Road car news

Goodwood’s supercar bonanza
Manufacturers flock to impress their dream captive audience | by Andrew Frankel

The supercar paddock at the Goodwood Festival of Speed was more packed than ever this year. Manufacturers realise there is nowhere else on earth where new models can be demonstrated to a larger crowd of genuinely potential prospects. This is why many new supercars were seen driving in public for the very first time. Some 75 of them wowed the crowds – and with none of the carnage that has traditionally accompanied this section of the festival. Very sensibly, Goodwood now requires all supercar drivers also to be competition licence holders. So you need a race licence to drive a road car, but you can drive a race car with just a road licence. Sounds crazy, but it works.

Most obviously there was the McLaren P1, which was being hurled around with great aplomb by Jenson Button. He reckoned its speed up the hill was close to anything he’d achieved there in F1 cars in previous years, but I was just as keen to see the Alfa Romeo 4C in action.

The mid-engined, carbon-chassis 4C is a car unlike any other in the market. Conceptually close to the likes of the Porsche Cayman and Lotus Evora, what appears to make it so different – and why I am so excited about it – is Alfa’s claim of an 895kg dry weight. Even if that heads north of a tonne once fuel, water, oil and a driver are added, it will still be a minimum of 300kg lighter than the Cayman and Evora at which it is aimed. So while it may only have a 237bhp, four-cylinder engine, it’s still going to have a rousing power to weight ratio, more than enough for performance at least on a par with more powerful but heavier rivals.

Demand for the £50,000 car appears so strong that Alfa is quietly kicking itself that it won’t be able to make more that 2500 per year, but I think that number is perfect. It’s enough to ensure that anyone who wants one will be able to get one even if they have to wait a little while, but not so many that residual values will be adversely affected. This way it will be able to do its most important job, which is not to thrill the likes of you or me, but help rebuild the image of this brand ahead of its relaunch into North America.

There was another lightweight, mid-engined two seat coupé also making its dynamic debut, though the name will be less familiar than Alfa Romeo. The curiously entitled Sin R1 is a German machine built in Munich around a British carbon-fibre chassis from ProFormance Metals. Power comes from the default motor of choice for almost anyone seeking a lot of cheap, reliable and well-developed horsepower, the Chevrolet LS3 6.2-litre V8. In this state of tune it provides the R1 with a 525bhp kick in a car that, like the 4C, is said also to weigh less than a tonne. No wonder they’re talking about Bugatti-busting performance.

We have of course seen many great looking, lightweight supercars over the years and very few have made it into proper production. Designing, engineering and building such a car might seem like a vast challenge, but it is a trip to the shops compared to the difficulty of producing a reasonable number of consistently high quality for a price the customer will pay and that will also allow you to stay in business.

I have no better idea than you if the car will succeed, but I am sure you will join with me in wishing it well.

Much the same can be said of the extraordinary looking Vuhl 05, a Mexican designed and built two-seat track-day car looking to steal business from the likes of Caterham, Ariel and KTM. It certainly looks the part and with a 285bhp Ford 2-litre turbo motor driving the rear wheels, its quick enough to reach 62mph in 3.7sec. But at £60,000 it costs almost twice what you’d pay for a basic Ariel Atom, so it will need to be beyond brilliant to make customers walk past the established high quality players and spend that much money on an unknown car from Mexico.

Just to give you an idea of what Vuhl is taking on, Caterham used Goodwood to launch its new 620R. At £49,995 it’s by some margin the most expensive Caterham road car ever, but with a supercharged 2-litre motor producing 311bhp, Caterham says it’ll do better than 2.8sec to 60mph and it still costs £10,000 less than the Vuhl. Sadly we will have to wait until later in the year for the Caterham about which I am just as excited: a new Seven born on the original’s back-to-basics principle and slated to cost as little as £15,000.

Datsun lives again

Thirty years after we all thought (and most hoped) it was gone for good, Datsun is back. Nissan has exhumed the moribund marque and relaunched it with a Micra-based budget hatchback built and intended for sale in India at a price below £4400. The hatch is called Go and will be the first in a series of small, cheap cars aimed at scoring big sales not just in India but also Russia, South Africa and Indonesia. There are no plans – or at least none to which Nissan will admit – to reintroduce Datsun to the UK.

Many of us will still have a good Datsun story. Mine concerns a chum with whom I became friends when I was 16, because he was a year older and had both driving licence and car. This was a Datsun 120Y F2 coupé. In time he passed his A-levels and was offered a place to study medicine at Dundee University – an inconvenient distance from his home in the Channel Islands. Undeterred, he did the journey dozens of times in this hideous car until the day he returned to the multi-storey car park where he’d left it to do some shopping, and it refused to start. Upon further examination, he discovered the reason for the car’s recalcitrance was that the motor had fallen through the engine bay and was now sitting on the concrete car park floor. He walked away and never saw it again. Its mortal remains might still be there, though knowing how those cars rusted I somehow doubt it.

Sales boost for Jaguar
New sales figures suggest that, after years of piggy-backing on the success of Land Rover, Jaguar is starting to turn its business around.

The problem was never that Jaguar built cars customers did not want. Since the launch of the current XK in 2005, Jaguars have been well engineered, desirable cars that, according to the company’s standing at the top of the JD Power satisfaction survey, its few customers absolutely loved. The problem was that Jaguar made cars people wanted but either could not afford, or did not fit into their lives.

When the XF was launched, for instance, it was without a four-cylinder diesel engine, which in Europe instantly denied the car access to 80 per cent of the market in which it hoped to compete. Customers in the snow states of North America and Canada wouldn’t buy a Jag because none was available with four-wheel drive. And while Chinese customers loved the XJ, most could not cope with a massive duty applied to its 5-litre V8 engine.

But now there are four-cylinder XFs in Europe, four-wheel drives in North America and a 3-litre petrol XJ in China and, guess what, business in booming. Half-year figures show Jaguar retail sales up 29 per cent, with more Jaguars sold in China in the first six months of 2013 than in all of 2012. Sales in the US are up 59 per cent. And all this with F-type sales only coming in towards the middle of the year.

Of course there is much work still to be done. On current form Jaguar will sell about 80,000 cars in 2013, compared to 54,000 in the year ending March 31 2012. Impressive though this is, its major rivals – Audi, BMW, and Mercedes – are million sellers and more. But there’s a new small Jaguar on the way and the F-type coupé too. At last Jaguar is heading in the right direction, and at considerable speed.

* There are reports that TVR will soon be relaunched with two distinct cars redolent of those from the Peter Wheeler era. I hope not… While brutally fast and wild looking, there were very few genuinely good TVRs produced in the later years of the company’s life. For the money being asked, they proved underdeveloped and prone to faults. If TVR is to reappear, quality must top the company’s agenda.