Harriadnie Beau? No, I hadn't heard of her either, but I'm told she's a 19-year-old supermodel and the "face" of many places and products I've never heard of before. She has just graced Salon Privé, at Syon House, London, the exclusive luxury and supercar show where tickets come with the promise of a lobster lunch and bottomless glasses of refreshments.
The bright young thing is here to cement her status as the brand ambassador for Tushek Supercars, a new supercar maker from Slovenia. It's an unlikely association, but Beau's presence at Tushek's stand brings forth a throng of photographers. But then the snappers are not looking at the car.
The thing is, the Tushek Renovatio T500 doesn't really need a supermodel sitting on or in it to attract attention. Even here, parked between an US$8 million (Dh29.3m) McLaren F1 and Aston Martin's latest Vanquish and V12 Vantage Roadster, the T500 demands your attention. It's a supercar drawn from the old-school, an edgy wedge that started life as the K1 Attack kit car. It's unquestionably conspicuous sitting here among the world's finest exotica, as it's not quite as polished in its finish. Then again, it's creating plenty of interest and it certainly offers something a little different from the established norm, which to many here is an extremely desirable attribute.
The car is the dream of Alojoša Tušek, a Slovenian former racer. After giving up racing in European touring cars, Tušek sought track thrills in modern supercars. He found them too soft, too unfocused, too uninvolving and imprecise. So rather than just moan about it, he did something. Starting with a K1 Attack kit car, Tušek found it somewhat lacking, so he went about modifying everything. The tubular spaceframe chassis remains, though it has been lengthened and widened, while the old Ford-derived V6 was binned in favour of an Audi 4.2L V8 engine borrowed from the RS4. The gearbox is a six-speed manual from Audi's S5, while the previously all glass-fibre bodywork is now mixed with carbon fibre parts to reduce weight.
That carbon fibre is sourced locally too, as the Slovenian firm that provides the black weave for several established supercar and superbike manufacturers supplies Tushek with its lightweight panels. The result is a car weighing in at just more than 1,100kg on the road, meaning the relatively modest 450hp of that Audi-derived V8 doesn't have to work too hard at all to create supercar performance.
Tušek is entirely focused on delivering a race car feel and the T500 is about as simple a supercar as you could ask for. Electronics are pretty much limited to the stereo and instruments. There are no active elements in the T500's make-up; no stability control and no anti-lock brakes, though a Bosch racing ABS and traction control system is offered as an option. The suspension - double-wishbones all round with inboard dampers poking up and out through the front - can be adjusted. Manually, of course. Even the six-speed gearbox has a proper gearstick and three pedals. Old school indeed in an increasingly paddle-shifted, automated gearbox world. If you prefer, Tušek will fit a Hewland semi-auto sequential six-speed transmission with paddle-shifters on what he describes as the "R" model.
The only real concession to complexity in the T500 is the instrumentation, as the Aim Pista system comes directly from GT racing cars and is available with full GPRS telemetry - allowing you to check out your improving lap times. Buy a T500, at a not inconsiderable $380,000 or so - before options - and Tushek throws in a two-year "Ownership Experience", with five fully supported track day drives a year. Tušek is keen for his cars to be used on the track then, but he is also realistic about potential sales, suggesting tens rather than hundreds. Production of the T500 is limited to a series of 30 and a more focused R model to just 15. There's another car in the pipeline, too. Even so, he's deliberately eschewing emerging and supercar-hungry markets such as China and is instead concentrating on the mature market in Europe - for now.
Tušek's reasoning for this is as simple as it is brilliant. His Slovenian location allows him to "get on a plane with a couple of cases and be pretty much anywhere in Europe within a few hours should a customer need me".That sort of can-do mindset could only come from someone who has spent years around racing cars and teams. Tušek is determined that customer service be central to the buying experience. Servicing should be simple enough, as any Audi technician can work on the engine - albeit in an unfamiliar location. Crucially too, Tušek doesn't see Tushek competing with other supercars, admitting: "If people want an Aston or a Ferrari then they will have both."
