James Mills steps up to the launch pad and goes for a drive
That means there are forty people out there already acquainted with the single-mindedness of two mens’ collective vision on what a light weight sports car should be. That’s how many were sold during the Light Car Company’s first two attempts to survive out in the big wide world.
Oh, and he also designed a road car. You may have heard of it: the McLaren F1. But which came first - the Rocket or the F1? Well, actually, it was the Rocket. And like the widely publicised F1, the Rocket was a bespoke, clean-sheet design that sought to ritually burn every rule book in existence.
Which meant it came at a price - cool £38,800 in fact. And that was back in 1992. “I don’t think they made a penny on any they sold. In fact, I think they lost about £4,000 for every one they sold.” Enter one Luke Craft, son of Chris, and the man tasked with ensuring the Rocket’s third attempt at lift-off goes according to flight plan. He and his father make up Rocket R&D, the company behind the Light Car Company Rocket. He’s been very busy, and would like some of you to buy into the fruits of his labour.
To the casual onlooker, it’s an interesting tale of obsession. The double wishbone, coil-over suspension came in for a stiffer anti-roll bar at the back, “too much high speed movement” as Luke tactfully puts it; stiffer bushes all round, bespoke tuning for the Bilstein dampers and wider wheels – OZ alloys wider by half an inch at the front and an inch wider at the back where more of the weight sits.
The latter has come in for a fair bit of fettling in our test car. It boasts an extra 150cc – up to 1,150cc – a larger radiator, high lift cams, high strength valve springs, a ported and polished head and lower friction liners. The result is a healthy 171bhp and an eye-brow raising 86lb/ft of torque at 11,000 and 9,000rpm respectively.
However, it’s when you consider the Rocket weighs three hundred and seventy kilos that the power to weight ratio begins to look stellar. You read that right: three, hundred, and, seventy, kilos.
Then you’ll stall, I guarantee it. With no flywheel effect, the Yamaha’s revs rise and fall like a very large, very angry, methanol-powered grass strimmer, and the clutch bites with all the subtlety of stepping onto a live rail.
But I like all that, and I think you will too. The Rocket is an experience, not an appliance. This isn’t about popping to the shops: it’s about a carefully planned weekend excursion or a hardcore trackday.
Tug the lever back for first, get underway and the Rocket begins to overwhelm your senses. The throttle is millimetre-perfect, so you have to tread carefully for fear of kangarooing like a drunkard. Nudge the solid little stub of aluminium forwards and you go up through the ‘box to sixth. Tug back down and you eventually find the long first again – but without any sort of display, even on our car’s optional and worthwhile digital dash, it’s hard to keep track of them.
For the first few hours of driving, there are the inevitable comedy moments where you go to change up only to bang down a gear by mistake. But as it takes a similar amount of time to build confidence to nail the Yamaha engine and set all dashboard lights blinking away in your field of vision, that’s not the disaster it might be.
My first encounter with the red line arrives heading away from the M2/M25 roundabout, towards the M25 and south. Leaving from the head of the queue, I shift up into second and explore the full reach of the Rocket’s (sensibly) long throttle travel. Only, I’ve forgotten I’m in low ratio for the stop-start traffic, which means all hell breaks loose and as I shift up at around 10,500rpm the tail snaps sideways. For a moment, it’s the Rocket and I, facing Armco, gut-wrenching phone call ringing in my ears. Off the gas, corrective steering, one huge expletive screamed and we gather it up, but it’s a proper ‘moment’.
Gradually though, you and the Rocket begin to click. You become well drilled to stopping, selecting the low ratio, moving away without stalling then nudging back into high ratio, depending on your surroundings. But even by the end of three days of driving, you can never, ever, fully acclimatise to the performance, or the noise.
Confidence has returned with experience. On tighter roads, the fingertip-light steering, grippy chassis and Porsche 911-esque handling start to make sense. You can take liberties, pile into a second gear bend, lift-off to unsettle the weight balance then gas it to capitalise on the broken grip. And it doesn’t bite you. Cue one very large grin.
But at higher speeds, the Rocket is unnerving. There’s no question, it’s hugely rapid point to point. And with such vast cross-drilled, ventilated discs at both ends and oversized Formula 3 spec’ AP callipers, it’ll haul up in the time it takes to say Light Car Company Rocket. But the thing is so light, so flighty, that you never fully trust the front end. Remember, it’s a good 130kg lighter than a Caterham Seven Superlight, and 100kg lighter than a road spec’ Ariel Atom.
The light steering, kick-back over mid-bend bumps and occasional sniffing around changing cambers and grooved surfaces keeps you on tenterhooks. That and the crosswinds, which can catch it out, plus the fact that the steering, at 2.4 turns lock to lock, isn’t really as direct as it could – and should - be. It’s not cheap either. The entry level 143bhp Rocket retails at £46,412. This 171bhp version, with all its bits n’ pieces, is £53,697.
Yet in super car terms, for the experience, the engineering purity and bespoke specification, it’s a steal. Small wonder Luke Craft has already sold five before the first reviews have even appeared.
It really does transport you to another world. Well, it is a Rocket…