Even the most ardent car enthusiast may not have heard of
, the Czechoslovakian manufacturer established in 1907. Yes, 108 years ago. For more than a century it has been engineering planes, karts, lorries and, yes, a few cars too. The
you see here is built off the R1 racer, around 30 of which currently reside in America. This is not, you may cruelly have imagined, some quickly thrown together Caterfield rival.
Prepping and praying in the pits
The R1 R is in fact the first Praga road car for 68 years. The official line goes that "based on a decision by the governing Communist party, Praga ended its production of passenger cars and fully focused on the production of lorries." Make of that what you will... To mark the momentous occasion, 68 cars will be produced and deliveries should begin next year.
Now the plan for our Silverstone drive of both Praga models was simple: use the Goldtrack track day to try the racer (and hopefully embarrass a few RS Porsches) and then try the roadgoing car on a few of the lanes around the circuit. The autumnal fog had other ideas...
So sadly there aren't any circuit impressions this time round, the track day eventually cancelled at lunchtime. A real shame, especially given the sun finally put his hat on and came out to play about 20 minutes later. One to revisit in 2016, for sure.
It's smaller than you think!
What a morning milling around the Silverstone paddock did allow for though is a really detailed look around both cars. What you probably can't appreciate from the photos is just how small the Praga is, the LMP-style aesthetic immediately implying larger dimensions. It is in fact just 4,124mm long only 10cm longer than a Kia Rio. Sitting just 956mm tall and 1,800mm wide, it's a very dainty car. Sadly the gorgeous rear tail lights of the racer, the thin slivers of red slashed across the back, have gone for the R1 R but it remains very pretty to these eyes. Up close the details can really be appreciated too; the lustrous paint finish, how the doors feel light but substantial too, the Koni inboard suspension. Flashes of the carbon construction are plain to see also, reasserting the idea. The Praga is a very expensive car - a point we will return to - but on first impressions it feels a very high quality product.
That feel is maintained inside, once you've hoiked yourself through into the near-horizontal driving position. The stitching is very nice, the switchgear (in the roof!) is logical and another person can be squeezed in if required. A quick way to learn a lot about someone... It feels a very well thought out interior, that which there is.
20 minutes after the fog cancelled the track day...
Master switch on, ignition primed and it's ready to start. The Praga is powered by a Formula Renault 2.0-litre engine, tweaked here with Praga's own turbo and electronics. It's a gritty, brusque kind of engine, not perhaps one to be savoured like a Caterham Duratec shrieking to 8,000rpm but devastatingly effective, as soon becomes apparent.
A button on the dash allows first, neutral and reverse to be selected, which seems odd at first but makes sense after soon after. The centrifugal clutch begins to bite at about 1,400rpm and is fully engaged by 1,800rpm, a process that isn't quite that easy to meter out because of how much throttle is required.
Soon though you're chuntering along, feet skewed as part of the two-seat arrangement and wondering what on earth to say to the photographer. Second slams through the sequential 'box instantaneously, followed swiftly by third and fourth as we try to build up some temperature.
Apart from the obvious sensations from sitting so low, what becomes quickly apparent in the Praga is how well damped it is. Naturally it's firm, but the flow and suppleness on some of the local roads points to months of set-up development using expensive parts. With the knowledge and confidence that the car won't be deflected or upset, you can begin to push a little further...
"Just popping out for some milk"
Race car for the ... actually
Hell is it fast. With 390hp and a 670kg kerbweight, Praga claims 575hp per tonne. It's believable! Perhaps it's just behind the lunatic intensity of a
but there's that same sense of huge power relentlessly throwing along not a great deal of mass. Though the R1 seems keenest at high revs, the turbo means there's torque low down too and just ceaseless acceleration. The couple of times the shift lights are illuminated at certainly feels rapid enough thanks very much.
Without a great deal of time behind the wheel, it's hard to be conclusive on the other dynamic elements. The unassisted steering is direct but not hugely feelsome, something you suspect will emerge with some proper load on the tyres. The brakes too are very strong once into them, but the initial pedal response when cold isn't the best. And it's left-foot braking or nothing with the R1: "Drive it like a go-kart!" say the Praga guys. But then a car like this on roads like that is akin to putting an Olympic sprinter in the school sports day; it will still be faster than everything else while also feeling awkward and uncomfortable so far from its natural environment. The visibility is very good though...
So it's a frustratingly brief drive of the Praga, but there's plenty to be encouraged by. It feels exceptionally well built and the speed is in no doubt, with the added appeal of genuine exclusivity too. In paddocks full of similar cars, that shouldn't be underestimated. The list price of 198,000 euros (around £140,000) is certainly high, particularly in the context of the £143,500
Radical RXC Turbo 500
with another 140hp and a V6, but on this experience that's not an unreasonable sum. The track test next year really can't come soon enough! To be continued...
Engine: 1,998cc in-line four turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed sequential, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 390@6,750rpm
Torque (lb ft): 391@4,200rpm
Top speed: mph
Price: 198,000 euros (£139,687.31 as of 11/11/15)