He's right of course; the sort of people who might be attracted to a Tushek Renovatio T500 are almost certain to have a decent selection of other exotic machinery at their disposal. What Tušek sees the T500 as offering is something different, a car that's entirely about the driving. That's not to say there aren't some niceties inside: the T500 comes with air conditioning and satnav comes courtesy of an Alpine pop-up infotainment system. So it'll keep you cool and guide you to and from those tracks, but its appeal remains the purist focus.
That's obvious getting in. Accessed via small front-hinged pop-up doors, the cabin is tight. The steering wheel is removable and the pedals can be adjusted by up to 15cm. There's a four-point racing harness in the completely customisable seat. That steering wheel, like current Ferraris, has pretty much everything you could want on it, including indicator turn signal buttons and one of the two start buttons.
For only the third car to wear the Tushek badge it's all pretty well finished. This car's two prototype predecessors are with customers already and this example is still referred to by Tušek as something of a development machine. You wouldn't know it inside, as the cabin is not far off the production standards of many established rivals. It's a roadster, with a separate hard-top that can be stowed behind the engine - as long as you've not optioned the racing exhausts that exit through the rear bumper rather than under the diffuser.
Pressing the two start buttons to fire the engine you'll not care about taking the roof, as it's just extra weight anyway. The sound from the V8 is pretty spectacular, and is certainly on par with the exotics it's sharing lawn space with today. Tušek, true to form, is keen to escape Syon House and hit the road. The rolling speed bumps on Syon's long driveway don't result in uncomfortable scraping or grinding from the flat under tray, and indeed Tušek goads me into ignoring the bumps, confident the ride height is high enough to scale them. He's right, my worry that this racer-for-the-road might be a nightmare does not materialise.
Unsurprisingly it's firm, but the Bilstein dampers take the edge off nicely. The T500 rides decently enough, given the 19-inch alloy wheels and rubber-band like Continental tires wrapping them, as well as the atrocious state of the roads leaving London. What's very obvious from the outset is its lack of mass, the engine needs very few revs to make indecent progress. Tushek claims a 0-to-100kph time of 3.7 seconds and it feels every bit as quick as that. The top speed sounds realistic too at 310kph, though Tušek does concede its faster top end is achieved without the large rear wing. It's there to produce downforce though, the T500 creating 22kg front and 35kg rear downforce at 180kph.
The number Tušek is evidently most proud of though is a lateral G figure of 1.7: cornering rather than outright speed is clearly important. That's not obvious at road speeds, although grip is high, but will matter where it counts - on a track. The brakes, carbon ceramic items here, don't prove as lacking in feel as Tušek suggests they might, even with little temperature in them they're not as grabby and difficult to modulate as many similar set-ups with rivals. Tušek confirms that if you're driving predominantly on road there's a conventional steel disc option that'll suit you better, saving around $10,000. However, the penalty is weight as the carbon ceramic discs reduce about 19kg in total from the un-sprung weight, helping the T500 ride convincingly despite its track bias.
Where the Tushek really stands out is in its steering. The wheel is well-weighted, requiring some heft, but rewarding with feel at the wheel's rim. It's direct too; the TRW-sourced, electrically powered hydraulic steering is not dissimilar in feel to an unassisted Lotus's system. Praise indeed. The gearshift is good too with the six-speed manual shifting with precision. However, the clutch does require a strong leg, which is fine if you're away from traffic and a pain, literally, if you aren't. That's a sacrifice worth paying though; get out onto an open stretch of road and the T500 is wickedly quick, the V8 shifts its low bulk with impunity, making the experience refreshingly pure and free of electronic nannies or intervention. You, an engine, three pedals and lots of grip and go. Pretty much how a supercar should be, but without the supermodel frills please.