What’s this, some refugee from last weekend’s Grand Prix invading CAR Online?
No, this is in fact a road car. Well it’s road-legal anyway. It’s the Caparo T1, nee Freestream, and it’s the closest thing to an F1 car for the road we’ve yet seen. Not surprisingly, then, it’s the fastest production car ever both in terms of acceleration and its ability to lap a race circuit. There’s not much of a boot though – there’s always a catch with these things...
Who is Caparo?
Caparo is a massively rich engineering conglomerate with fingers in all sorts of pies and a desire to get a foothold into the market for lightweight vehicle componentry. Think of the T1 not simply as a supercar, but a showcase for Caparo’s engineering know-how. The T1s are built by Caparo but bringing the car to production turned out to be a bigger job than Caparo had anticipated. So Mallory Park-based Cirtek Racing, an outfit more used to running teams in the GT championship, was drafted in to set up the chassis and iron out pre-production glitches. Of which there were several…
So what are the highlights?
The body and chassis are carbon and the engine is a 3.5-litre V8 built from parts used in Infiniti’s Indy car engines. The original target had been 475bhp and 475kg but the finished car has 575bhp and weighs 550kg, giving it a power-to-weight ratio of over 1000bhp-per-tonne – an amazing figure given most supercars struggle to achieve half that. There aren’t any official performance figures yet, but reckon on 2.5sec to 60mph and under 5.0sec to 100mph. Forget the Veyron, you’d need something like the very best superbike to keep up with the T1 in a straight line. Chasing top speeds was never the aim but reckon on somewhere between 180-210mph depending on how much downforce the bodywork is configured to deliver. And this thing generates genuine downforce. Like 875kg (the weight of a Lotus Elise) at 150mph. So much so that when Cirtek racing first got their hands on a T1 the front wings were pushing straight down on to the tyres at speed. Cables running from the nose to each wing and much stiffer springs have solved the problem.
Scary is it?
It’s easy to become blasé about speed in this job – we drive enough seriously quick cars that it’s rare to get in something that genuinely unsettles you. But that first taste of full throttle in second or third gear in the T1 is proper fairground stuff, the stuff that makes you feel genuinely terrified, even if only momentarily until your brain and body acclimatise to the spectacular g forces you’re subjected to. The V8 will rev to 10,500rpm and the real punch happens from the point that even Honda Type R engines are begging for mercy. Watch for the last of the shift lights to illuminate on the display set into the hub of the little suede wheel then pull back on the right-hand paddle (even the paddles are carbon) to engage the next of the six forward gears and scare yourself all over again. But the T1 is much more than simply a dragster. And the way it stops and goes round corners is just as impressive – and just as physically demanding. We drove the T1 on road tyres, but it may as well have been on slicks. Unless you’re a regular racer, no even if you’re a regular racer, you’ll need to recalibrate your conceptions of cornering speeds before attempting to take the T1 to the limit. You’ll need to be strong too. The steering is super-direct and full of feel but really weights up when you’re pushing through corners in fourth and fifth gears. It never feels likely to really bite though. Even though the braking power is incredible, a couple of times I get caught out by the speed I’m carrying up to a corner and enter on a whiff of trailing throttle: the back starts to step out but the long wheelbase seems to slow everything down and give you time to apply the right amount of lock and make a save.
And how will I find it on my commute into central London?
Not having driven it on the road, we can only speculate, but a good guess would be bloody awful. To talk about the T1 in the same breath as conventional supercars is nonsense, and not just because the T1 would whip them all on a circuit. As a road car it’s going to be useless. It’s big, the turning circle is pathetic and the cockpit vibrates like a slimming plate. Three-point turn? Forget it. Forget too, all those notions of Lamborghinis being a liability in town. Compared to this a Murcielago may as well be a London taxi. To be fair, the T1 was never designed to do that sort of mileage. It’s a car that can legally be driven to and from circuits where it will really be used. To drive it on the road would be a gigantic waste of time – you simply wouldn’t scratch the surface of its abilities. And it’s worse still for anyone sitting in the passenger seat. Like the McLaren F1’s extra seats, the T1’s second chair is located to the side and back of the driver’s seat. But it’s far too close to the driver’s for comfort. Not only is it near-impossible to actually get into the seat (I’m 5ft 9in and hardly rotund) but the addition of a shoulder wing on the driving seat to keep the pilot in place on fast right hand bends makes the jump seat a really unpleasant place to be because it’s impossible for the passenger to move his right arm. If you’ve ever spent time in a mental institution tied to a bed, been stuck for three days on a potholing holiday or were locked in the cupboard under the stairs as a child, then it won’t seem so bad in the passenger seat. Otherwise you’ll need to do what I did – lots of deep breathing and thinking of nice things. To be honest I feel sick just thinking about it, that’s how bad it is.
So what’s the damage?
The official price is £190,000 plus local taxes, so call it £210k by the time you’ve added the extra needed to buy the full bubble canopy due soon, and the electric air-conditioning system you’ll have to have with it if you’re not to fry every time the sun comes out. There are two ways of looking at that price: that it makes the T1 an absolute bargain because this is a car that rips up the supercar performance and handling benchmarks set by cars costing two, three and even four times as much. Or that it’s an absurd amount of money for what is actually just a Lottery winner’s Caterham.
We know that Caparo’s aims are far loftier than simply becoming the new Ferrari. But still the T1 needs to be judged as a car, and not what the technology it employs might mean for future cars, both performance and prosaic. Yes, the T1 delivers amazing performance – but in a very narrow arena. You can forget about the T1 on road: it doesn’t have the versatility of modern supercars. And while you’d always be the quickest thing at a trackday, you’d only get frustrated with the number of slower cars there. Thinking laterally, it’s not a great leap from buying a T1 to spending £200k on a racing car, and joining a series instead. Or if competition isn’t your thing, how about a Caterham R400 to satisfy your minimalist cravings and a 430 Scuderia as your ‘everyday’ supercar? Of course T1 buyers can afford to do all of these things. They’ll buy a T1 simply because they want to own the fastest, most focused and most invigorating road car ever offered for sale. And if that’s the case, this is the place to come. Because there is simply nothing on earth like it. Now just imagine what would happen if they made a supermini.