While plenty of history has been made at former RAF bases, none of it has been quite like this. Because on the dinky little 0.6-mile circuit that has been carved from the one-time taxiways of RAF Bicester, now better known as Bicester Heritage, I'm the first journalist in the world to experience a fully electric Ferrari.
The timing is down to luck rather than judgement - several other hacks will be experiencing it after me, and I only got my beach towel down by arriving unfashionably early. But the car itself is a genuine pioneer, because this 75 percent scale version of the famous 'pontoon fender' 250 Testa Rossa is not just a licenced product, but an actual Ferrari. Just one that will be made in Buckinghamshire by the Little Car Company, the same company behind the Bugatti Baby II and DB5 Junior.
"We were a bit nervous when we sent the prototype to Italy, as you can imagine," says LCC boss, Ben Hedley, "but there were just two comments. They wanted a leather strap for the boot, like the original - and they also said it needed to carry a proper Ferrari chassis plate."
The lack of any kind of road legality - even of the nudge-nudge IVA variety - means the Testa Rossa Junior won't carry an international 17-digit VIN number on this plate. Yet from Ferrari's perspective it's an official car, with Maranello even planning to offer originality certification from its Classiche division. Meaning that, with a pre-tax price that starts at €93,000 before tax and options, this is also the cheapest new Ferrari on sale. Although one that only has 16hp.
When LCC announced plans for the Bugatti Baby II many critics saw little more than a hugely expensive child's toy and reckoned demand for such fripperies would be small and fleeting. That wasn't the case, with the company now looking seriously at how to expand its production capacity. The TR Junior is the latest project, but it won't be the last - an 'upsized' version of the Tamiya remote controlled truck has already been announced. And although we'll have to wait for official confirmation of future partnerships beyond that, I can say that some of the sheets that had been thrown over prototypes in the workshop (before they let the hacks in) were sitting over very recognisable shapes.
Getting close to the baby Testa Rossa proves toy jibes are very wide of the mark, the reality good enough to defy even high level cynicism. Beyond the obvious lack of a Columbo V12 and manual gearbox it has been engineered as a slightly downsized replica of the original car, with chassis, suspension and hand-formed aluminium body panels based on Ferrari's original drawings. Details like the period correct Nardi steering wheel and repurposed gauges, which now report on the state of the electrical powertrain, using the correct original font. The changes that have been made are carefully considered and have come for legitimate reasons. So the Junior's floorpan has been slightly lowered so occupants get more protection from the dinky screen, and the original car's prominent side exhaust pipes are omitted because - as Hedley puts it - "they'd look pretty silly as there isn't an engine." The 12-inch wire wheels look right, but are actually slightly over-scale, this allowing them to use 125-profile Pirelli tyres designed for the original Fiat 500.
Beyond the rear-mounted electric motor, there have been mechanical changes. The biggest is the arrival of an optional anti-roll bar, plus anachronistic all-wheel disc brakes. (The original Testa Rossa pre-dated their arrival, although most race cars were subsequently upgraded.) The powertrain is also more potent than the one fitted to the earlier LCC offerings, with the 16hp motor powered by a trio of 48V batteries under the bonnet. Each of these is rated at 1.9kWh, giving a combined total reckoned to be up to 60 miles of range when driven gently. Enough to roam around even the biggest private estates.
As with the earlier LCC cars there are different power outputs designed for different levels of experience, the idea being that the Junior will be used to introduce children to the idea of driving. As this is a Ferrari they are controlled by what looks like a miniaturized manettino, which is actually a key to allow the car to be locked into its various modes. Novice limits it to just 1.3hp and a 12mph top speed, Comfort increases that to 5.5hp and ups the limiter to 28mph and both Sport and Race take it to the full 16hp. One other neat detail that isn't immediately obvious: the pedals come from an F8 Tributo.
The sight of a full-sized bloke driving a three-quarter-sized car is always going to be ridiculous, and so the pictures prove. But that doesn't really matter given the outsized amount of fun on offer. Getting into the tiny cockpit is a squeeze - fortunately the steering wheel can be removed to improve access. Once in place and folded around the wooden rim my head is well above the windscreen line, and the obvious risk of grinning is that it will bring a mouthful of debris and spray from the wet track surface.
The manettino is quickly cycled through its gentler settings - it's hard to believe any Testa Rossa Junior will stay in them for long. Facing Bicester's test track I opt for Race and the full 16hp. While performance is immediate and the baby Testa Rossa launches hard, acceleration starts to fade as the speedometer needle passes its 50km/h mark and it takes the track's longest straight to bring the treacle slick sensation of the 70km/h limiter. Meaning I'm flat out at an indicated 44mph.
Even on a slippery circuit, and without any traction control, the Junior was clearly lacking the sort of radical throttle adjustability that full-sized racing Ferraris from this period still occasionally demonstrate in historic racing; it took serious provocation to produce even a small amount of oversteer. Granted, my mass was hardly helping the car's power-to-weight ratio - the car itself is just 260kg - and the slightly understeery handling balance is definitely preferable in a car that's likely to be mostly powered by novices.
But driving at any speed is huge fun. The quick geared steering has just 1.5 turns between its stops, and there isn't much front-end lock for manoeuvring, but it delivers both keen front-end responses and some proper feedback from the baby tyres. The tiny brake discs bite reassuringly hard through a solid-feeling pedal and the Junior can be safely trail braked into a turn, the chassis resists pitch and dive well, and although the ride is firm it doesn't feel harsh over broken surfaces. It's certainly a far more dynamically focussed proposition than the Bugatti Baby II, although it would require the world's cutest race to really highlight the difference in performance.
The Little Car Company's growing success is unlikely to get too many doubters to change their minds, but it does prove there is definitely a market for cars like this. You would have to be incredibly rich to consider spending so much on a miniaturized replica Ferrari that can't be driven on the road, and ticking the option boxes for the Boranni wire wheels and selecting a personalized paint colour, if none of the 14 historic liveries suit, will indeed push the post-tax price into six figures.
But turn that one around: if you are at the sharp end of the one percent then this offers something completely different to the garage full of exotica you doubtless already possess, a car that will give your offspring a gentle introduction to the top-flight classics they will eventually inherit. According to Hedley half of the 299 production run has already been sold, so if you're struggling to decide between one of these or the 599 GTB you could get for similar money then don't hang around for too long.
SPECIFICATION | FERRARI TESTA ROSSA J
Engine: 48V electric motor
Transmission: Single-speed reduction, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 16
Torque (lb ft): TBC
Top speed: 44mph
Weight: 260kg (w/o driver)
Price: €93,000 base (excluding tax) £95,040 at current exchange rates with VAT.
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