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Wednesday 14th June 2006


ASCARI KZ1

Nauman Farooq drives the rare, carbon-fibre supercar from Banbury

Ascari KZ1
Ascari KZ1

There are cars that make you smile. There are cars that make you angry. However, very few cars make you more religious. Enter the Ascari KZ1, a car that possesses this very rare quality. Why you may ask?

Simple, the moment you stab the throttle in this phenomenal machine, the force with which it'll shoot you forward will have you calling out for Jesus, Buddha or any other religious figure you care to mention.

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Racing pedigree

Yes, this car is stunningly fast, but wherever I went, the first question most people asked was not how fast, but what is it?

The name Ascari comes from Alberto Ascari, a famous racing driver from the 1950s. This little known car company has been around for 11 years now. Originally set up in Dorset, England, the company moved to its new headquarters in Banbury back in 2000. While its earlier cars, the FGT and its later derivative the Ecosse were produced in the old factory, the new premises was designed in mind to build Ascari's new car, the KZ1.

It's not just road cars Ascari produces either, since 1999 Team Ascari has been operational, competing in Le Mans and the Daytona 24 hour races, in the LMP category. It's also now competing in the World FIA sports car championship and the Spanish GT championship with a racing version of the KZ1 road car.

By now you may be wondering how a car company that very few people have even heard of around the world is able to spend this amount of money on racing? The answer lies with company owner, Klaas Zwart, who was described by his company's sales manager Chris Burton as "the biggest petrolhead in the world".

Dutch by origin, Zwart made his fortune in petro-chemicals in Scotland, and is using his wealth not only to acquire the best cars in the world -- Zwart does have a nice collection of F1 racing cars, including the 1995 Ferrari F1 car that won the Canadian Grand Prix in the hands of Jean Alesi -- but also to build his own.

The older FGT and Ecosse can be seen as a joint project, involving outside designers, the KZ1 is an original work of art. His original sketch can be seen hanging in the factory's reception area, and shows how similar the car actually is to its designers vision.

His vision was to create a genuine driver's car with neither electronic nannies to sort out your driving deficiencies nor weight to hold you back. The entire car is made out of carbon-fibre: the tub is a big carbon-fibre box as is the one-piece body. Only the doors, bumpers and bonnet are not made of this expensive but tough material; you don't want to put a ding in the wrong place on this car. This helps make the car very light indeed, tipping the scales at only 1,330kg; even a Ferrari Enzo weighs 1,365kg.

Motive power

The engine for this lightweight rocket is mounted midships -- about six inches behind your ears. It's a 5.0 litre 32-valve V8, that started life as the previous-generation BMW M5 engine. Ascari's technicians then replace almost everything to make it lighter, more powerful and even more efficient. The end result is a power boost from 400bhp in its original guise to 500bhp in the KZ1. So much has changed in this engine, including its own unique engine management system that you can't just take it to a BMW mechanic and expect him to work on it properly.

Those 500 horses and 368lb-ft of torque are sent only to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox -- the same gearbox you'll find in a Pagani Zonda.

You will hear those horses too, this car is really properly loud, so much so, that even the stereo couldn't have its sound heard over the engine. That's ok though, who wants to listen to pop music when you have an orchestra under the control of your right foot.

Plus, you wouldn't know what song you're listening to anyway, because when you put your foot down, this car requires all your immediate attention. Having no traction control means it is very eager to vaporise its rear tyres. It was happy to smoke its 12-inch-wide rear rubber at 70 mph, in second gear.

It'll take not much time at all to double that speed either, not that I should know, officer! Official performance numbers are 0-60 mph in 3.6 seconds and on to a top speed, according to the brochure, of about 200 mph. Fast enough don't you think?

Handling

It's also very fast through corners. Thanks to its light weight and a wonderfully set up chassis and suspension, this car has huge reserves of grip in corners and next to no body roll at all. The cars are configured for mild understeer, although you can turn that into oversteer quite easily if you twitch your toe in the middle of a corner. In normal driving, it poses no threat of getting away from you, it's that well-behaved.

In fact, when cruising on the highway, this car is remarkable civilised. The car shows no tendency to tramline, it rides comfortably too, and the controls have a comfortable feel to them with the steering just right. The clutch is fine, not too heavy or light; the gearbox is a bit on the heavy side and is a bit notchy.

Piloting this car is actually quite easy. You get a great driving position which lets you see the flank of this car, making it easy to manoeuvre around, and even the rear-three quarter vision isn't bad. However, when you're on the highway, the speed activated rear-spoiler (at 50 mph) stands to attention, making the inside rear view mirror useless.

Other than that, covering distance is easy. You sit on comfortable seats, and you are surrounded by items that are specifically hand-made just for this car (you won't find any parts bin items in here, Zwart wanted everything to be made to his taste). This truly is an exquisite, rare and unique automobile.

Rarity value

How rare? Ascari only plans on making a total of 50 KZ1s for the world, and that's it. About 13 cars have been delivered thus far, one of which was recently delivered to a customer in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

How much you ask? The car only comes one way and it'll set you back £235,000.

Now the big question, is it worth it? I don't think that value for money is a huge question is the minds of the people who can afford to buy this car. Trust me, if you can afford it, you won't ask if its worth the extra money over a Ferrari F430 or if it's as savagely fast as a Lamborghini Murcielago LP640. You'd buy it because you love cars and you want something that is a bit out of the ordinary.

Would I? I'll tell you when I'll actually have that sort of money.