The Caterham sports car that could have been brilliant

Caterham Cars visit

You’re looking at a tragic missed opportunity. This is the stillborn Caterham coupe codenamed ‘C120’ – the joint-venture with Alpine that became the A110. Sadly, Caterham was unable to match Renault’s investment and withdrew from the project in 2014. With hints of Jaguar F-Type and Ford Puma, this curvaceous full-size clay model shows what could have been.

Clay pride

Caterham Cars visit

Alpine and Caterham began working together in 2012. The French wanted to re-launch their defunct sports car brand and the Brits hoped for a more mainstream model to complement the back-to-basics Seven. The plan was to build 6,000 cars a year, split evenly between the two brands. These were the heady days when Caterham had its own Formula One team, remember. Anything seemed possible.

Gatwick express

Caterham Cars visit

A manual gearbox was mooted, something the production Alpine doesn’t have. And the C120 would likely have spawned a GT4 race car. Given the rapturous acclaim the A110 has received, the prospect of a Caterham version is a poignant one for petrolheads. This model is now displayed at Caterham Cars’ showroom near Gatwick – alongside other highlights from the marque’s history. Read on for a guided tour.

A British car to beat the world

Seventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

Today, Caterham is back to being a one-model marque. Nonetheless, with a car as unique and iconic as the Seven, there’s still plenty to get excited about. Launched in 1957 as the Lotus Seven, Caterham has manufactured the retro-look roadster since 1973. A six-month waiting list suggests it has plenty of life in it yet.

Read our first drive of the Caterham Seven Sprint

Top Gear track starSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

This Seven Superlight R500 takes pride of place in the Caterham Cars’ foyer. It’s the very same Seven that blitzed the Top Gear test track in 1min 17.9sec in 2008 – earning the team’s Car of the Year accolade in the process.

Endorsed by Hammond – and the StigSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

With a 267hp 2.0-litre Ford Duratec engine, the R500 explodes to 60mph in just 2.88sec. Richard Hammond remarked: “The Caterham is faster than the £1m Veyron. What an amazing little car!” The Stig, meanwhile, declined to comment. But we suspect he approved…

The bare essentialsSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

Inside, the Superlight lives up to its name, with nothing but the essentials for fast driving. Note the racing-style Stack instruments, gearshift indicator lights above the steering wheel and six-speed sequential manual gearbox. Serious stuff.

Caterham Seven SprintSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

At the opposite end of the Seven spectrum is the limited-edition Sprint. Only 60 examples of this retro-look roadster were made, to celebrate 60 years of the Seven. Launched at the Goodwood Revival in 2016, it was sold-out within a week.

Old-school coolSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

The Sprint resembles the original Lotus Seven, with flared front wings, a powder-coated grey chassis, cream steel wheels, a polished exhaust and classic-style badges. Underneath, however, it has a modern three-cylinder Suzuki engine.

Into the redSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

Inside, the Sprint boasts sumptuous scarlet leather, retro Smiths gauges and a wood-rimmed Moto-Lita steering wheel. The only options are armrests, a tonneau cover, stainless steel rear wing guards and a lower floor for extra cabin space. Squint and you could be in a Jaguar E-Type – or any other 1960s British sports car.

Plaque in blackSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

There’s also a numbered plaque in front of the passenger showing which of the 60 cars is yours. The Sprint is a surefire future classic, so little details like this matter. Note that Caterhams are now built in Dartford, Kent – rather than their original home of Caterham in Surrey.

Sprint and SuperSprint

Caterham Cars visit

The success of the Sprint led Caterham to launch the Seven Supersprint (left) a year later. Another evocative retro remake, it was again limited to 60 units, but this time the production run sold out in seven hours. Very apt.

Wet and wild

Caterham Cars visit

With tiny aero screens and no doors, weather protection on the SuperSprint is best described as ‘rudimentary’ (you could also opt for a conventional windscreen and roof). Delicious details include an aluminium cut-off switch, chrome mirrors and a Sebring-style fuel filler cap, plus a range of period paint colours and decals.

Chairman of the broad

Caterham Cars visit

One of the (many) unusual things about the Seven is that its wheels stand proud of the chassis. That makes the cabin surprisingly narrow – and a tight squeeze for tall drivers. The £2,500 wide chassis option seen here helps counter this, increasing the overall width of the car from 1,575mm to 1,685mm.

Caterham AeroSeven conceptSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

Fast-forwarding into the future, here’s the fabulous AeroSeven concept car. It was unveiled at the Singapore Grand Prix and could have been the replacement for the ageing Seven. However, budgets were tight and customers weren’t convinced, so the Seven lives on.

Packed with F1 techSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

The AeroSeven featured plenty of tech from Caterham’s F1 exploits, including inboard pushrod suspension, launch control and advanced aerodynamics. It’s powered by a 240hp Ford Duratec engine and reaches 60mph in ‘less than four seconds’.

Naked launchSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

We love all the naked carbonfibre inside the AeroSeven, although it doesn’t exactly look cosseting. Still, who cares about fripperies like a windscreen when you’re driving something this cool? We want one.

Caterham 21Seventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

The stillborn 21 is another Caterham that could have replaced the Seven: indeed, most used the same Rover K-Series engines. It was launched in 1994 and remained in production for five years, yet only 48 cars were made.

A softer SevenSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

The 21’s interior is certainly more accommodating than a Seven (not hard, admittedly) – and it’s more practical, too. However, the shape of the doors means the windows don’t wind down. If you want a side-draught, you need to remove them altogether.

It’s the Mondeo, manSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

An extra point if you spotted that the 21’s tail lights come from the Ford Mondeo. It also used front indicators from the Suzuki Cappuccino and wing mirrors from the Rover 200. Such parts were simply too expensive for Caterham to make in-house.

The Lotus positionSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

The main reason for the 21’s failure was the launch of the Lotus Elise soon afterwards. The car from Norfolk was better resolved and more fun to drive: the Caterham didn’t stand a chance. Ironically, Caterham Cars had this lovely S1 Elise for sale in its showroom. A trade-in against a new Seven, perhaps?

Caterham SP/300.RSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

Hardcore, you know the score… This is the track-only Caterham SP/300.R, a joint project with British racing car constructor, Lola. With a supercharged 300hp engine (355hp on overboost), this four-wheeled weapon will reach 170mph. If you’re brave enough.

The ultimate track-day toySeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

Caterham says of the SP/300.R: “The feeling of the car beneath you, inspiring you to push boundaries. The aggression of the forces acting on your body. The satisfaction of placing the car with absolute precision. The way the car communicates with you, constantly feeding a stream of data to every sense, synapse and nerve ending. Only a true driver knows these feelings. This is driving.” Well, quite.

