I’ve been following the progress of the Toniq R now for almost as long as I’ve been at the helm of PH. First encountered at a Motor Show back in the dim and distant, the car was at that time the subject of a Huddersfield Polyversity project.
I’m sure I -- like most -- assumed that this futuristic looking Seven-alike project would get a gold star from a beardsome course tutor and then be consigned to the history books whilst its designers got back to shagging, beering and running up huge debts.
That wasn’t the case however. Every few months since then we’ve had an update from the chaps at Toniq informing us of their latest developments and impending production. Like all good projects it’s the last 20 per cent that’s taken 80 per cent of the time.
No Cold War engineering
This year project founder Colin Williams has been joined by some new co-conspirators and as a result the project has had fresh impetus. It also has a fresh chassis (completely redesigned) and most encouragingly, it’s evident that the setup has been done by someone who knows their onions.
I first got to drive it up at RAF Honiton in Suffolk where Toniq’s Jim Cameron has been doing the development work. Jim -- full time army officer and full time petrolhead -- got the Station Commander’s permission to use the base’s runway and taxiways for shakedown testing. It’s been immensely useful for them, providing them with endless track time to get the setup just right.
It’s also a great place to test a car. While I’ve encountered the car at various shows, seeing the 21st century screamer rolled out of a nuclear bunker set the scene perfectly. It’s long overdue, but this truly is the first Sevenesque car that doesn’t look like it was designed during the Cold War.
The styling is ‘Marmite’. Some hate it, many love it, few seem indifferent. From many angles it looks superb, from the front, it looks skinny and quite 1920s with tall wheels and a slender nose. In motion, the length and slab sides give it a bath-tub type look, but overall it’s a clean, modern and well executed design. More importantly it’s the first design that has truly moved Chapman’s original concept on to another level. The interior is very much in keeping with the exterior. A swooping centre console hosts some delicious aluminium buttons, including the all-important start button. Instrumentation is simple and all the buttons and lights are tinted with blue light giving a nice modern feel. The ergonomics are good too – some flexibility in the seats, perhaps a little too much in the passenger seat but the positioning is good and it’s very comfortable.
Toniq-R in action
So what’s it like in action? In short: very, very good. I drove the bike-engined version (the Duratec wasn’t quite ready) at Brands Hatch today. In among some very quick machinery (Mac F1 included!), it didn’t take long to build confidence and circulate in a comfy gap in the traffic. It’s got steering wheel-mounted buttons for shifting gears which work superbly well -- and very intuitively. The red line was set at 10k today, more than enough to get the Toniq screaming and to balance it on the throttle through the bends. Bike-engined cars may lose out on the torque front, but they really are perfect for track day fun. Banging up and down through the gears, it just feels so right to be hugging 10,000rpm and to be able to change gear in an instant.
The balance is fine too. Together with well weighted, well geared steering allowed me to guide the car around the twisty Indy circuit while trying to suss out how far into the envelope I was. The truth was that I didn’t have enough skill to fill the envelope by any means. It’s a very, very capable car and it soon became apparent how rusty I am. With no windscreen to speak of you feel very exposed in the car and I suspect that held me back.
Having got into my rhythm, it was a case of building up speed in each bend, but I soon reached the point where although I knew the car was capable of far greater entry speeds, I just couldn’t push myself hard enough to explore them. Not a hint of understeer or oversteer could I find at my modest speeds. A subsequent passenger ride with Jim showed that there was at least 20mph more to be had in most bends, if not more.
The car wore some pretty tired track day rubber which gripped like the proverbial. In fact the grip levels were astonishing. Even with a bit of hooliganism, when Jim did get it to step out of line, it wasn’t dramatic and it only took a small twitch of the wheel to correct.
Driven hard, it doesn't bite
It would appear that Toniq have successfully created a very, very capable car. More importantly it’s a car with a soft boundary – once you start pushing its limits it won’t bite too hard. Sounds like the perfect formula for a track day toy.
Toniq is aiming to deliver the bike-engined versions for around £20,000 and the Duratec version for about £30,000. That might be a touch on the dear side and I hope it doesn’t discourage punters as it’s a project that deserves to succeed.
What do I like about it most? The fact that it’s a typically British achievement – brilliance from a few blokes in a shed -- or, in this case, a nuclear bunker.