Tuesday 2nd September 2008


Exclusive: GBRoadster Turbo S

The GBRoadster has 415bhp, weighs less than a tonne and is supercar fast. Ollie Stallwood is the first to drive the world's only RHD version


The wastegate may as well be piped directly into my right ear. It’s the kind of noise you would expect to be coming out of a heavily modified Japanese rally refugee and it is inches from my head. Woosh, shhhhh, woooosh - all of this accompanied by the surreal feeling of blood rushing to the rear of my skull as the car surges forward.


The acceleration is Caterham Superlight territory but in front of me are switches for air con, heated seats, an expensive stereo, Bluetooth...This is the first right-hand drive GBRoadster and this particular model is the ‘Turbo S’ which packs 415bhp and weighs 930kg – do the maths and that works out at 446bhp/tonne.

Despite the name this is actually a German car, having been dreamt up by Philipp Will and Herbert Funke, two students who studied at Cologne University. In Germany it is marketed as the Yes! Roadster but it was decided that this moniker wouldn’t work so well in Britain, so the name GBRoadster was used instead. Incidentally it stands for ‘German Built Roadster’ rather than the obvious.

The parts list is like a who’s who of German automotive giants – BMW ABS system, VW 3.2-litre V6, Audi RS4 wheels, Audi S3 rear brakes, Porsche anti-roll bars. The vehicles themselves are built by ex-Porsche factory technicians and the autographs of the six people who assembled each one can be found above the engine. There will only be 10 RHD Roadsters each year in the UK so exclusivity won’t be a problem.


The car is very small and looks like a mix of Ford GT90, Audi TT and Ford StreetKa, and overall it’s a pretty, if quirky-looking thing. I’ve come to Champ Cars in Oxfordshire – the sole UK importer – to have a drive. The Turbo S is a more powerful version of the 355bhp Turbo (£59,995) and is only available on special order and designed for track days. There is also a £47,995 normally aspirated version that has 255bhp but is lighter at 890kgs.

The doors are a nice touch but take a bit of getting used to – they are like Lamborghini doors but also swing outwards slightly – and once you are inside it is cosy but not too cramped. This is a rear-drive car that only makes do with ABS – there is no namby-pamby stability or traction control - so I am thanking the heavens that the rain has held off. Gary Champ, of Champ cars, assures me that it is incredibly quick. 0-60mph takes 3.4 seconds and the top speed is an estimated 200mph, which seems insane in such a compact car.


The pedals are offset to the left but apart from that the driving position is good. The Bilstein dampers do a fine job of soaking up bumps and no doubt thanks to the car’s low weight it rides extremely well. It’s an odd experience, the bonnet is very short and the car feels tiny but all the controls have a chunkiness to them. The steering is very meaty and has a ultra fast rack meaning the slightest of inputs change the car’s direction immediately.

It’s almost too much, making you feel a bit edgy, and always aware that there is a ludicrous amount of firepower behind your shoulders. This is not a car you just jump in and drive smoothly, it takes a bit of work, you have to concentrate constantly. Once we get out of the town I come across a stretch of dual carriageway.

Gary looks slightly nervous and gives me another reminder of how quick the car is. The weird thing about it is it looks so sweet and innocent so you don’t really expect it to be LP640 quick. But it is. The 3.2-litre engine from the Golf R32 is a smooth unit and the first couple of thousand revs trick you into thinking that it will be a progressive power delivery. Then the turbo kicks harder than Lily Allen surrounded by paparazzi. It’s a sledgehammer of boost, turning the car from quick to warp speed.


It feels unnerving in a car that is the same size as a baked bean tin and as I change gear it’s back on boost again, simply biting chunks out of the road ahead of me. There is a roundabout fast approaching and I lean on the brakes, which are Brembos up front. They aren’t assisted and there isn’t the kind of bite you are expecting. You have to push the pedal down quite hard before they start to work, almost like a race car, but there is a moment when you think you aren’t going to stop.

Where the GBR really surprises is on bumpy backroads. Many ultra-quick cars would become a bag of bump steer but the GBR’s body control is impressive. The more you drive it the smoother you get, gaining satisfaction from taming it, although it always feels like you will never quite get control of its wild side.


To be honest it’s probably got too much power and can be a complete handful a lot of the time. It seems like a good case for less-is-more, and I wonder whether the standard 3.2 would be an easier cross country tool, and perhaps not that much slower. The noise of the wastegate exploding everytime you use your right foot is addictive though and the acceleration is firmly in supercar territory, which would be amusing if it wasn’t so eye-wateringly scary. Put it this way: if you want a Caterham R500 or Ariel Atom but can’t do without your creature comforts maybe this is the answer.

 

Author: Oli S

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