The wheel dealSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

The SP/300.R’s steering wheel is pure racing car, with gearshift indicator lights and a button for calling the pits. Spot the yellow ‘Pass’ button the right – used to give an extra power boost for overtaking. The sequential gearlever is also to the right of the wheel.

Prisoner of phwoarSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

A classic Seven in for a service. It’s painted green and yellow – the same colours as the Lotus Seven that famously featured in 1960s TV drama series, The Prisoner. Interestingly, the ‘KAR 120C’ registration plate of the Prisoner Seven is still owned by Caterham Cars.

Caterham Seven ClassicSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

This lovely 2006 Classic would make a great starter Seven, with a 120hp 1.4-litre K-Series engine and just 7,441 miles on the clock. It’s advertised at £14,995 – further proof that Sevens simply don’t depreciate.

Kamui Kobayashi EditionSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

Just 10 examples of this lightweight, single-seat Seven were made. Designed by Caterham F1 Team’s Japanese driver, Kamui Kobayashi, it boasts a limited-slip differential, plenty of carbon fibre and a dashboard signed by Kamui himself. Yours for £34,995.

Mini Me Seven 620R

Caterham Cars visit

A first glance, this cut-down, single-seat Seven 620R looks terrifying. However, it’s powered by batteries rather than a 306hp supercharged Ford Duratec. Probably for the best.

Cutaway CaterhamSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

Want to make your Seven even lighter? Why not remove the bodywork altogether? In truth, this stripped-down 160 is a show car – designed to reveal the inner workings of the Seven. A lot has changed since 1957…

Powered by SuzukiSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

That 660cc Suzuki engine might be small, but it still looks a snug fit beneath the Seven’s low-slung bonnet. No wonder all those louvres are needed to keep it cool. Imagine how hot the 306hp 620R parked next to it must get.

Sporty suspensionSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

Here’s a closer look at the Seven’s double wishbone suspension, which delivers taut handling and keeps weight to a minimum. A variety of set-ups are available, for road or track use. The cheaper Seven 160 and Sprint models use a live rear axle.

Do it yourselfSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

If you’re handy with a spanner, you can save around £3,400 by building a Seven yourself. Caterham supplies a painted chassis with wiring loom, dashboard, fuel tank, fuel lines, brake pipes and pedal box already fitted. Reckon on 80-100 hours to complete the job, after which your car will have to pass an Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) test.

Lotus Cosworth T127Seventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

Like the Seven itself, the short-lived Caterham F1 Team began life under the Lotus banner. This Lotus T127 has a Cosworth V8 engine and was raced by Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen in the 2010 season. Sadly, it never managed a podium finish.

The car that became a CaterhamSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

Team Lotus was rebranded as Caterham F1 Team at the end of 2011, at the behest of Caterham’s charismatic owner, Tony Fernandes. The decision followed a legal battle between Team Lotus and the rival Group Lotus over the use of the name in F1.

Caterham CT01Seventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

Caterham F1 Team made its debut in 2012 with the CT01, powered by a 2.4-litre Renault V8 and piloted by Heikki Kovalainen and Vitaly Petrov. Its best result was an 11th-place finish at the final grand prix of the year in Brazil.

Going with the flowSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

Just look at the design of the Caterham CT01’s carbonfibre front wing. It ain’t pretty, but it sure is effective. The car hits 100mph in 2.5 seconds, with a top speed of 225mph. No Seven even comes close.

Caterham kartSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

If all that sounds a bit intense, we also discovered this rather cool Caterham-branded kart in the corner of the showroom. Cue cliché about ‘go-kart handling’, etc…

Grass-roots motorsportSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

Speaking of racing, Caterham runs no less than six Seven-based series, depending on your talent and budget. The Caterham Academy is the first rung on the ladder, with road-legal cars and seven points-scoring events throughout the year. This 2011 Academy racer was for sale at £17,995.

Caterham Tracksport racerSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

Tracksport is Caterham’s mid-range racing championship. The number of rounds increases to 14, with each race lasting 30 minutes. The cars are no longer road-legal, so you’ll need a trailer as well.

One careful ownerSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

For serious Seven racers, there’s the Superlight R300-S Championship. A car alone will cost you £38,000 – and you’ll spend plenty more on consumables and travel. This particular R300-S was driven by Dan Prosser, a motoring journalist for EVO magazine.

Simplify, then add lightnessSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

The ghost of Colin Chapman looms large at Caterham Cars. Indeed, his famous mantra: “Simplify, then add lightness” is writ large on the wall. Ironically, this is actually a heavier Seven SV: the wide-bodied version for drivers with, well, wider bodies.

Out of the blocksSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

This year, the Seven has been replicated in Lego as part of a new 770-piece kit. It includes fully-detailed engine, removable nosecose, opening boot and axle stands that allow the wheels to be removed. One for the Christmas list.

A simple formula for successSeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

The Caterham Seven might look old-fashioned, but don’t be deceived. A process of continuous evolution has kept this much-loved icon at the top of its game – putting smiles on faces and embarrassing Bugatti Veyrons along the way. Let’s hope it’s still going strong in another 60 years.

Caterham in CrawleySeventh heaven: inside Caterham Cars

Caterham Cars’ showroom in Crawley is open to the public if you’d like to see these cars, and many others. They can also arrange test-drives if you are looking to buy. Just don’t expect to drive a Seven and go home without wanting one…

Race cars for the road: the cars inspired by F1

Cars inspired by F1

Alfa Romeo Racing will return to the F1 grid in 2019 following the rebrand of the Sauber team. It’s the first time the famous Italian marque has appeared as a constructor since 1985 and follows the company’s return to the sport in 2018, when Alfa was named as title sponsor. The Sauber name will disappear, having been a permanent fixture in F1 since 1993.

To celebrate Alfa’s return to F1, the company has launched ‘Alfa Romeo Racing’ versions of the Giulia Quadrifoglio and Stelvio Quadrifoglio. The Trofeo White and Competizione Red two-tone paintwork mimics the livery of the cars that will be driven by Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi. Join us, as we take a look at the most impressive cars to have featured innovations from the F1 world.

Aston Martin Valkyrie AMR Pro

Announced at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show, the Valkyrie AMR Pro takes an already extreme hypercar and adds even more. Created as joint venture between Aston Martin and Red Bull Racing, the Valkyrie makes use of the extensive knowledge and experience of F1 designer Adrian Newey.

The 6.5-litre naturally aspirated V12 engine will produce over 1,100hp in track-only AMR Pro form, and also features an F1-inspired KERS battery energy system for an additional boost. Just like a Formula 1 car, the Valkyrie AMR Pro can generate more downforce than it weighs, meaning it could, hypothetically, be driven upside down at speed.

Mercedes-AMG Project One

Cars inspired by F1

We may be peaking too soon here, but this is perhaps the closest we can actually get to a road-going F1 car. Powering the Project One is the exact same turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 engine as fitted to Lewis Hamilton’s company car, albeit mildly detuned. With four electric motors giving hybrid power, there is still more than 1,000hp on offer.

