DRIVEN: ZOLFE GTC4
What happens when Caterham's former technical director starts afresh? The Zolfe GTC4, it would seem
At first glance there's a distinct whiff of Chevron to the intriguingly named Zolfe GTC4. The big rear wheel arches, for instance, look decidedly like those of a B6. Indeed the whole car has a distinct 1960s racer look to it and, when I voice this opinion to Coates, he explains this was the precise intention behind the car's styling.
"We wanted to come up with a shape that's reminiscent of another era, something that was not so much a copy but a homage to yesteryear - even though the car is reasonably cutting edge beneath the skin," says Coates.
The idea behind its dynamic personality isn't exactly lacking in seduction either, because there are no frills whatsoever in this car. Anti-lock brakes, power steering and traction control have each been eschewed in the name of purity. The fun factor is what counts, just as it was when Coates was in charge at Caterham. It's the sort of car that's designed to make you burst out laughing when behind the wheel, in much the same way as Ginetta's new G40R is.
The engine is a straightforward 2.0-litre, four-cylinder unit, supplied by either Mazda or Ford depending on how much poke you want. As much as possible is the correct answer, our test car boasting a 2.3-litre Ford motor with 280hp, both engine options developed with respected Duratec specialists Raceline. A bespoke induction system and sump means Zolfe can maintain the nine-degree slant to the installation as per the MX-5 from which the gearbox and other running gear are sourced, improving the packaging and easing the fitment. Suspension is by double unequal length wishbones all round running Bilstein dampers and Eibach springs while the brakes are huge ventilated discs grabbed by AP calipers.
The killer stat, however, is the Zolfe's kerbweight. Anyone who knows Coates from his days at Caterham will be aware of his obsession with kilograms, and in this case the number is a deeply impressive 698kg. And that's not a cheat figure minus paint or fluids - that's a genuine all-up number that, if you do the maths, equates to a whopping 401hp per tonne on this car. And that's not bad for a starting price of £32,000, swelled to nearer £38K with the naughty engine installed, it's fair to point out.
There are two more key aspects of the car about which Mr Coates is particularly chuffed. One, the chassis is over four times stiffer than that of a Caterham Seven. Two, despite its diminutive proportions, this car can accommodate a 95th percentile male who's wearing a crash helmet and all the trimmings. So it's nowhere near as impractical as it may seem, to the extent there's even a decent size boot behind the seats which, on production versions, will be accessed via a folding rear hatchback a la TVR Sagaris.
The whole idea behind the Zolfe is to offer a car that's practical enough to be used on the road, but which will blow the socks off most other stuff at track days. It's very much in the mould of the G40R in that sense, not just in its size and price but in its intended audience too. Except for one key difference: with a 280hp engine powering the rear wheels and a kerbweight the right side of 700kg, the Zolfe is a whole lot meaner than the G40R, similar target audience or no.
Laugh a minute
But what's more impressive still is the agility of the Zolfe on the road, and the lack of space it needs in which to operate. And what happens when you nail the throttle and hold it there for a while. The gearing is quite long, so even at the top of first there's a decent amount of traction. On a dry road. On a wet one you'll crab sideways in most of the first three gears if you give it some, so much grunt is there on tap.
And because the ride isn't crazy-stiff and the suspension has been set up to be usable on the road, you can cover ground at a fairly astonishing rate - while at the same time having a ball behind the wheel. Too often it's a case of one or t'other with cars like this, but the Zolfe gets that balance between pure speed and basic driver involvement just right.
If you've had a few Seven-style cars in the past and the novelty of getting wet or losing fingernails trying to put the hood up in a hurry has worn off the Zolfe is very much worthy of serious consideration. And for anyone wanting to learn what car control is all about it's absolutely the real deal and a very impressive debut.
Engine: 2,300cc, 4-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 280@7,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 200@6,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.5sec (approx)
Top speed: 140mph
MPG: 26mpg (test)