Like many a petrolhead, I travelled up to the Motorshow at the NEC a few months back. Whilst meandering around checking out the latest offerings, a friend mentioned that the small sportscar we were admiring was in fact made in Buckingham. As I grew up just a few miles outside Buckingham, I enquired further about the car’s history and the company.
The car was Deronda’s prototype F400. A small, two-seater in a similar, yet distinctively different guise, to the Ariel Atom. After spending a good 30 minutes chatting to the company’s owner, Andy Round, I left my details and carried on looking around.
A week or so later, after the hype of the Motorshow had died down, I received a phone call one evening from Andy. We talked about all sorts of petrol related topics for over an hour. That time flew past and it was obvious to me that this man wasn’t just a car manufacturer, but a true enthusiast. A perfect pub companion to down a few pints with.
Part of the conversation was about how he was running a few trackdays to show potential owners the car. I took him up on this offer and the ensuing article is an account of the day spent in sunny Bruntingthorpe in July of 2004.
He found Mark Taylor and Steve Bones from Fabrication Techniques, the same company that made the major components for the Foggy Petronas race bike. Mark did the artistic and engineering designs from Andy’s original one page plans over the next year. Fabrication Techniques have also made the 24 race cars that are used for corporate entertainment at Rockingham.
Deronda and Fab Tech spent 2002 designing the car, bringing in their favourite influences from other cars. 2003 saw the prototype being developed and the car was unveiled at the 2004 Autosport Show.
A mid-mounted engine normally found in the Audi A4 is attached to a lightweight chassis with double wishbone Formula-1 style suspension from Ohlins. 4 pot calliper brakes from AP Racing provide incredible deceleration.
The engine is an Audi 1.8litre DOHC turbo, generating 210bhp but more importantly 225lb ft of torque. This gives the F400 a distinct advantage over bike engined cars, as low down in the rev range the Deronda pulls strongly all the way to its 6,600rpm limiter.
The F400 uses a standard 5 speed manual box, which was just beautiful to use. Slick gear changes are easily made. It is also an Audi unit, which means reliability of both the engine and gearbox will be top notch. So much so that Deronda recommends a 12,000 mile service interval. On a car of this performance that is incredible.
Andy chose to use the best parts he could, so Ohlins supplies the suspension units with adjustable everything. The advantage of a car like the Deronda is that the owner can adjust the suspension at the racetrack however he or she desires. The F400 uses a pushrod design and all the wishbones are aerodynamically shaped.
Although comparisons with the Ariel Atom will always be made, the Deronda has its own unique look. The build quality really has to be seen; the workmanship is first class. Designing a car that takes a narrow front and rear, with enough space in the middle for two passengers is not an easy task, however, on a personal level I think Andy has done a fine job. I especially like the wing mirrors, which look like those from the Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale.
The interior styling is functional but also pleasing to the eye. The pedal box is fully adjustable to take drivers from 5ft 2 right up to those who should be on a basketball court. A conversion to LHD is also easily achievable; in fact it can be done by the owner of the car in less than three hours with standard tools.
It is all well and good bolting a powerful engine to a lightweight chassis, but I wouldn’t like to be in the wreck after a crash. Deronda have made sure that the car is as safe as it is fast. In addition to the main chassis, the F400 benefits from double side impact protection and double rollover bars. Full harnesses and race seats mean the driver and passenger are safely held in. Additionally, being a 6ft 3 man of not slight build, I was amazed about how much space I had inside. Much more than an Elise or Caterham. In fact, the interior dimensions are modelled on the Porsche 996.
Out onto the circuit
Now we know all about the actual car, the important part of the day was in the driving. A few laps by my excellent instructor, Adrian Timms, showed me the lines and then it was time to climb in and get ready. Getting into the Deronda is actually a lot easier than it looks. A bit of a sill to clamber over and you’re in.
Pulling out of the pit area onto the track and the first impression is positive. A long throttle movement made a relative trackday novice such as myself gain confidence easily. The braking was firm without any movement in the car's direction under heavy braking. The brake pedal feel didn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but the pads were both new and race spec so they needed warming. Once up to temperature they were sensational. The steering was especially impressive, being very direct and the amount of feedback it gave you was substantial.
Having around 400bhp/tonne one would expect the car to be a real handful. In reality, the car is very easy to live with. It feels absolutely planted in corners. EVO recently tested the car and said on one occasion it understeered, during the other it oversteered. This was due to the car being a prototype under development. Subsequent refinement of the suspension settings has resulted in a car, which is very neutral in handling.
None of the drivers on the day complained about under steer, and if you want to have some over steer fun then just add a few more revs than normal and the rear end will controllably step out of line. A very capable car that even impressed the instructor Adrian; although he was a regular on the circuit, he hadn’t even seen the car before. Most notable is the fact that none of the original parts have been changed; only thing that has been adjusted are the settings of the components.
The car will accelerate from 0-60 in sub 4 seconds. The top speed is in excess of 140mph, with 130 easily achievable even on the short straight at Bruntingthorpe, with 100 coming up in well under 10 seconds. The really impressive attribute of the F400 is its ability low down in the rev range. It pulls strongly out of corners. The low down torque coupled with the higher rev range of the turbo means the car has a wide power range, a nice change from the narrow bands of the motorbike engined track day cars. The turbo spools up to a good pressure from just 2000 revs, right up to the 6,600 rev line. Impressive stuff indeed.
Due to the car being just a prototype, we weren’t able to go out onto her majesty’s highways. However, it is important to note that this isn’t just an all out trackday weapon. Although it will keep up with all the trackday cars around (we were abolishing the Caterhams and single seaters that were also on track at Bruntingthorpe), the design is such that a few tweeks will make it as easy to drive on road as an Elise or touring Caterham.
Deronda is quoting £26,995 for the F400, with the first customer car being delivered in November. Extras in the pipeline include full windscreen and weather kit. This has yet to be unveiled, but Deronda is promising something special. The rest of the car is a true masterpiece, so the options are bound to be equally impressive. The real beauty of this company is when you ring the company, you speak to the designer, owner, manager, accountant and tea-boy all at the same time. Andy is an enthusiast like us all, he has made the car he would buy, and that car just happens to be rather fantastic.