With carbon fibre used extensively, the Project One also has an eight-speed paddleshift gearbox and carbon ceramic brakes – just like an F1 car. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact it can manage 15 miles on full electric power alone, and even features a rear-facing camera. Not even Lewis gets those luxuries.

McLaren F1

Cars inspired by F1

With a name taken from the sport itself, the McLaren F1 channeled everything the Woking firm had gathered from its run of success in the 1980s and early 1990s. Created by legendary Formula 1 designer Gordon Murray, the McLaren F1 came from his personal pursuit of wanting to create the ultimate road car.

As the first production car to use a carbon fibre monocoque chassis, the motorsport influence was clear, whilst the central driving position also invoked the idea of a single-seater race car. That the F1 held the title of the world’s fastest production car, with a top speed of 240.1mph, may grab the headlines. But the fastidious attention to detail was the real story of the car.

McLaren Senna GTR

Cars inspired by F1

Arguably one of the greatest drivers to ever compete in Formula 1, McLaren is so intrinsically linked with the late Ayrton Senna that they chose to bestow his name upon their latest hypercar. A fitting tribute, given that he took all three of his F1 World Championships with the McLaren team.

Aimed at providing an extreme driving experience, the track-only GTR version of the Senna takes things even further. With 825hp from the turbocharged V8 engine, the Senna GTR is also capable of generating a faintly ridiculous 1,000kg of downforce.

Honda NSX

Cars inspired by F1

McLaren may have a car named after Ayrton Senna, but Honda can lay claim to one which the man himself had a hand in helping develop. With Honda engines used in the McLaren cars driven by Senna at the time, he was drafted in to help with the final development of the NSX sports car.

Ahead of its launch in 1990, Senna tested the NSX at a number of circuits and reportedly ensured changes to increase the rigidity of the chassis, and made tweaks to the suspension. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the NSX gained an impressive reputation for handling during its production run.

Ferrari F50

Cars inspired by F1

Much like the Mercedes Project One, but nearly two decades earlier, the Ferrari F50 used an engine derived from one seen in an actual F1 car. The 513hp 4.7-litre V12 powering the F50 was developed from the 3.5-litre unit, used in the F1 racers driven by Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell in 1990.

With the V12 engine bolted directly to the carbon fibre chassis – just like an F1 car – the F50 was an extreme proposition. Only 349 examples were produced between 1995 and 1997, making it notably rarer than the F40 that preceded it.

Ferrari 355 F1

Cars inspired by F1

Proving that Ferrari uses F1 for more than just selling T-shirts and caps, it successfully translated the clutchless semi-automatic gearbox seen in its F1 cars to the 355 F1 supercar in 1997.

Although the six-speed gearbox was essentially the same, the novelty came in the form of steering column-mounted paddles used to change gear, letting 355 drivers pretend they were Michael Schumacher. It also marked the beginning of the end for supercars with manual gearboxes…

BMW E60 M5

Cars inspired by F1

Ferrari may have taken the most F1 championship titles during the early 2000s, but the BMW V10 engines used by Williams, and later Sauber, were regarded as the most powerful. Keen to build on this reputation, BMW endowed the 2005 M5 with a 5.0-litre V10 engine and mated it to a seven-speed sequential gearbox with paddleshift.

The high-revving V10 produced 500hp with 380lb ft of torque, and was capable of propelling the M5 to 204mph if all the electronic limiters were removed. Launch control software also mimicked the technology previously seen in Formula 1.

Ferrari LaFerrari

Cars inspired by F1

Forget the overwrought name, and focus on the F1-derived technical details to truly understand the LaFerrari. The chassis itself featured input from Rory Byrne, the man who designed Ferrari’s successful F1 cars between 1996 and 2006, resulting in the direct application of his racing knowhow.

The V12 engine might not be F1-related, but the hybrid KERS power boost and carbon fibre construction of the chassis and body certainly are. Ferrari also pointed out that the driver’s seat was fixed in place – just like an F1 car.

McLaren P1 Alain Prost Edition

Cars inspired by F1

Although he too may have won three F1 World Championships, Alain Prost seemingly doesn’t rank quite so high with McLaren as to have an actual model of car titled after him. Instead his name and helmet design were applied to a special edition of the P1 hypercar unveiled at the 2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed.

The P1 already included a host of F1-related tech, featuring a carbon fibre monocoque chassis and a turbocharged petrol engine mated to an electric motor. The adjustable rear wing also uses an F1-inspired ‘Drag Reduction System’ to increase top speed in a straight line.

Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren

Cars inspired by F1

Although the name owed more to the 1955 300 SLR sports car, the looks of the 2003 SLR McLaren were clearly inspired by the McLaren Mercedes F1 racers which had enjoyed victory at the hands of Mika Häkkinen in 1998 and 1999.

That it was also built alongside the McLaren Formula 1 cars in Woking further cemented the relationship. A 5.4-litre supercharged V8 engine and five-speed automatic gearbox owed somewhat less to the sport, but the 206mph top speed was not to be sniffed at.

Renault Espace F1

Cars inspired by F1

Renault was the prime Formula One engine builder during the early 1990s, and had enjoyed considerable success in the sport. As a 1994 collaboration with Matra, the Espace F1 was built to celebrate 10 years of the Espace, and also a decade of Renault’s F1 involvement.

With a bespoke carbon fibre chassis, and the actual mid-mounted 800hp V10 engine from the Formula One racer, this was anything but a normal MPV. The gigantic rear wing was not just for show, but needed to keep the Espace planted as it approached the 194mph top speed. Obviously never offered for sale, the one-off Espace F1 now lives as a museum piece.

Renault Clio Williams

Cars inspired by F1

Slightly tamer than the Espace F1, and also actually available to buy, the Clio Williams still offered the same motorsport prowess enjoyed by the French manufacturer. The Clio was also riding a wave of success, having received the 1991 European Car of the Year prize.

Adding a 150hp 2.0-litre engine to the supermini produced an iconic hot hatch, whilst blue paint matched with gold Speedline wheels became instantly recognisable. The original run of cars from 1993 are hugely desirable, and command auction prices accordingly.

Renault Megane Renaultsport 230 F1 Team R26

Cars inspired by F1

Proving just how frequently Renault has produced F1 special editions, this was the second special Megane to be built in two years alone. With 5hp more than the previous year’s Megane, the 230 F1 Team R26 commemorated Fernando Alonso’ 2006 World Drivers’ title.

Alonso was still clearly in his ‘serious’ F1 phase judging by the photo, whilst Jarno Trulli just looked happy to be there. Fancy graphics, a limited-slip differential, and a wider choice of colours gave Internet forum-dwellers more to argue over which is the best Renaultsport Megane.

