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GINETTA

Thursday 4th August 2011


Driven (Just A Little Bit): Ginetta F400

It's the Farbio GTS Jim, but not as we know it...

In spite of its long-ish ancestry, the F400 really is 'new' thanks to Ginetta input
In spite of its long-ish ancestry, the F400 really is 'new' thanks to Ginetta input
Starting at 300bhp, with a 1050kg kerb weight and a proposed sub-£70k price tag, the next Ginetta road car is every bit as interesting as the G40R we've just reviewed.

The F400 project -to be renamed with a 'G' when it's launched later this year - has progressed miles since Lawrence Tomlinson bought out the optimistically titled Farbio Supercars Ltd in 2010. And judging from the boss's comments, there's been a bit of frustration along the way.

Carbon fibre body means low weight...
Carbon fibre body means low weight...
"I'd have been better off just buying the body moulds," admits Ginetta's owner LT ruefully when I pester him for details just before he lets me have a go in the F400 development prototype which is his daily driver.

LT was a gnat's away from completing a buyout of TVR from Peter Wheeler when 'the Russian' hove into view in 2004, and his acquisition of Ginetta shortly afterwards was perhaps an indication that here's a man who needs to scratch when itched. And the way Lawrence tells it, the purchase of Farbio verges on the impetuous: "I spent ten minutes in the car, and I thought the potential was so great that I didn't want it to die."

But you don't get to one-hundred-and-something in the Sunday Times Rich List by acts of wanton carelessness with cash (well I didn't... Ed), and LT isn't the sort of man to let problems stand in the way of his next success story.

...everything underneath is new.
...everything underneath is new.
So... over a period of 18 months, literally everything under the bodywork of the Farbio GTS has been binned, starting with the supercharged Mondeo V6, closely followed by the suspension, square tube fabricated chassis, and even the wiring loom. In fact it's been such a major task that he's had to unexpectedly bring the operation into Ginetta HQ in Garforth near Leeds so he can keep a proper eye on it.

Other Ginetta team members describe the project as 'Lawrence's baby', and say he's intimately involved in its development on a daily, if not hourly basis. And all this while a handful of existing Farbio buyers wait eagerly for cars they thought were ready for sale two years ago. Ginetta has promised to honour their orders, but LT won't release anything until he's happy, an approach he reckons will ultimately ensure those critical first owners will be happy too. Hang the cash flow.

Early customer cars are being upgraded
Early customer cars are being upgraded
Hence the rueful comments about the bodyshell being all that's left of his original investment, but even that's getting a bit of the LT treatment. Expect to see some small but significant differences to the final road car's exterior, with exposed carbon panels and ducts giving the machine a bit of extra visual whiz. Also expect to see a standard of overall detail and finish (inside and out) that's a sea-change from the Farbio approach - a car which for all its merits and aspirations still managed to looked slightly dodgy around the edges. Or as LT puts it, the original Farbio build "wasn't based around quality and repeatability".

So the new Ginetta version has a 3.7 litre Ford Cyclone V6 (as per the Mustang) nestling in its re-engineered metal tube chassis. But Ginetta's investments at HQ mean its got the company's bespoke dry sump, reworked cylinder heads and various other tweaks from the G55 racing car, which in turn means you'll be able to buy any state of tune from an entry-level (and road legal) 300bhp-ish to a thoroughly naughty 470bhp. (Should anyone insist on applying 'track only' options to their road car.)

Hands up who remembers the oldies?
Hands up who remembers the oldies?
Other input from LT has seen the F400 return to a more purist 'driver's' spec, with items like PAS and PAB relegated to the options list. "You can have power steering, but we'd prefer you didn't. You can have power brakes, but we'd prefer you not to..." he says. You get the picture.

So what's it like? The well-used development hack we tried is naturally a bit rough around the edges, and there's still some work to be done finessing the ride and handling. But first impressions around a coned circuit on the Elvington airfield were, well, impressive.

For starters, having just been forced to borrow a shoe-horn and a tub of Vaseline to ease my burly 6'4" frame in and out of the G40R (it's all right once you're in, just a bit tricky getting there), the amount of room in the F400 was astonishing. You sit low with your legs comfortably outstretched, and even tall drivers won't find their knees knocking on the steering wheel like Walter Rohrl in an early 911.

Another Ginetta to let the driver 'drive'
Another Ginetta to let the driver 'drive'
The normally aspirated V6 makes around 300bhp in Ginetta's 'standard' guise, and while it doesn't intrude much at start-up and cruising speeds, start to stretch it with the manual six-speed gearbox and a delicious snarl grows with the gathering revs behind you.

Like the G40R this car isn't about ultimate performance numbers, unless weight and not horsepower is your thing. But you can instantly feel the lightness, balance and agility inherent in a chassis which carries several hundred kgs less mass than a Porsche 911. There are no performance figures available yet, but LT reckons something under six seconds for the 0-60 sprint and a 160mph maximum. Like the G40R, the stats belie the pure undiluted pleasure to be derived from a machine like this if it's well set up.

The development mule is nearly that - there's a slightly longer steering arm on the way to reduce effort at the wheel, and a programme to tweak spring and damping rates is underway. When the work is signed-off, and if the target of £68k can be met, it's going to be an intriguing prospect for drivers looking for an alternative to the merry-go-round of ever heavier, and ever more powerful supercars on sale today.

Road cars and racers together
Road cars and racers together
Especially as LT only wants to sell 50 F400s a year, and hints at the possibility of a Ginetta finance package that will require 20% down, £900 a month for two years and a final balloon payment that could easily be less than the amount the next owner is willing to pay for your car. Assuming it's as desirable as the spec suggests.

Such low volume suggests the F400 is a stepping stone to greater things, but although LT admits to already thinking about the car's successor three or four years hence, he's sanguine about where Ginetta is headed.

"In 10 years I'll be happy if we're selling 150 road cars and another 150 race cars, if we're successful and financially stable, and if everyone's proud of what we're doing. We're not into world domination," he says. Except on the race track, perhaps, where a Ginetta G55 with the F400's (470bhp) engine will soon be available with a full GT3 aero pack - for roughly 1/3rd of the price of a Ferrari 458 racer. At this rate, Lawrence might even surprise himself.

Author: Chris-R

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Last comment was by grahamw48
on 6th August 2011