A Formula One car for the road
Revolution at every turn
A Formula One car for the road is about as tired a phrase as you're likely to hear in the annals of supercar history. Every time I hear the phase only to be presented with a 300bhp, one tonne piece of wishful thinking my teeth grate, a chill heads down my spine and a little part of me dies inside.
With a genuine 3g of lateral force trying to push my face down into the fast moving tarmac beneath like some equally clichÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â©d movie villain, though, before the full-on assault of a sledgehammer blow to the back there was only way to describe the forces at work inside the Caparo T1. It's like, well, a Formula One car for the road.
This is a revolution at pretty much every turn, a two-seater where the passenger sits slightly behind and slightly to the side, but still in pretty close contact. You'd better be friends to share this car, and it's no long-distance cruiser. But then it's designed for getting to the track and then flying round it marginally faster than the private jet that you could probably have taken instead. At ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£190,000 + local taxes it's about as pricey as a track car is liable to get, but then it is also the fastest.
It hits 60mph in a near indecent 2.5s and a natural spring will run out of steam before this car. Just bang up the sequential 'box and keep it nailed and it will burst through 100mph in five seconds and keep going all the way to 205mph, if you can find a straight long enough. With just 575bhp at it's disposal that's no mean feat, but then the whole car weighs in at 550kg, giving it a power/weight ratio of 1045bhp tonne, which is double that offered by a Bugatti Veyron.
It's lighter than an F1 entry, with room for two, so don't expect too many creature comforts, although the stitching in the cockpit is inevitably superb you can forget boot space and ornate switchgear. And while the car has been paraded with a canopy-style roof that is an optional extra and in most countries in this world requires the addition of an air-conditioning system and 20kg. Now that's the weight of a few gallons of fuel, but you can almost feel the disdain for additional weight in the designers' voices.
The car looks like the result of illegal genetic experimentation with F1 and Le Mans cars. It's built around a carbon-fibre and aluminium honeycomb chassis, which stops short of a full carbon-monocoque, but not by enough that you'll notice the difference, and there isn't one piece of unnecessary bodywork - you can virtually see the components, or at least how they're laid out, and where possible everything serves a dual purpose. That's why the lights are built into the struts of the rear wing and the front fairing bleeds into a cunning wing mirror.
It's all designed in the wind-tunnel, unsurprisingly, and form has followed function without a moment's dissent. That it looks pretty, in its own special way, is either happy coincidence or proof positive that a tool that is fit for purpose is inherently beautiful. And that's a debate for the Arts sectionÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¦
The Physics department will be happier to know that the car produces a staggering 800kg of downforce with a combination of Venturi effect underneath the car, that adjustable single-plane rear wing and a twin-plate front. That helps produce that 3g cornering force, which incidentally is double that of the formerly great flyweight the Lotus Exige, and a similar amount when the driver mashes the brake pedal.
So the driver should pass out before the car lets go on high speed bends, and it should feel like barrel-rolling an F-16. In slower corners there's more than enough power to boot the back end out of line and GT ace and Caparo development driver Rob Schirle worked overtime to keep the car on the straight and narrow, using all the leeway allowed by the limited slip diff and traction control.
Incidentally the T1 relies on steel AP Racing brakes, rather than the ceramics that are becoming de rigeur in the supercar world, which makes you think we might be spending over the odds for a set of yellow callipers that aren't really necessary - or that the flyweight nature of the T1 taxes the stoppers far less.
The brainchild of Ben Scott-Geddes and Graham Halstead, who both worked on the design team of the legendary McLaren F1, the project has recently gained the backing of Caparo.
This company has a ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£1 billion turnover every year and their money bought Gordon Murray, the man credited with the McLaren F1 and parting the Red Sea, among other projects. His influence helped take the T1 to another level, and three years after the first sketches we were invited to Goodwood racing circuit to taste the fruits of their efforts. And oh yes, it tastes mighty good.
The 3.5-litre engine that revs to a near dangerous 10,500 is developed in partnership with Menard, in-house, that's part of Caparo's philosophy and why they bought AP Racing brakes. They want to supply everything, be it pre-formed steel or a complete car. And while engine development is a risky strategy, as proved by technical glitches on the day, if they get it right then they will have nobody to thank but themselves, and nobody to share credit with for their 205mph missile.
Whereas the McLaren F1 and the Bugatti Veyron are supercars that also perform on the track, the Caparo T1 is a track car that can be driven on the road. There is no matching luggage, no great lifestyle statement, the T1 is purely about blistering speed.
At the expense of road usability, I suspect. Every hack emerged from the car complaining of a painful rear and that was on the glass-smooth tarmac of a race track. Now the T1 comes with five-way adjustable dampers and can be lifted for the drive home, which will help. But this machine is just too stripped, just too basic for a normal drive to the shops - it's a track car through and through and I'd give up on the road aspirations.
The only question that remains is who will buy one. Caparo went to great pains to outline a suave, successful businessman that was a racer in a former life, who was good enough to make the grade but didn't. The also talked about corporate experiences offering the ultimate passenger ride, but to be honest I would fire the market researcher.
When a car looks like this and has enough noughts in the price tag to pass for a big company's telephone number, there will always be a market. Rich Russians, Middle Eastern and American car collectors would have reached for the deposit without even hearing the final spec, that's the way it has always been.