Ferrari 430 Scuderia Spider 16M

Cars inspired by F1

The Ferrari 430 Scuderia Spider 16M was built to celebrate Ferrari’s 2008 F1 Constructors’ World Title. Essentially an open-top version of the fearsome 430 Scuderia, the 16M featured bespoke carbon fibre bumpers to keep weight down.

Only 499 cars were built, each one powered by a V8 engine producing 510hp. The obligatory limited edition plaque was also thrown in, along with a customised Ferrari iPod Touch.

Lotus Elise Type 49

Cars inspired by F1

Never a stranger to special editions of the Lotus Elise, the Series 1 car featured an entire ‘Heritage Range’ which took inspiration from the great liveries of past Lotus F1 cars.

The ‘Type 49’ edition recalled the Lotus 49 Formula One car, which took a win on its 1967 debut in the hands of Jim Clark. Wearing the red, gold, and white colours of the Gold Leaf-sponsored racer, the Elise Type 49 also featured red leather seats and gold six-spoke alloy wheels. Just 100 examples were produced for the UK market.

Infiniti FX50 Vettel Edition

Cars inspired by F1

Between 2010 and 2013, Sebastian Vettel dominated the Formula One field with his Red Bull Racing machine.

For 2013, Red Bull’s title sponsor was Infiniti – somewhat confusing when Renault was the actual engine supplier to the team. Matt white paintwork, an F1-inspired bodykit, plus a 420hp 5.0-litre V8 made for a tenuous motorsport link when applied to the FX SUV. A retail price of over £100,000 in the UK meant you really had to be a Vettel fan to want one.

Renault Megane Renaultsport Red Bull Racing RB8

Cars inspired by F1

Just like Sebastian Vettel, Renault must look back at 2013 rather fondly. The French brand’s V8 engines had just powered Red Bull Racing to a fourth successive F1 World Championship, putting them firmly on top of the Formula One pile.

Naturally this called for a special edition Megane, with the RB8 wearing Twilight Blue paintwork and copious Red Bull Racing logos applied to it. Perhaps best not to mention what happened when the engine regulations changed in 2014 though…

Mercedes-AMG A45 Petronas 2015 World Champion Edition

Cars inspired by F1

Managing to beat even Renault for the longest name, this special edition came in 2015 with Mercedes celebrating their second season of F1 domination. Notching up both Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships meant a special livery being applied to the A45 hot hatch.

With ‘petrol green’ graphics applied to the bodywork, and even the wheel rims, it certainly stood out. The green theme continued inside, with the air vents and seat belts getting the same treatment. A standard ‘Dynamic Plus’ pack did at least mean a limited-slip differential to help control the rabid 381hp on offer.

Caterham Seven Kamui Edition

Cars inspired by F1

He might not have been the most successful F1 driver, but Kamui Kobayashi certainly made an impression on track and with fans around the world. None more so than in his native Japan, which also happened to be a key market for the Caterham Seven.

Enter a limited run of ten ‘Kamui Edition’ cars only for the Japanese market, with the single-seater setup an obvious nod to the F1 team. The lucky buyers also got a dashboard with Kobayashi’s name engraved into it, and a special anodised key. Less special was the 1.6-litre Ford engine with just 123hp.

Jaguar XKR Silverstone

Cars inspired by F1

Having purchased the Stewart Grand Prix team in 1999, Jaguar competed in Formula One between 2000 and 2004, throwing the weight of Ford’s money behind it.

To celebrate the entry of Jaguar into F1, a special edition XKR appeared in 2000. The Silverstone featured unique paintwork, 20-inch alloy wheels, upgraded brakes, and an interior finished in black leather with red stitching. Jaguar could only manage a handful of podiums in Formula One, with the team later sold to Red Bull where it became far more successful.

Toyota Yaris T Sport

Cars inspired by F1

As another major manufacturer entering the sport in the early 2000s, Toyota introduced a number of T Sport models which were intended to channel the brand’s “motorsport heritage and ambitions for the future” in F1.

As the most powerful Yaris offered at the time, the 2001 T-Sport used a 1.5-litre engine with 105hp and 114lbft of torque. Not exactly F1 performance figures, but the Yaris was capable of 0-62mph in 9.0 seconds with a top speed of 118mph. Lowered suspension and a subtle bodykit boosted the appeal.

Fiat Seicento Sporting Schumacher Edition

Cars inspired by F1

As F1’s most successful driver, ever, Michael Schumacher’s name has appeared on a number of road cars. The first, built to celebrate Ferrari’s first World Drivers’ Championship in over two decades, was the rather humble Fiat Seicento Sporting Schumacher Edition of 2001.

With a 1.1-litre engine producing an epic 54hp, this was perhaps the slowest car to ever wear the famous Schumacher signature. The 93mph top speed almost feels like an insult to the great man.

Fiat Stilo Schumacher GP Version

Cars inspired by F1

By 2005, with Schumacher having clocked up his fifth World Championship title in a row, Fiat decided to push the boat out with a special edition Stilo.

Produced for the UK market, the ‘GP Version’ was modified by motorsport experts Prodrive. Adding 18-inch alloy wheels, uprated suspension and a stainless steel exhaust made the Stilo into a commendable warm hatch. Performance from the 2.4-litre five-cylinder engine was unchanged, but with 170hp it did at least outperform the Seicento.

Ferrari 488 GTB ‘The Schumacher’

Cars inspired by F1

As part of Ferrari’s 70th anniversary, in 2017 the Maranello company produced a range of 70 special editions celebrating key liveries and historic events from the previous seven decades.

Inspired by the F2003-GA Formula One car which Schumacher drove to title success in 2003, the red exterior with white detailing was the most obvious change. More subtle were the Ferrari logos painted onto the front wings, rather than being badges, while the paddle shifters for the F1 gearbox were painted yellow.

McLaren Speedtail Hyper-GT

McLaren Speedtail is the 250mph, £2.1 million tribute to the McLaren F1

McLaren Speedtail Hyper-GTThe stunning McLaren Speedtail is the first ‘hyper-GT’ the firm has ever made. What a way to honour its first ever road car, the McLaren F1. Needless to say, even at £2.1 million, all 106 have already been sold.

McLaren is making just 106 Speedtail because that’s how many original F1s it built (hard to believe, huh?). It shares that car’s central driving position and three-seat layout too, but don’t be fooled. This is anything but a retro rebirth.

McLaren Speedtail Hyper-GT

The reason it’s called Speedtail, and not F1, is because it’s the fastest McLaren the British firm’s ever built: it does 250mph flat-out. That’s 403 km/h in Euro-speak. A 1,050hp petrol-electric drivetrain gives it the firepower to reach this, and also renders 0-62mph times irrelevant.

