OK – enough of Richard’s Golf GTI and Andrew’s purple BMW. I’ve been meaning to introduce you to my car for a while now. And here it is: the MK Indy R.
And to answer your first few questions, yes, it looks like a Caterham, and no, it isn’t one. Simply because I can’t afford my ideal spec of Seven and this is actually a car more suited to what I wanted.
You see, it’s powered by a motorcycle engine – in particular, a 2004 Suzuki GSXR 1000 1.0-litre four-cylinder superbike motor. Bike engine, no torque, you may think. Not quite.
It’s been re-mapped for the specially fabricated aluminium airbox and custom full stainless steel exhaust system the car runs and produces 162hp and 84lb ft of torque at the rear wheels. That’s roughly the same twist as you get from a Series II Lotus Exige at the crank, but in a vehicle weighing around half as much at roughly 450kg (I’m yet to get it on the corner weight scales…).
The builder of this lightweight vehicle is called MK Sportscars, a British firm that specialises in fast road and track-focused cars. And although you might not have heard of them, the Indy R actually quite trick.
The basic spaceframe features double wishbones all round, rose-jointed at the front and sporting inboard, pushrod-actuated suspension.
All four dampers are adjustable for preload, compression and rebound. Using the rose-jointed ends on the front pushrods, you can even adjust ride height separately to pre-load so as not to compromise your setup. I’ll hang up my geek anorak now, I think.
Put simply, it’s very capable and pretty fast. There are no official performance figures, but iPhone runs (on a closed road or private track, of course) and my seat-of-the-pants dyno suggest easily less than 4.0 seconds from 0-62mph and 140mph flat-out with a tailwind.
The Ford Sierra Cosworth limited-slip differential (hence the J-reg donor number plate, even though it’s a 2009 car) helps the chassis to find fantastic traction and allows you to play with the balance beautifully, too.
And when you light it up and get it on full throttle, the noise is epic. The motor’s aural signature moves from a bassy idle to a gruff snarl up to about 6,000rpm. Beyond which it takes on a different character. The noise then hardens into a wail as it passes peak power at 10,600rpm and onto a full-on shriek by the 12,800rpm rev limiter. It might not be to everyone’s tastes, but I love it.
The engine retains the straight cut sequential bike transmission, only there’s a strain gauge fitted in the linkage to allow 50ms full-throttle flat upshifts. A well-timed tiny blip of the throttle on the way down the gearbox means you can zip through ratios without the clutch – helpful when you’re hard on the brakes.
Which are also pretty incredible. Such is the nature of this type of car that each vehicle is different, with many bespoke parts to suit the owner.
On top of a few other upgrades, I’ve opted for an improved brake setup, featuring solid front discs (open wheels and not much weight means with solid discs the brake system retains more heat and therefore performs better) clamped by Wilwood four-piston calipers at the front.
Rated for a one-tonne car, stopping less than half of that with some warm, tacky Toyo R888 tyres to create the friction, the retardation levels leave you hanging against your five-point harness.
I’ll admit, it’s not that practical, with no doors or even a windscreen, and a climbing frame in place of a roof. But I wasn’t after a shopping car. Good job really, as there’s no luggage area at all – although as my brother and I found out, you can just get a crate of beer in the passenger foot well.
With no power assistance on the steering, no servo on the brakes, a solid-mounted engine, gearbox and differential, and such little mass to manipulate – not to mention the razor-sharp powertrain – you really have to flick a mental switch when you get in and drive it.
You have to be so accurate and measured with each input even to drive it slowly and smoothly. But the trade-off is incredible response on a track at speed. I’m a petrolhead and this is my particular poison. It’s a challenge and has character. And I love that in a car.