Sub5Zero Fantasy Collection: Caparo T1
The phrase “racecar for the street” has been overused to such a ridiculous degree that it has lost just about all of its meaning. All the rally and touring car racing homologation specials, umpteen-hundred horsepower exotics and stripped-out, electronic-guardian-angel-free track day demons have pretty much desensitized the gearheads of the world to the notion of competition car looks and/or performance on the street. It’s simply not a big deal anymore.
And that’s just not fair, because there is a very-limited-production hypercar built in England that is actually worthy of the label “racecar for the street.” In fact, it’s probably more deserving of the title than any automobile ever made, as it has more in common with formula cars than it does your typical Le Mans Prototype. Ladies and gentledudes, we give you the Caparo T1.
After they helped make the McLaren F1 (which was one of the first 10 inductees into our fantasy collection) a reality, engineers Ben Scott-Geddes and Graham Halstead started wondering what would happen if you designed a supercar that was even more like a Formula 1 car than the record-setting BMW-powered three-seater. Eventually, the duo formed their own company, Freestream, to come up with an answer to this question and, in early 2006, the answer to the question was revealed in the form of the Freestream T1.
Unfortunately, developing a new-from-the-tires-up supercar costs insane quantities of money, something Scott-Geddes and Halstead weren’t quite able to procure. As a result, they sold Freestream to Caparo, an engineering and manufacturing conglomerate founded by Indian Briton politician Swarj Paul, and the T1’s manufacturer became Caparo Vehicle Technologies.
Initial powertrain plans called for a bespoke supercharged 2.4L V8, but the development team eventually settled on a normally-aspirated 3.5L V8 provided by Menard Competition Technologies (the British-based engine-building company set up by home improvement store tycoon John Menard) and based on the Infiniti-derived spec engine used in the Firestone Indy Lights Series. Its output is rated at 575hp and 310 lb.-ft of torque. Those numbers are impressive, but not as impressive as the engine’s weight (260 lb.) or the fact that peak horsepower comes at 10,500 rpm. A 6-speed sequential manual transmission with paddle shifters acts as the intermediary between engine and rear tires.
As you can plainly see, the engine and trans aren’t the only competition-bred pieces. The exposed front suspension arms, tapered nose, high, center-mount engine air intake and big rear wing are all design hallmarks of modern single-seaters. However, you’ll notice the cockpit area of the carbon fiber tub is considerably wider, wide enough to accommodate a second occupant to the left of and behind the driver. The big rear wing, along with the front wing between the front fenders, rear diffuser and other body and underbody components shaped with aerodynamics in mind, are fully functional, and can be swapped out with a track aero kit that generates even more downforce. How much pressure are we talking about? Caparo claims the T1 generates 1,930 lb. of downforce at 150 mph. That comes in handy when you consider the T1’s dry weight is in the ballpark of 1,200 lb. In other words, you could literally drive a T1 on the ceiling above a certain speed (provided you find a big enough ceiling, of course).
And naturally, in a car boasting roughly double the power-to-weight ratio of a Bugatti Veyron, it doesn’t take very long to reach extralegal velocities. The dash from a dead stop to 62 mph takes less than 2.5 seconds, while top speed in low downforce configuration is a claimed 205 mph. Depending on the tires fitted, Caparo says the T1 will pull 3 g in the turns and 3 g under braking; that second figure is rather surprising, considering the car has steel rather than carbon or composite brake rotors.
All that grand prix caliber performance and visual panache is remarkable, but not half as remarkable as the fact that you can experience it on public roads. Yes, the fact that it has headlights, taillights, turn signals and other basic safety devices of the proper size and location in place means you can register it for street use in the UK, mainland Europe and many other locales not found south of Canada and North of Mexico. Of course, it’s probably better that the Caparo T1 isn’t allowed on American highways and byways since, in addition to being one of the quickest cars that’s street legal in at least one country, it’s also one of the most ornery. As Mr. Clarkson demonstrates below, the T1 is loud, drafty, and incredibly hard to manhandle through turns, particularly when the tires are cold and/or the pavement is damp. The fact that it was designed to take advantage of aerodynamic downforce compounds this problem, because if the air isn’t moving over the wings and other appendages fast enough, they’re merely decorative items. All in all, the T1 makes first generation Vipers and 911 Turbos look as harmless and sanitized as the cars of Disneyland’s Autopia.
So why the hell are we adding it to our dream fleet? Well, there are many reasons. First, it’s about as close as an Average Joe (an Average Joe with about $400,000 burning a hole in his pocket) will get to being an F1 or IndyCar driver (with the added bonus of being able to bring someone along for the ride). Second, the mechanical engineering and aerodynamic wizardry that went into it is without peer. And finally, the fact that you can put a license plate on it in numerous countries is both hilarious (that some nations have vehicle design, safety and emissions standards that are liberal enough to allow it) and depressing (that the United States…doesn’t). Having said all that, we’ll use ours almost exclusively on the track, thank you very much.