How about 0-186mph (that’s 0-300km/h) in 12.8 seconds instead? The P1, McLaren’s previous ‘ultimate’ car, takes almost four seconds longer to reach this speed.

McLaren Speedtail Hyper-GT

Speedtail in name, Speedtail in nature: the cockpit is teardrop-shaped and the rear end is elongated to a staggering degree – at 5.2 metres (17 feet), it’s longer than many limousines. The body, like the carbon fibre structure, is made entirely from carbon fibre.

The front wheel aero-covers make it look like a world land speed record car, as does the active aerodynamic features including McLaren-patented active rear ailerons. There aren’t even any door mirrors, so as not to create drag: the Speedtail has digital rear-view cameras instead.

McLaren Speedtail Hyper-GT

McLaren’s installed a Velocity mode. This switches the engine into its top power setting, activates the active aero and also lowers the Speedtail by 35mm to eek out that 250mph top speed. This takes it down to just 1,120mm tall.

Pirelli’s designed a special set of P-Zero tyres for McLaren to cope with all that speed and power.

McLaren Speedtail Hyper-GT

The cabin is fully glazed and revealed by trick dihedral doors – power-operated, naturally. Detail engineering abounds: McLaren’s fitted clever electrochromic glass that darkens the top of the windscreen at the touch of a button – so it doesn’t need sun visors. It’s a “new level of technical luxury”.

McLaren Speedtail Hyper-GT

“McLaren has never built a vehicle like the Speedtail before,” said McLaren Automotive CEO Mike Flewitt. “The Speedtail is the ultimate McLaren road car; a fusion of art and science that combines an astonishing maximum speed with an iconic central driving position and a truly pioneering approach to bespoke personalisation.”

It intentionally looks like sleek, record-breaking ‘streamliners’, he said, and “the luxurious three-seat cockpit offers a subline combination of an incredible driving experience, unmatched individualism and innovative materials never seen before in a road-going vehicle”.

What a way to honour the original mighty McLaren. The lucky owners who are recently gathered in London for an exclusive (and private) first viewing are 106 of the most fortunate petrolheads on the planet.

McLaren Speedtail: in pictures

Jenson Button's old 2005 BMW M5

Jenson Button’s old BMW M5 V10 could be yours

Jenson Button's old 2005 BMW M5For Jenson Button, driving away from a circuit in his 2005 E60 BMW M5 must have been like taking his work home with him. You can thank the F1-inspired 507hp V10 engine for the ‘busman’s holiday’ nature of Jenson’s super-saloon.

Jenson bought the car new and registered it JB05 BAR (he was driving for British American Racing at the time). During his ownership he won his first Grand Prix, became F1 World Champion and was awarded an MBE.

He sold the car in 2011 and reportedly drove the M5 to the NEC where it sold for £26,500 at the Coys Autosport International sale.

He reportedly dropped the car off with the auctioneers complete with his post and lunch still inside.

Now, it is up for sale again, this time at the Silverstone Auctions NEC Classic Motor Show sale, where it is expected to fetch between £35,000 and £40,000. We suspect Jenson’s lunch will have gone off by now.

‘More than I bargained for’

Jenson Button's old 2005 BMW M5

The lucky bidder and current vendor wants to spend more time in Spain, which is why the M5 is up for sale. “The reaction to the car has been incredible: everyone is interested in seeing a car that was owned by a Formula One World Champion,” the vendor told Silverstone Auctions.

“When I went to get it taxed, they let me keep the original V5 as a souvenir, and my local BMW dealer even wants to use it for a sales promotion. It’s safe to say that I got a bit more than I bargained for with this car!”

Even without the Jenson Button connection, a low-mileage E60 BMW M5 would make for a cracking purchase. Assuming you can live with the fuel bills – reports suggest that you could see fuel economy in single figures if you drive like an F1 star – this is one of the greatest all-rounders of the modern era.

A four-door Lamborghini Gallardo

Jenson Button's old 2005 BMW M5

It had a tough act to follow. The E39 M5 was regarded as a high point in the M division’s back catalogue and the last of the hand-built cars. The E60 took things in its stride – with 507hp at 7,750rpm and 384lb-ft of torque at 6,100rpm, it was a little like driving a four-door Lamborghini Gallardo.

Top speed was limited to 155mph (203mph was possible with the speed limiter deactivated), while the 0-62mph time was blitzed in just 4.7 seconds. All this from a rear-wheel drive BMW M car with a sweet manual… ah, no, wait…

While the North Americans were treated to a manual gearbox, we had to ‘make do’ with the SMG semi-automatic sequential transmission.

The SMG is a complex system and one that isn’t blessed with a blemish-free record for reliability. But driving the M5 at full chat, flicking through the gears via the paddle-shifters, is a riotous experience. The soundtrack, the performance, the poise – this M5 has got it all.

Mint and minted

Jenson Button's old 2005 BMW M5

Not that Jenson Button or the second owner have spent a huge amount of time behind the wheel. The 2005 car has covered just 17,000 miles and the condition is described as “mint”. Rather apt, considering you’ll need to be minted if you intend to use this as a daily-driver.

The JB05 BAR registration mark will stay with the car, along with a new race suit and paddock jacket from 2005, both signed by the F1 star. There’s also a Parrot hands-free kit mounted on the dash, presumably so that you can have a petrol station on standby.

If you fancy Jenson’s old car – frankly, who wouldn’t – the auction is taking place over the weekend of 10 and 11 November 2018.

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Mercedes F1 in Gran Turismo

You can now drive Lewis Hamilton’s 2017 F1 car in Gran Turismo Sport

Mercedes F1 in Gran Turismo

What could be the ultimate addition to the ultimate driving simulator? What is arguably one of the ultimate racing cars of the moment would be a good start: Lewis Hamilton’s 2017 championship-winning F1 car, the Mercedes AMG F1 W08 EQ Power+.

Well, you can now channel your inner F1 World Champion courtesy of the July update to Gran Turismo Sport – which also includes screaming rotary-powered Mazda 787B and the singing V12 Ferrari 250 GTO.

The W08 with Hamilton at the wheel won 11 of the 20 Grands Prix in 2017, helping Lewis add his fourth title to his record. The 787B, however, was made famous by a single race in 1991 – the Le Mans 24 hours – marking the first ever win of the world-famous enduro by a Japanese marque. It was only joined when Toyota took their maiden win at La Sarthe earlier this year.

Other quirky additions, the likes of which the franchise has been regularly celebrated in the past, are the Ford GT LM Spec II Test Car, the 2015 Honda S660, the 1991 Honda Beat and the 2002 Daihatsu Copen Active Top. All of these can now be enjoyed on a brand new scenic race track, the Circuit de Sainte-Croix.

An addition we suspect will be less popular in a community on edge about micro-transactions is the ability to buy cars under 2,000,000 credits in the PlayStation Store for real money.

