NASCARs.
‘But CCH Is such a lot of work, though,’ he continues. ‘Logistically, getting from race track to race track, the cars take a lot of love to keep them going. There’s 10 full-time members of staff now. We’re somewhere most weekends and we run from Friday onwards. You get back at midnight on a Sunday, everything has to be unloaded Monday morning, fully checked, fixed and worked on and all loaded up again by Wednesday night. So it’s a quick turnaround all the time.’
‘We struggle a bit with the American cars for parts, we can’t ring up the normal places as they just don’t have it. We’ve got to go direct to The States. That can be a problem but the guys do a great job. The longer we have the car, the more reliable it becomes as we service everything old.’
CCH and its staff have invested time, money and effort into gathering together and maintaining such a diverse array of cars. More than that, they build them too. As the company’s name suggests, part of its appeal is allowing people to drive their favourite movie or TV cars. That means the bare Escort shell has to be built up to the right spec. It also means taking a 1971 Lincoln Town Car and building it into Adam West’s Batman runaround. With all that work and expense, it means there’s a need to mitigate the risk of a customer undoing it.
‘We try and look for private test tracks and airfields to run on. They are great because if somebody does have a spin, fingers crossed there’s not a lot to hit – no walls, no gravel traps. It’s just a big empty space. You can’t stop all incidents and missed gears. You’ve just got to accept that that sort of thing is going to happen every now and again.
‘All the cars have a brake in the passenger-side footwell for the instructors. I think it’s very important. Obviously we don’t want to use it, but if they need to then they can. The instructor can usually stop something going wrong. You need a good person inside who’s on top of it.’ But every now and again, despite every effort being taken, incidents do occur...
‘We had, this year, a customer who went from fourth and got first [gear] in the GT40 replica and did £15,000 worth of damage to the engine. You can’t ask the customer to pay for it, the instructor should have spotted it. You can make that gear shift without really trying.
‘But once you get caught up in it all, you’d never let people drive them so you need to accept that a couple of incidents like that will happen every year. Hopefully not, though! That said, most people are really good. Even the people who turn up like, “I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that”, when they actually get in the car and are away from their mates and sat one-to-one with you they’re all good.
‘The worst it gets is just when people are too nervous. They build themselves up and they don’t mean to make mistakes but they just forget how to drive! Left-hand drive can put them off as well. The amount of people who say, “Are the pedals still the same way round?”. But I think that adds to it though, again it makes them different. You want it to be an experience getting in.’
As an enthusiast first and businessman second, it does lead to conflict between what cars Roche wants to buy next and what will perform well with customers.
‘When it comes to buying a new car, I’ve got to love it. A lot of people are asking for a DeLorean. With a business head on then I know it’ll do well. But unless I really like the car then I’m not sure. It’d be the slowest car of the lot. Maybe we should get one and put a big V8 in it!
‘We save up and try and guess what we think will be popular and what people want to drive. The Starsky and Hutch Ford Gran Torino has been a bit of a flop really and that’s a shame. I thought people would want to drive that so maybe it’s time to look for something that will replace that.'
‘We own all the cars, all bought and paid for. We tried renting in cars but that doesn’t really work. This is much better. It’s always nice to buy vehicles that don’t depreciate as then they can be out, people can drive them and have a fantastic time but the company doesn’t lose out either. So in some ways it doesn’t matter what the car’s worth so long as you can look after it. Some cars are even gaining in value.’
One of those is an oddball Chevrolet Camaro. When new, its owner specifically requested that it have a 1969 body but mated to a ’68 chassis. The factory agreed to the bespoke project and 50 years later that unique car is now among CCH’s stable. So too is one of the hero Dodge Charger R/Ts as used for filming the TV show of The Dukes of Hazzard, complete with the boot lid signed by the cast.
The end result is, ‘we offer cars that are just so different to anything else to drive,’ Roche says. ‘That’s what we want. I want people to come, drive three or four different cars: a Batmobile, an Ariel Atom, a brand new Ferrari or Mustang. How different a day can you get? It’s all about making people smile.'
For more information about Car Chase Heroes and to book yourself onto a driving experience, click here.
Images courtesy of Taylor O'Flanagan, Car Chase Heroes and Motorsport Images