I’ve never felt quite like this before. My torso is taking an absolute battering; it’s a brutal, physical assault – the closest I hope I ever come to receiving multiple stab wounds. Each and every time I squeeze the throttle, whichever gear this car is in, the forces acting upon me feel unstoppable, malevolent, evil. I’m exposed to the elements so need the visor of my helmet to prevent airborne insects from becoming deadly missiles and every tug of the transmission paddles sends the most violent shock through my body, while a press on the brakes sees every internal organ shifted forward, trying to find a way out.
Just three weeks ago I was left reeling in shock from a day behind the wheel of the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport but this… this is something else. The Veyron SS may well be the fastest production car in the world, this car, the Caparo T1, is the quickest. It certainly feels it from where I’m sitting because, while the Veyron is undoubtedly stunning in its power delivery, it also feels safe inside, ensconced in a luxurious cabin. This thing doesn’t even possess a windscreen. When cornering and braking it can pull up to 3.5g, which is normally the preserve of aerobatic pilots. It’s sensational. It’s like nothing else out there.
If, like me, you’re tired of hearing about the latest sports car being referred to as ‘an F1 car for the road’ then accept my apologies. Because the T1 is exactly that. This is the real deal. And you’ve probably read about it before now because the Caparo T1 was first handed over to a handful of journalists three years ago, which turned out to be three years too soon. Clarkson sent it up on Top Gear, with ambulances and fire engines waiting for him to be seriously injured on track, such was the reputation of the T1. Nobody called into question its formidable pace in a straight line but its handling was another matter. It was just too powerful for its own good – completely undriveable in the real world.
But now it’s my turn and I’m enjoying the benefits of three years worth of research and development rather than looking for the Grim Reaper in my rearview mirrors. That’s not to say this isn’t the greatest adrenaline rush I’ve ever had on four wheels – for once the marketing blurb is on the money: “Nothing can prepare you for the take off speed of the Caparo T1,” says the sales brochure. “All aspects of the car’s performance are instantaneous, acceleration, cornering, braking. But especially the acceleration. It distorts your perception of time and distance.” If anything that’s an understatement.
Key to the T1’s shocking performance is its power-to-weight ratio. Its normally-aspirated V8 engine produces 428.7Kw, which is pretty average for a supercar these days, but it tips the scales at just 550kg. Which means its power-to-weight ratio is more than double that of the Veyron and this means driving it is the ultimate white knuckle ride. There’s even a passenger seat in its cramped cockpit, slightly aft of the driver’s, so you can share the terror with a hapless passenger if you’re feeling particularly evil. Hell, there’s so much downforce that, at 240km/h you could drive this thing through a tunnel. Upside down.
Never heard of Caparo? It’s a colossus of a company that made its money in steel. That patio furniture you have outside? If it has steel components they could well have come from them. Ten million nuts and bolts required for that skyscraper you’re building? Give Caparo a ring and they’ll arrange delivery. Like many huge corporations, it has many different divisions and when it 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 supercar manufacturer was born.
They like to keep as much as possible in house at Caparo, so they bought the design rights to an engine initially developed by Menard for IndyCar racing. Then they bought AP, the brake manufacturer too. So obviously 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’s no pretence about it being a ‘normal’ car – everything is about unrelenting speed.
While it makes no sense whatsoever as a daily driver, it makes the ultimate track day toy. It’s just that you won’t need to transport it to the circuit on a trailer, because the T1 is completely road legal. There’s no dashboard – just a row of switches. The steering wheel is a bespoke racing item that has to be removed 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 the two paddles that operate the sequential gearbox.
Once you’ve managed to climb inside, with or without a passenger squeezed in behind you (this takes some doing and, initially, looks like an impossibility), fix the steering wheel back in place. Press the starter and the race bred V8 explodes into life just a few millimetres behind your neck with a roar that immediately tells anyone within a two kilometre radius that your T1 is good to go. The clutch pedal is required for moving off in first gear but after that it’s irrelevant. The other thing required is a quick prayer before you unleash the T1’s pent up fury. Oh, and peak power comes in at 10,500rpm. Gulp.
I’m en route to an airfield where we’ve been given permission to do some high speed runs and put down more rubber than the planes can. Not so much sitting in the T1 as lying in it means you don’t get to see much of your surroundings. There’s no way you’ll see the guy driving that truck you’re tearing past as the car is no taller than his wheels.
As the road clears I floor the throttle and BAM! The Caparo catches up with the rest of the traffic in a heartbeat. Everything becomes a blur and it’s a job keeping the nose pointed in the right direction because of the physical forces at work and every gear change results in a jolt that would have lesser cars falling apart at the seams. The brakes are just astonishing, wiping off speed as quickly as the V8 applies it, and they’re steel, too, which has to make us question the current obsession with carbon ceramic stoppers.
Mirrors are housed in the top of each front wing/mudguard, where the front headlamps also live and the LED rear lamps and indicators are 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 reach the airfield, unsure how long I can keep going like this; how long my neck muscles will cope with the hammering they’re getting every time I touch either the throttle or the brakes. But I can’t give up now for it’s here I’ll see if the past three years have resulted in a T1 that can go around corners.
The changes have mainly been made to the car’s suspension geometry and the software for its adjustable traction control and they’ve obviously cracked it. With the traction control fully on, the T1 has so much grip from its Toyo Proxes tyres that it’s frankly indescribable. Enter a bend with the power on and it simply destroys it, cornering flat and true – it’s almost supernatural and the impact on your body is the same as when accelerating or braking hard. It’s just that your innards are trying to escape from your sides rather than your back or chest.
Adjust the traction control downwards via the low-tech knob on the steering wheel and it’ll wave its tail like a fish caught on a line, practically liquidising the rear tyres and leaving longer black lines on the runway than a 747 manages.
I can’t possibly tell you the words that involuntarily escape from my mouth when this thing shows me what it’s made of but, take it from me, this monumental car sorts the boys from the men. It’s absolutely epic.