But in all, it’s a worthy update to what is shaping up to be the best instalment of the franchise since Gran Turismo 4 of 2004.

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Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13

Red Bull Racing to use Honda F1 engines from 2019

Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13Honda has agreed to supply Red Bull Racing with Formula One engines from 2019. The two-year deal will see Red Bull switch from its current supply of Renault engines.

Red Bull Scuderia Toro Rosso (pictured above) will also continue to use Honda F1 engines, meaning the Japanese automaker will supply two teams – each using identical-specification Honda Power Units.

“This partnership with Honda signals a new era for Red Bull Group in Formula One with both the Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing teams benefitting from common supply co-ordinated through Red Bull Technology,” said Red Bull motorsport adviser Dr. Helmut Marko.

“We have been extremely impressed by Honda’s commitment and progress and share like-minded ambitions to compete for Championships.”

Honda Motor Co. Ltd president and representative director Takahiro Hachigo revealed that discussions around the deal proceeded quickly, “thanks to Red Bull’s open and respectful attitude towards Honda, leading to a deal that is fair and equitable for all parties.

“Having two teams means we can access twice as much data as previously. We believe that working with both Toro Rosso and Red Bull Racing will allow us to get closer to our goal of winning races and Championships, building two strong partnerships.”

Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner says the decision was taken dispassionately, and with one sole criteria: “do we believe the outcome will allow us to compete at a higher level.

“After careful consideration and evaluation we are certain this partnership with Honda is the right direction for the team. We have been impressed by Honda’s commitment to F1, by the rapid steps they have made in recent times with our sister team Scuderia Toro Rosso, and by the scope of their ambition, which matches our own.”

Honda suffered a tumultuous return to F1 in partnership with McLaren, and the two agreed to part last year. This year, McLaren is using the same Renault engines as Red Bull, but it’s the performance of the Honda-powered Toro Rosso team that has impressed many in the sport.

Red Bull, which has already won this year with Renault engines, clearly seen enough to convince itself that championships with Honda are a realistic possibility.

It’s going to be a fascinating few years in the sport…

McLaren-Ford MP4/8 Ayrton Senna

Ayrton Senna’s historic McLaren-Ford heads to auction

McLaren-Ford MP4/8 Ayrton Senna

Nearly 25 years ago, Ayrton Senna won his sixth and final Monaco Grand Prix, setting a record for victories that remains unsurpassed, even today.

His car in 1993 – a McLaren-Ford MP4/8 – is arguably the star lot at the forthcoming Bonhams Monaco sale, where it’s likely to fetch more than the $1m fee Senna was reportedly paid – per race – in his final season with McLaren.

For McLaren, the decision to use Ford power for the 1993 season was not without risk – and by the company’s own admission, it was a bit of gamble. But Honda’s departure from F1 and a failed attempt to secure Renault engines meant the British company was forced into a corner.

Design work on the MP4/8 started without a clear idea of which engine would be used, with the new engine supplier not announced until November 1992. Relying on a proprietary unit cast a shadow over a team accustomed to using bespoke engines from the likes of TAG Porsche and Honda. Senna was far from convinced.

V8 good, V10 better

At times it seemed uncertain that Senna would line up on the grid alongside Michael Andretti. The Brazilian knew that Williams-Renault was the dominant force and that a compact Ford V8 engine would be unable to compete with a Renault V10.

But the MP4/8 was advanced in other areas, most notably its electronic engine management software, chassis control, data acquisition and telemetry systems. The 1993 car could also boast an electronic control panel in the cockpit, plus upgraded active suspension and traction control.

Ron Dennis managed to negotiate a race-by-race contract for Senna, which resulted in five victories and second place finishes in the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships. But ultimately, it merely delayed the inevitable, and Senna departed for Williams, a move which resulted in tragedy the following year.

As for McLaren, having tested a Lamborghini V12 engine, the company would link up with Peugeot in 1994, with the 3.5-litre V10 MP4/9 of Mika Häkkinen and Martin Brundle finishing fourth in the Constructors’ Championship.

McLaren-Ford at 1993 Monaco GP

The Master of Monaco

Senna’s old MP4/8 – chassis number six – is described by Bonhams as being “startingly well-preserved” and in running order, with Mark Osborn, the auction house’s global head of motorsport, saying: “Ayrton Senna was the most charismatic Grand Prix car driver of the modern era, and the MP4/8A was the car with which his team, McLaren, surpassed Ferrari as the most successful team in Formula 1 World Championship history.

“This particular chassis, number six, cemented Senna’s legend as The Master of Monaco. We at Bonhams are both honoured and thrilled to be presenting one of the most significant Grand Prix cars of all time. It is his Monaco winner, it is a runner, and now it could be yours.”

Including his famous victory at Monte Carlo, Senna drove chassis number six in no fewer than eight of the 1993 season’s F1 races. It then completed the year as a spare car in Japan and Australia.

The car will be on display at Les Grandes Marques du Monde sale at the Grand Palais, Paris, on 6, 7 and 8 February, before going under the hammer at the Bonhams Monaco sale on 11 May.

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Rosemary Smith

79-year-old lady drives an F1 car

Renault Sport F1 Rosemary SmithRosemary Smith, a 79-year-old former seamstress, driving instructor and rally driver, has become the oldest person to drive a Renault Sport F1 car as the team marked its 40th anniversary by making a dream come true for someone almost twice its age.  

It’s not just Rosemary who might get to drive an F1 car, either – anyone who test-drives a Renault at a dealer will be entered into a draw… and 10 of them will win the chance to do what she did and drive a Renaut Sport F1 racer.

“Driving an 800bhp car is something I, like many other racers, have always dreamt of but I didn’t think I’d ever have the opportunity to do it,” said Rosemary, “so when the team at Renault UK contacted me I jumped at the chance.”

Her background in international rallying stood her in good stead: despite it being a male-dominated sport, Rosemary drove in dozens of iconic rallies and even won the famous Tulip Rally in 1965 – for which Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton sent her a congratulatory bouquet.

“An amazing experience”

Renault Sport F1 driver Jolyon Palmer helped brief Rosemary ahead of hear drive at the Paul Ricard circuit in France’s Le Castellet.

“It was definitely very different to the rally cars I’m used to but was an amazing experience,” she said. “I could feel myself getting more and more comfortable with the single-seater and being able to speak to Jolyon, driver to driver, also helped when the nerves did kick in.

“After racing and facing the challenges of competing in a male-dominated sport together for many years I was so happy that my friend Pauline was able to share this latest milestone and give me that extra boost. It just goes to show that anyone can fulfil their dreams at any age if they put their mind to it and always follow their passions.”

