From the sublime to the ridiculous. That's what everyone said about the lurch from Grand Tourer's last week to lightweight cars this week. But now is the perfect time, people. Despite some rainy evidence to the contrary, summer is upon us. And because you're not going on holiday this year, you're going to need a distraction - and what could be more distracting than a car which weighs less than a gnat's wing and goes like greased lightening? It is physically impossible to get bored in a car built with the track in mind, and what better protection from round two of coronavirus than a visor-down lid?
Of course, that isn't compulsory with this list. Choices must be road legal and MOT'd - so we won't be indulging anyone's longing for a trailer-bound racing car (sorry, Pete). At the same time, sports cars with a few bits of carbon trim aren't acceptable either; we mean 'lightweight' in the authentic sense. The way Colin Chapman meant it. Not the way Audi talks about the TT (sorry, Ben).
That distinction obviously suggests some usual suspects - but the segment is also populated by all sorts of niche-pleasing oddities so there's plenty of opportunity to go off-piste. For that reason, we've made the budget a generous £40k (because low volume, niche-pleasing oddities tend to be on the pricey side). But they do also tend to hold their value - so there's a good chance you'll be able to use the word 'investment' many times when discussing the purchase with a significant other. If they're very lucky, the car will have two seats. And maybe even a boot. No promises, though.
What better way to nail the Colin Chapman brief than with a car built on his ethos? Despite using a supercharged V6, the Series 3 Exige still weighs only 1,080kg, making it about as well suited to life on circuit as anything with number plates can be. Unlike some of the other possibilities, you get a roof and radio for the morning motorway drive, too.
Still, the real reason I've gone for an Exige S is its supply of 350hp to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual. Couple that S3-grade powerplant to the even-footedness of Lotus's long-running lightweight platform and it's really no wonder that fame and adulation resulted. An S3 is so obvious cut out for the track that brake and tyre temperatures are easily held within their limits lap after lap - even as you have the time of your life.
The Silverstone sticker and harnesses fitted to the car in question suggest its previous owner has been doing a good deal of that. Assuming it's as good as the ad suggests, it means you're only a tank of V-Power away from doing the same. Anything else, really, is just a substitute for what Lotus does best.
Trust Nic to pick the wrong Seven last month. Granted, the 270 is a great car; I had a hand in packaging a portion of the new range during my time at Caterham and I even built the first ever production 270R. But then the 310 came along with new cams (among a few other things) releasing an extra 17hp and 400rpm. It may not sound a lot, but in a car that weighs half a tonne, a few more revs and horsepower can make a whole lot of difference. Taking the sweet little 1.6-litre Sigma to the 7,200rpm redline never felt so good.
It's the modern day K-Series R300, and having driven almost every single Seven in the range, I can assure you this is the sweet spot and where my money would be going. There's sufficient power to have fun on the road (but still keep you on your toes), almost nobody will leave you behind on track, and a zinger of an exhaust note as your gear changes struggle to keep up is the cherry on top of a sweet, sweet pie.
Silly old Ben and his quaint preference for ye olde ways. A Caterham Seven is utterly splendid for scything through hedgerows like a crop duster - but if we're talking edge-of-the-envelope stuff, you ideally want something designed and built this century. Something made in Somerset and powered by a Japanese engine, for example.
Make no mistake, any Ariel Atom is brilliant. That includes the pant-wettingly fast ones. But I've a secret fondness for the 245hp naturally-aspirated car introduced with the second generation. For one thing, there is no need to worry about your pants; the VTEC unit makes 600-ish kilogram of space frame very brisk indeed - but not to the same extent as the supercharged variant.
Consequently you get on with business of enjoying that stupendous rear-mid engine balance without thinking twice before pushing the accelerator all the way to the floor. Plus you still get all the Ariel niceties; exceptional build quality, face-slapping physicality and buoyant prices. Sure, that makes it expensive to buy - the Atom in question is a decade older than Ben's 310R - but Ariel tends to make its premium felt. In 2020, it is the definitive lightweight-and-to-hell-with-it purchase.
At a very wet Oulton Park in 2002 I handed over my newly printed race license to Peter Browning, then competition secretary for MG. It was fitting to pass this to an unsung legend of Mini's rise to rallying prowess, as underneath the bonnet of my first race car I had an A-series engine similar to those which powered the car's Monte Carlo victories.
That was my first-ever race and my steed was a 1972 MG Midget, so it was hard to overlook this one in the classifieds as something lightweight and fun. In truth, I was searching for one fitted with a K-series engine to give it a little more modern vibe, but you can't really overlook the A-series (although our era-defining engines did). This one has a heavily modified 1380cc, and with a Kent 286 Rally Camshaft there ought to be a noticeable kick as it comes 'on cam'.
Stripped out as it is here this will be near on 650kg, and you could even spend a little more cash and stick on a fibreglass front-end to shave another 50kg. The modified engine is probably pushing 140hp giving it a bhp/tonne figure in the same ballpark as an M4 or Focus RS, all the while sitting not much more than a couple of centimetres from the floor.
The price is where this gets a little subjective - and I may have an ulterior motive, given there's one of these in my possession but currently stored away. Fingers crossed a well-prepared Midget justifies the amount - and that engine alone is going to be a large chunk of the cost - but still, this is top money. Though if you like to break with the establishment, and show small and nimble can take on anything, as Peter Browning did back in the 60s, then splash the cash. You won't regret it.
If you want to break from the establishment, Pete - this is how you do it. Zenos's whole game plan was about going its own way. Sadly, I've never driven one and therefore can't dredge up a personal anecdote (though, for what it's worth, Nic says the E10 R sounded like it was trying to pull your eardrum out - in a good way) but, well, just look at it!
I've loved the styling since launch, and while it seems like there were ultimately insufficient buyers who agreed with that assessment, to me it's redolent of a host of cars I've either owned or would one day like to own; Lotus Elise, MX-5, VX220 - maybe even the Smart Roadster, with squinting.
Of course, the E10 was about more than just looks. The real appeal here is the thought of achieving 500hp per tonne for under £40k. Zenos managed it by mounting a 2.3-litre Ford Ecoboost engine of obvious provenance in something that weighs about the same as the Midget. You hardly need to have driven the car to know that it's the ideal recipe for a thrilling experience.
Yes, there are more practical choices; ones with heaters and roofs (the Zenos has a "get you home" weather hood). But the E10 R has power, low mass, looks and the ultimate exclusivity that comes with no more being made, ever. Beat that.
I was heartbroken twice in 2015, both within a matter of weeks. Not only did the girl of my dreams, someone I predicted spending many happy decades with, unceremoniously dump me, I also drove an Alfa 4C. I'm still not sure which was more upsetting.
The promise of a light, engaging, thrilling Alfa Romeo sports car manifested itself as something wayward, unpredictable and more than a little bit scary. I gave it back, haven't driven one since, and don't really think much of the 4C - so why on earth is it here?
Alfa Works, that's why. Back when PH drove the AlfaWorks GT4C we praised the suspension work for less steering kickback, "massive" grip and stability plus increased confidence and predictability - which sounds perfect. This 4C isn't quite that wild, though it does have Alfa Works suspension modifications, so I'm hoping that it's unlocked at least some of the mid-engined magic that's clearly there.
Obviously it does without the immersion that comes with not have a roof - but we all know that sucks on the two-hour drive to Donington. For £36k with the Alfa Works upgrade, the 4C promises all the rewards of carbon construction, all the usability that comes with being a proper car and, crucially, all the romance that comes with having an Alfa Romeo sports car that looks as good as this. You don't get that with a Zenos...
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