Bauer Limited Production is a new company formed by Cord Bauer’s Bauer Limited Production, Ron Hemphill’s Diversified Products, Tony Woodford’s AWR Racing and Dave Green’s DG Motorsports, with the purpose of using their expertise to design and develop a custom sports car named the Catfish.
The donor vehicle that the Catfish is based on is none other than the Mazda MX-5, also known as Miata and Roadster (only 1st/NA and 2nd/NB generation models from 1989 to 2005 can be used for its construction). The Japanese carmaker's open top, two-seater model was chosen because of its perfect 50:50 weight distribution, simple and light yet effective construction and affordability.
Being on the Guinness Book of Records as the best-selling two-seat sports car ever means that there are many used and reasonably priced examples to choose from: the Miata / MX-5 that was used for the first Catfish prototype cost a mere US$800 (€610).
It’s not just a case of removing the exterior panels, bolting on a new body and making a few tweaks here and there to call it a new car. Quite the opposite: the Catfish is a brand new car that ditches most of the Miata’s original parts - or, as Bauer states, “what’s not needed”.
The experts forming Bauer Limited Productions came to the conclusion that the parts falling under this description are the hood, trunk, doors, bumpers, top and convertible frame, shocks, springs, headlights and practically the entire interior, from the panels to the HVAC controls and everything else in between. These will go on sale on Craiglist.
Surely they must have kept the chassis though, right? Well, actually, they didn’t. They ditched the original unibody structure in favor of a brand new, Ron Hemphill-designed spaceframe. Hemphill has a vast experience in designing frames, having built structures that underpinned Paris Dakar and Baja off-road rally winners.
The basic principles for designing an off-road and an on-road car frame are basically the same: you need it to be as rigid and as light as possible. Ron’s plan was to take the donor car’s front and rear suspension cradles and tie them together with two tubes at the top and another two at the bottom.
Lattice braces were used in making a rigid box as every tube had to fulfill more than one function in order to reduce weight and complexity, and the whole car had to be easy to assemble.
The Catfish frame is said to fulfill all these requirements, as it is simply dropped onto the donor car – or at least what parts are left of it. Apart from the suspension cradles, Bauer retains the transmission and drive train coupled to the rear with a Power Plant Frame (PPF) and the rear suspension and gas tank also resting on a cradle.
Bauer wanted to retain the MX-5’s “giant-killer” handling and enhance it in every way he could.
Doing away with doors is one of the car’s attributes. You enter by simply removing the steering wheel and hopping in, just like you would in a true racing car. A small door was at some point considered, but ultimately rejected in favor of maximum chassis stiffness.
Given that the Catfish tips the scales at just 680 kg (1,500 pounds), an astounding 317 kg (700 pounds) less than the already lightweight MX-5, some modifications had to be made.
While the layout is overall similar to the donor car, the seat mounts and pedal assembly have been moved back by 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) and slightly inwards to improve driver feel and interior space.
Most importantly, though, this was done to put some extra weight over the rear wheels and provide the lightweight Catfish with extra traction. Even the battery was relocated behind the passenger seat and the exhaust was rerouted to the side, minimizing interior heat and maximizing interior space.
Another important aspect is aerodynamics. The bottom of the car, including the drivetrain, is enclosed in aluminum sheet. A diffuser removes air from under the car creating a ground effect that pins the rear to the ground and a splitter and downforce-generating “whiskers” create negative pressure at the front.
Even with Mazda’s stock 1.6- or 1.8-liter engines, the Catfish is claimed to be very quick thanks to its power-to-weight ratio. If that’s not enough, Bauer has adjusted the firewall cross tube to ensure that even a…GM LS2 V8 engine would fit under the hood and provide a much better sound and a unique driving experience.
You may have noticed that we’ve left the bodywork design for last. The original sketch that gave its looks to the Catfish was penned by Greg Tada, graduate of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and current designer at American Suzuki.
Tada is said to have used a picture of an actual catfish as inspiration, something the company says is evident in the “face” and the fins.
"The Catfish carries on the tradition of the original Miata," says Bauer. "It combines light weight with the design cues of a classic British roadster. You might be able to see Aston Martin or Jaguar at the front, or Triumph and AC in back end of the car, but it’s all Catfish."
The Catfish will be officially unveiled at the 2012 edition of the SEMA Show at the end of October, as will its pricing. Bauer also told CarScoop that a full racing version will follow in 2013.
Until then, you can view a video of the car’s shakedown at a track set up at the El Toro former US Air Force base right after the break.
By Andrew Tsaousis
Thanks to Cord Bauer for the info and photos!