Renault advertising agency Publicis London helped pull together the campaign. Executive creative director Dave Monk said: “It’s not very often you unearth a story like Rosemary’s, she’s a remarkable woman, a tremendous athlete, and embodies the kind of passion for life we can all learn a lesson or two from.

“I think this piece of work will resonate with hearts and petrolheads alike.”

Watch: 79 year old Rosemary Smith drive an F1 car

20 years of Italian supercars

20 years of Italian supercarsIn the red corner: the Lamborghini Aventador SV. In the black corner: the Ferrari 355 GTS F1. Two prize fighters separated by 20 years and a not-insignificant 370hp. Yet these supercars have more in common than you might expect.

Both are Italian, for starters. And both use high-revving, naturally-aspirated engines with semi-automatic gearboxes. Also – less obviously – both are the property of two brothers: Andrew and David Bagley.

The Bagleys are the brains behind Salon Privé, an exclusive classic and supercar show hosted each summer at Blenheim Palace. Today, Blenheim serves as the suitably dramatic back-drop for our supercar showdown. Can classic hero defeat modern master?

A trip to Italy20 years of Italian supercars

“I fell in love with the Aventador after seeing one at Salon Privé,” Andrew explains. “It looked like a fighter jet, all crazy angles.” A few years later, he realised that dream, visiting Lamborghini HQ in Sant’Agata to specify his own Aventador SV.

The SV, or Superveloce, badge was first used on the Miura SV of 1971. It denotes something special: a lighter, faster Lamborghini, built in limited numbers. “Going for a special edition such as this – one of 600 SV coupes made – does mean the car should hold its value longer-term,” says Andrew. “Just look at the prices of RS Porsches. That said, I buy cars to drive and enjoy, not as investments.” And who wouldn’t enjoy a Lamborghini?

Drawing a crowd20 years of Italian supercars

I start by taking a few moments simply to stand and stare. I’m not alone: a crowd of Blenheim day-trippers gathers, asking questions and taking supercar selfies. I walk around and drink in the details: the shark-like snout, gaping air intakes framed in naked carbon, louvred rear window (a Lamborghini trademark) and, of course, that towering rear wing.

Pardon the cliché, but the SV looks like it’s doing 200mph standing still. And people can’t get enough of it. The Ferrari parked alongside looks remarkably understated: a Learjet versus a stealth bomber.

Waking up the neighbours20 years of Italian supercars

If half the visitors at Blenheim have already clocked the Lamborghini, the other 50% snap to attention when I flip the red ‘bomb switch’ cover and stab the starter button. With a theatrical blip of the throttle, the 750hp V12 barks into life, settling to a menacing idle that echoes across immaculate Capability Brown gardens.

I pull down the dihedral door via a small leather strap (this is a lightweight special, remember?) and adjust the mirrors. Mental note: the Aventador is A LOT wider at the back than the front. The pedals are skewed towards the centre, but the ‘long arms, short legs’ driving position of Italian supercars past is thankfully absent. Even the seats are comfortable – Andrew decided against the hard-shell buckets standard on the SV.

Unleash the beast20 years of Italian supercars

The exit road is peppered with speed humps, so I push the ‘suspension lift’ button and we crawl cautiously along. The mid-mounted V12 gargles and growls like a caged lion pawing at my shoulder blades. The ride feels racecar-firm, with very little travel from the in-board suspension, yet all the major controls, from the steering to the clutch pedal, move with weighty precision. It’s not difficult to go slowly, but neither would your grandmother feel comfortable driving it.

We turn onto a stretch of dual-carriageway and it’s time to let the Lambo off the leash. I shift to second, hit the loud pedal and – bam! – we lunge forwards like Bolt from the blocks. With four-wheel-drive traction, there’s no wheelspin: just grip and relentless G-force. I snatch third just before the 8,500rpm rev limit and by now we’re piling on serious speed – polite conversation suspended as cabin reverberates with Italian V12 thunder.

Lord of the ’Ring20 years of Italian supercars

I steal a glance at Andrew: he’s grinning broadly. “Like riding a bull, isn’t it?”, he laughs. “You grab it by the horns and hang on.” It’s a good analogy – the Aventador feels totally unhinged, like being strapped to a heat-seeking missile. You’ll be lucky to use even a fraction of its performance on the road. On a race track, it would be an absolute weapon.

Want proof? A driver with vastly more talent than me lapped the Nürburgring Nordschleife in six minutes 59 seconds – just two seconds shy of Porsche’s 918 Spyder hypercar. Which proves the SV isn’t merely about straight-line speed. Along with the new (and Nürburgring record-breaking) Huracan Performante, it also shows Lamborghini is finally on par with Porsche and Ferrari for ultimate driving performance.

Wide and wild20 years of Italian supercars

On rutted and occasionally narrow Cotswold lanes, however, the Aventador feels mildly out of its comfort zone. It’s savagely fast and utterly planted – you’d need to be a complete hooligan to unstick the rear end – but it’s also a big car. I involuntarily hold my breath every time a Range Rover or Transit van squeezes past.

The gearbox is the only other minus point. The seven-speed automated manual is whipcrack-fast when you’re pressing on, but feels a little clunky at low speeds. The latest dual-clutch ’boxes are smoother and just as quick.

Lights, camera, action20 years of Italian supercars

Heading back to base, we again reach a long stretch of straight dual-carriageway. I pull across into the outside lane and bury my right size-eight. Seven hundred and fifty Italian horses awaken and the scenery blurs into fast-forward. Imagine jumping out of a plane, but with carbon-ceramic brakes instead of a parachute.

Suddenly, blue lights appear. Andrew and I glance at each other in nervous silence. I slow to a steady 50mph and a Vauxhall Astra looms large in my mirrors, sirens wailing. Relief: it’s an ambulance car with no interest in this now-dawdling Lamborghini. But the experience serves as a stark reminder of the restraint needed to drive a 217mph supercar on the road.

Betting on black20 years of Italian supercars

The Aventador leaves me wired and wanting more. Can David’s Ferrari possibly measure up? We grab a quick coffee first. “The F355 was on my bedroom wall as a kid – I’ve always wanted one,” he explains. “And it took me a long time to afford one, so this car’s a keeper. I don’t plan to sell it.”

In defiance of Ferrari purists, David shunned the iconic open-gate manual and sought out a F355 with the semi-automatic gearbox (badged ‘355 F1’). “I like paddle-shifters,” he explains. “That said, I don’t leave it in auto – I always use the paddles to change gear.”

Ageing gracefully20 years of Italian supercars

Me? I had a red Testarossa on my wall, but as a child of the 1980s, I automatically consider any car with pop-up headlights to be cool. It seems ironic that Ferrari designed the 355 with an F1-style flat undertray, then undid those aerodynamic gains with upright lights.

