Friday, 1 February 2008

Caparo T1

“Subtlety,” a great man once said, “is the art of saying what you think and getting out of the way before it is understood”. Now, subtlety has a lot going for it, both in terms of how to get a point across without appearing cocky and how to convey a deeper message under the guise of comparative superficiality. Subtlety is superb for ridiculing stupid people without them realising, and is more than simply a matter of tact.

On the face of it, the Caparo T1 is not exactly an exercise in the ways of the subtle, any more than it is a diesel locomotive or a punnet of raspberries. Of course it isn’t, it looks like a bloody rollerskate with great big praying mantis elbows and a glass bubble dome like R2-D2. It screams purpose as much as it cries ‘look at me, I’ve got cash to fritter’. However, there is an inherent sense of subtlety that comes with it. How so? Well, it has a unique hook, a cheeky little secret.

This car, you see, has a simply breathtaking power-to-weight ratio. That may sound like the kind of statement that would surface a few hours into a CAMRA convention from a chunky beardo in a tweed jacket, but it’s more interesting than you’d think. There’s nothing clandestine about that, of course, but the T1 also enjoys the benefits of being lumped in with an overlooked and commonly disregarded class of vehicle: the trackday special.

OK, so you can road register the Caparo and drive it to Ikea at the weekend if you so wish (although you’ll look a right berk trying to strap your Billy bookcase to that brittle rear wing), but let’s face it, nobody’s going to. Like much of its brethren – Radical SR8, Ariel Atom, Light Car Company Rocket, Grinnall Scorpion IV, Lotus 2-Eleven, Ultima GTR – it won’t be used for taking the kids to school, principally because they’d have to strap on the rollerblades and hang on to the back. These cars are playthings for the kind of people who have the time and money to spend their weekends nailing round circuits as quickly and smokily as possible.

Going back to that epic power-to-weight issue, let’s begin at the beginning. The Caparo – originally designed as the Freestream concept a few years ago – weighs in at 470 kg. That really isn’t very much. Compared to a 1600kg BMW M3, for example, it’s positively anorexic. Unfair comparison? OK, put it next to a Mini. An original, real Mini, obviously, not the new German estate-agent spec thing. They tipped the scales at about 650kg. You see where we’re going with this?

It gets better. Unlike Lotus, whose philosophy is that the engine needs simply to be tractable rather than powerful if you have low weight, Caparo have spent the entire development process with a mammoth engine in mind. All that time spent paring back the excesses, shaving away nanometres of carbon-fibre, and what do they stick in the middle? A 575bhp 3.5-litre V8. For crying out loud.

So, that equates to 1,045bhp per tonne. Which is a lot. To put that in an interesting context, the Bugatti Veyron has 529bhp per tonne. There’s a great big yawning chasm between the two of them, and the performance figures are just absurd. The Caparo T1 will hit 60mph in 2.5 seconds, and will go on to 100mph in 5. It will do 0-100-0mph in comfortably under ten seconds. Can you imagine? The forces acting on your body must be enough to blast the contents of your stomach out of your ears – an unfortunate thing to happen when you’re surrounded by glass and you’re driving a big plastic grasshopper.

Of course, there are many other clever and notable things that make the T1 really rather special. We could happily chew the fat ad infinitum over the six-speed sequential gearbox, inboard remote-reservoir dampers, multi-function data-logging system, launch control, the dry-sump, the brake bias box and the aluminium honeycomb chassis… but it keeps coming back to that magical figure: 1,045bhp/tonne. The new benchmark for playboy lunacy.

Is it a subtle car? Well, yes and no. If you saw one on a track and didn’t know what you were looking at, you could be forgiven for thinking of it as a sort of sanitized Formula 3 racer. In real terms, though, it’s about as subtle as jamming a steak knife into your leg and trying to cauterise the wound with a grapefruit. And I think that’s the effect they were going for.

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