x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Caparo T1: assault and flattery

Driving the Caparo T1 leaves Kevin Hackett feeling like he has been beaten sensless ? and he likes it.

Weighing just 550kg, the Caparo T1 is less than half the weight of a normal vehicle. Couple that with 575hp and you get the quickest-accelerating road car on the planet.
Weighing just 550kg, the Caparo T1 is less than half the weight of a normal vehicle. Couple that with 575hp and you get the quickest-accelerating road car on the planet.

My entire body is being assaulted. The acceleration I'm experiencing is so incredibly brutal that the only thing close to this sensation would be to receive multiple stab wounds. With every squeeze of the throttle, no matter which of the six gears this car is in, the force is relentless, unstoppable, almost evil. If I didn't have a crash helmet on with my visor pulled down, airborne insects would become missiles. Every gear change sends a violent shock through my torso and then, when I'm hard on the brakes, every organ in my body is thrown forward, trying to find some way out.

This is the Caparo T1 and, while the Bugatti Veyron remains the king when it comes to top speed, this is the fastest accelerating street- legal car on the planet. It will see off 100kph from rest in less than 2.5 seconds. Under braking and cornering it pulls up to 3.5g, which you'd normally have to be an aerobatic pilot to experience. If you're fed up with the latest sports car being referred to as "an F1 car for the road" then look away now. Because that's exactly what the T1 is. This is the real deal.

It's not a new car, the T1. In fact it was first driven and written about three years ago and it's fair to say the reviews were mixed. While nobody was in any doubt about the Caparo's formidable pace, it was the dynamics of the thing that were called into question. The problem was that the car was underdeveloped and should never have been given to any journalist until it had been sufficiently refined; at the very least until it could go round corners properly.

Three years down the line, in the east of England, and I'm having my day. For once, a car manufacturer's marketing material is right on the money. "Nothing can prepare you for the take-off speed of the Caparo T1," the sales brochure says. "All aspects of the car's performance are instantaneous, acceleration, cornering, braking. But especially the acceleration. It distorts your perception of time and distance ?" Couldn't have put it better myself.

The secret to the Caparo T1's incredible performance is in its power-to-weight ratio. Its V8 engine produces 575hp, which is pretty average for a supercar these days, but the whole vehicle weighs just 550kg. Which means its power-to-weight ratio is double that of the Veyron. Which means driving it is rather scary. And you don't even need to drive it to experience the ultimate four-wheeled adrenaline rush because there's even a passenger seat in its cramped cockpit, slightly aft of the driver's.

Caparo could well be the biggest company you've never heard of. That garden furniture you have outside the house? If it has steel components they could well have come from Caparo. The steel used to make the taxi you took a ride in may also have been supplied by them. Need 10 million nuts and bolts for that skyscraper you're building? Give Caparo a call and they'll sort you out. Like many huge corporations, it has many different divisions. And when Caparo got to hear about a project being run by two of the engineers that brought the McLaren F1 to fruition - Ben Scott-Geddes and Graham Halstead - they decided to back it, and Caparo the car manufacturer became a reality.

They like to keep everything in-house if at all possible. So they bought the design rights to an engine initially developed by Menard for IndyCar racing. They bought AP, the brake manufacturer too. So it's fair to say that money wasn't really an object when developing the T1, and the car's design is a result of some of the greatest thinking in the business. There are no pretensions about it being a "normal" car - everything is about shocking speed. There's no boot, nowhere to store anything at all apart from a pocket inside the bare carbon-fibre tub for you to keep your maps and driving licence - not that you'll hang onto that for long if you drive it on public roads. There's a canopy available if you don't fancy the fresh air experience and it's manufactured to aerospace standards, but this car doesn't have so much as a windscreen.

In essence, it's the ultimate track day toy, it just so happens that you won't need to transport it to the circuit on a trailer. There's no dashboard as such - just a row of switches. The steering wheel is a bespoke racing item that needs to be removed and refitted just to climb aboard, and it displays essential information like the gear you're in, revs, speed - whatever you want it to. Behind it are two paddles to operate the sequential gearbox.

Climb inside and fix the wheel onto the column. Thumb the starter switch and the V8 erupts just a few millimetres behind your back with a roar that tells you this is no namby-pamby cruiser. You need to use the clutch pedal for first gear but, once you're on the move, it isn't needed. What's needed is a huge dose of bravado before you unleash hell. My first experience is en route to an airfield where we've been granted permission to conduct some high speed runs and lay down more rubber than the planes can manage. You don't so much sit in the T1 as lie in it. And this means you don't get to see much of your surroundings. There's no chance you'll see the guy driving that truck you're sharing road space with as the car is no taller than his tyres.

Once the road clears I squeeze the throttle and BAM! The Caparo catches up with the rest of the traffic in a heartbeat. The world becomes a blur and it's difficult to keep the nose pointed in the right direction because of the physical forces at work. There is nothing to insulate the car's occupants from the engine's vibrations and every gear change results in a jolt that would have lesser cars disintegrating.

There are mirrors housed in the top of each front wing/mudguard, and these also house the front headlamps. Rear lamps and indicators are LED items incorporated into the rear wing. It has adjustable dampers and you can raise the ride height to overcome uneven road surfaces, but that's where concessions to real-world usability end. There's only one thing on the T1's agenda: speed. Truly shocking speed.

I've driven a Veyron and, while the power of that thing never leaves you, it's an easy car to drive. In fact, that's the most impressive thing about it - it's no more difficult to pilot than a Golf GTI. In the T1, however, you're totally exposed to the elements, which simply serves to heighten the feeling that you're being assaulted. Don't think that's a criticism, though - it's a life-affirming experience, one that never fails to have you reeling in shock, horror and utter joy.

Speed this instant needs to be able to be wiped off in an instant, too. And the Caparo's braking is almost as shocking as its ability to gather pace. That they decided to fit steel discs here must cast a shadow of doubt over the current obsession with carbon items because they are incredibly effective. When a car can reach 160km/h in less than five seconds they need to be. The car's wings and splitters generate colossal downforce and you can feel it being pushed harder onto the road the faster you go.

Reaching the airfield, things get even more lairy and the T1's development over the past three years is obvious. It takes corners as if they aren't there thanks to its revised suspension geometry and its adjustable traction control gives it frankly stunning levels of grip. Turn it off and the T1 leaves longer black lines on the runway than a 747 could manage. It's a thrill machine like no other. Many have said there'll never be another McLaren F1 or Bugatti Veyron - that these cars are destined to be viewed as some kind of ultimate in car design. Well you can now add the Caparo T1 to that exclusive list. Astonishing. motoring@thenational.ae