The 2000s: Harris-Albury Embraces the Future
After Harris Cars Ltd. bought a 50% stake in Albury Motors, creating Harris-Albury Motor Manufacturing International, things were looking up for both companies, but both of them would rather develop and build better cars compared to resting on their laurels. For Harris, this meant updating its existing engines with direct injection and, later on, using aluminum/silicon alloys in their block and heads (although a new 5-liter V8 engine with different dimensions and a magnesium block would be introduced much later), as well as reintroducing the famed RMA and redesigning its existing cars, especially the Sports Series. The improvements in reliability and build quality stemming from the partnership would soon bear fruit…
The V12 models in the Sports Series were the first cars in the range to be redesigned or at least revised. The CS60 Series II, introduced for the 2001 model year, now had all-alloy construction and active aero, as well as an electronically-controlled LSD and a direct-injected engine. Combined with extra standard equipment (including satnav from 2006 onwards) this torpedo-shaped road rocket was one of the best grand tourers of the decade, and a high-tech counterpoint to the Albury Crusader.
The SP12 was also updated for 2001, incorporating most of the mechanicals of the CS60 but with a more aggressive cam profile for the engine, which now had CNC-milled bottom-end components for reduced weight and increased durability. Its more aggressive appearance made it the dream of young would-be enthusiasts everywhere around the world.
As for the regular passenger cars in its range, Harris-Albury decided to make use of a common scalable platform for most of their models. By mid-decade, the Harris range was about to be transformed…
The impetus for this makeover was the redesign of the V8 Sports Series models in 2006. The SVM now had a more curvaceous, dynamic appearance and made over 500 bhp. With an electronic diff as standard, the cash cow of the Sports Series became more relevant once again.
A detuned version of the SVM’s engine (which now had an aluminum-silicon block and heads) was used in the 2006 Chieftain MkV, which had grown in size and weight to comply with new safety regulations, but drove like a much lighter car. Ironically, despite finishing joint last overall in stage 2 of the BFMCC, it was still the highest-placed premium muscle car in the first part of the challenge. Nevertheless, it was a strong seller in its class, but shortly after launch, Ian Harris quickly recognized the car’s key failing - a lack of power for its price (not helped by having the same active aero and electronic LSD as the rest of the sports series) - and commenced development of a V12 variant, to be introduced in 2010. That vehicle would not feel as frenetic as the CS60, though.
Also in 2006, the Conqueror was redesigned with a more dynamic shape. Initially, this flagship luxury sedan was only available with a 5-litre V8, but a 6-litre V12 would be added to the options list in 2010. The new flagship was hailed by critics as “a textbook example of how to blend sports and luxury”. Its six-speed manual transmission was shared with the Sports Series, although on this vehicle and the Redoubtable, automatic transmission was optional.
The Redoubtable would also be redesigned in 2006, on a platform shared with the contemporary Albury Centurion. However, it needed to be differentiated sufficiently from the Centurion to justify itself in the marketplace… and on top of that, the more affordable cars in the range were approaching the end of their lifespan, prompting a redesign of the Sparrow. In addition, Ian Harris resurrected the RMA in 2000, with a normally aspirated V6, but would it succeed in the marketplace even though it was positioned between the CMC and Chieftain? And would the proposed high-performance flagship version of the Sparrow also come to fruition? These questions did not take long to be answered.
The V6 version of the original Sparrow, introduced in 2000, took the hot hatch to new heights. Wider tires, an exhaust pipe on each side and wider fenders (to accommodate larger wheels and tires) let everyone know that this was no ordinary hatchback. Even with its AWD system, the 2.4 RS AWD was still quite light, and this lack of weight, combined with its incredibly well-sorted drivetrain and suspension tune, made it a legitimate giant-killer against cars from the class above.
However, without the RMA II in the Harris lineup, this ultimate Sparrow variant would not have been built; the two shared the same engine. The reborn RMA was, however, much lighter and purely rear-wheel drive.
A more powerful Plus version of the RMA was also available, powered by a more highly tuned version of the 2.4-litre V6. This variant required 95RON premium unleaded, whereas the base V6 required 91RON regular unleaded, but it was worth the extra cost since the increased output made an already quick car even faster still. Yet Ian Harris continued to look beyond his firm’s production cars for new ideas. One of them resulted in the SCR4 Turbo, a radically redesigned SVM fitted with a 4-litre flat-crank twin-turbo V8 from a customer sports-racing program and an experimental torque-vectoring AWD system.
Despite composite panels it was heavier and thirstier than the donor car, but on the other hand, it was much quicker and had even more grip. Yet the increased cost meant that only 30 examples were built, of which 25 were converted from existing SVM examples. The other 5 were built from the ground up to this specification. Ian Harris was in fact right to continue to retain the NA/RWD combination for the current SVM, which remained a best-seller in its class.
The redesigned Redoubtable also used the more powerful updated cross-plane Harris V8, but broke tradition by being a four-door coupe. As the platform-mate of the Albury Centurion, it was a real corner-carver, even though it was even heavier. A long list of standard equipment also helped its cause in the high-performance executive sector.
As part of the redesign of most of its range, Ian Harris also greenlit a new-generation Sparrow and a redesigned RMA; the former would still be front-drive but would retain the all-independent configuration of its predecessor. But would either of these live up to his expectations? The public would soon find out… and they weren’t disappointed by what they saw, not by a long shot.
The new Sparrow, introduced for the 2007 model year, was upsized into a C-segment hatchback, and was now exclusively offered as a four-cylinder front-drive vehicle, but advances in suspension technology negated the need for an AWD system - for the time being at least. Although other, less powerful engines were available, the flagship 2.0T was the star of the lineup, with 240 bhp and surprisingly good economy for a car of this kind.
Striking design and a high level of standard equipment, combined with great safety ratings, ensured that the Sparrow remained a popular choice among buyers on a budget, ensuring that Harris-Albury would remain profitable well into the next decade.
The third and last generation of the RMA was released in 2005; this, too, was a strong seller, no doubt thanks to its sensuous new body and improved dynamics.
As the first RMA with a direct-injected engine, throttle response was considerably improved along with power and torque outputs, allowing it to out-point other similar cars with ease.
The more powerful S version had even more power from its small V6 and an extended redline (9000 vs 8000 rpm) compared to the base model.
Although no immediate replacement for it or the front-engined CMC was planned when production of both cars ended in 2009, the RMA proved that Harris-Albury could create light, affordable and reliable performance cars for anyone to enjoy. One additional footnote is that the original plan for the RMA III was to swap the high-revving V6 for a small turbocharged straight-four displacing no more than 1000cc. However, Ian Harris overruled the beancounters (which were responsible for this radical rethink of the model) and retained the existing six-cylinder engine. Meanwhile, Albury Motors bought the original design (codenamed CMS-16) and reworked it to accommodate a high-revving 1.6-litre straight-four, essentially creating a cheaper alternative to the RMA; the resulting car was released in 2007 and remained on sale until 2013, when production ended. As for Harris Cars Ltd., they were able to weather the storm of the Great Recession at the end of the decade, but recovery would necessitate a redesign of much of its range.