But no matter: this 20-year-old is ageing gracefully. It may even be the last genuinely beautiful Ferrari. While later models look increasingly aggressive, the 355 has the classic, almost dainty elegance of a 308 GTB or Berlinetta Boxer. It’s stylish, but not shouty.

Scintillating soundtrack20 years of Italian supercars

At least, not until I fire up the 3.5-litre V8. David’s car has an aftermarket Capristo exhaust and is even louder than the Aventador at idle. It hums with the undisguised potency of a naturally-aspirated engine that produces nearly 109hp per litre (380hp total): the highest specific output of any car at the time. With only a fabric roof between me and those four tailpipes, the cacophony fills the cabin and reverberates through my skull.

There’s a whole other dimension to the Ferrari’s soundtrack beyond 5,000rpm, though. At lower revs, the flat-plane-crank V8 is boisterous, but not especially tuneful. Only when you close in on the 8,500rpm redline (the same, incidentally, as the Lambo) does it shift up an octave, morphing into a high-pitched howl that has every hair on your body standing to attention.

Into the red20 years of Italian supercars

You need to work this engine hard to get the best from it, too. With a paltry 268lb ft of torque at 6,000rpm, the Ferrari is no quicker than many modern hot hatchbacks in everyday traffic. But then a gap opens, you drop a cog and it feels like a bona fide supercar again.

Cards on the table: I’d have my 355 with a manual gearbox – and no doubt pay a premium for doing so. But the F1 transmission, with its comically small lever on the centre console, is better than I’d been led to expect. The paddles move with mechanical precision, and the ability to upshift at full throttle keeps the engine spinning furiously. It’s rather more recalcitrant around town, but that’s also true of a manual Ferrari ’box. Ultimately, the faster you go, the better it gets.

The light fantastic20 years of Italian supercars

And believe me, it gets very good indeed. The 355’s steering is sublime – a reminder of how feelsome a hydraulic system can be in this era of anaesthetised electric helms. It’s slower and weightier than present-day Ferraris, yet still fabulously communicative.

On damp roads, I’m acutely conscious that, unlike every new car on sale, the 355 has no stability control. There’s no electronic safety net. Clearly, its limits are much lower than the ’Ring-slaying Aventador, but it doesn’t intimidate. Its suspension is supple and the whole car feels light on its feet. You couldn’t say that about a Testarossa.

Analogue to digital20 years of Italian supercars

With its compact dimensions and unfiltered driving feel, the 355 reminds me of two other cars of this era. One is the original Honda NSX – the brilliantly usable Japanese supercar that showed up Ferrari’s below-par 348 and, ironically, forced the Italians to up their game with the 355. The other is the Porsche 964 Carrera RS, a raw road-racer with an equally charismatic engine and superb chassis.

There’s perhaps an argument that these were the last of the truly analogue sports cars. Electronics would soon infiltrate every area of car construction, to the benefit of reliability and safety, but often to the detriment of good old-fashioned fun. No wonder the prices of all three cars are heading skywards.

Picking a winner20 years of Italian supercars

This isn’t a comparison test. Nobody is likely to whittle their shortlist down to an Aventador SV (from £280,000) or F355 (from £45,000). However, it shows how far high-performance cars have come in 20 years. These two share some similarities, but they could hardly feel more different.

The Lamborghini is awe-inspiring and magnificent; it’s the supercar turned up to 11  a double Sambuca washed down with a Red Bull. I loved driving it, but can’t escape the feeling I’d lose my licence if I owned one. The 355 is more of a robust Italian red: equally intoxicating, but fun at saner speeds and a better fit for UK roads. It’s a tough call, but I’d take the Ferrari.

Autosport International 2017

Race, rally and road: the stars of Autosport International 2017

Autosport International 2017The world-famous Autosport International show is held early in January at Birmingham’s NEC. For the motorsport community, it effectively marks the start of work on a new season’s racing or rallying, with many a team choosing to launch its new car at the show.

This year, as part of the Performance Car Show that runs in parallel, there was an added spectacle – a gathering of no fewer than 11 race-spec Ford Sierra RS500s, marking 30 years since this touring car monster roared onto the scene. Motorsport at its finest…

Ford Sierra RS500

Autosport International 2017

The Sierra RS500 was an evolution special – a tuned-up version of the standard Sierra RS Cosworth that incorporated changes such as a bigger turbo and aero kit to enhance its racing abilities. With huge success: racing versions went on to win 40 races back-to-back.

The RS500 is, today, a real collectible, with pristine road-going versions now commanding over £50,000. And the original racing versions on show at Autosport International? For their owners, virtually priceless – particularly as some of the cars’ original drivers visited the show to be reunited with their old racers.

Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes-AMG F1 car

Autosport International 2017

He came, he saw, he conquered, he retired. 2016 F1 champ Nico Rosberg won’t be driving this car in 2017… Could his replacement be at the NEC this weekend, checking it out?

Jaguar Formula E racer

Autosport International 2017

The future of single-seater motorsport is at Autosport International, too. This zero-emissions Jaguar racer is competing in this year’s Formula E championship for electric cars, as part of the British giant’s plans to fast-track future road-going EV technology.

Nigel Mansell’s Williams F1 car

Autosport International 2017

The famous Williams F1 team is 40 years old in 2017. Autosport International marks the start of a year-long series of events, and a fully-interactive stand featuring classics from the team’s past is a highlight of the show. Here’s one of Nigel Mansell’s old Williams, complete with ‘Red 5’ on the nosecone.

Ford Fiesta WRC

Autosport International 2017

WRC rallying has been overhauled for 2017, and the season promises to be the most exciting and dramatic in years. The cars are faster, and they finally look like rallying thrillers once again. This is Ford’s 2017 Fiesta, run by the British M-Sport team. Looks awesome, no?

Rallying Land Rover Freelander

Autosport International 2017

You don’t need a new car to go rallying, though. Indeed, you don’t need a simple car: why not take your old SUV rallying instead? Certainly, there’s a burgeoning series for Land Rover Freelanders, which proves even the most unlikely of machines can be turned into motorsport crowd-pleasers.

Team Dynamics Honda Civic Type R BTCC car

Autosport International 2017

BTCC champs Team Dynamics revealed its new 2017 Honda Civic Type R racer at Autosport International. Last year’s car was orange: this year, it seems black is the new orange…

MG ZR racer

Autosport International 2017

And, once again, you don’t need a six-figure budget to go tin-top saloon car racing. As the sign says, you could do a season in this MG hot hatch for around £6,000. By motorsport standards, that’s very cheap indeed.


Autosport International 2017

YouTube star Shmee150 was showing two of his cars at Autosport International – and the Aston Martin Vantage GT8 is a car he’s only just taken delivery of. Even alongside a McLaren 675LT, it was wowing people. Lucky guy…

Abarth 124 Rally

Autosport International 2017

Hot Fiat tuning division Abarth revealed its 124 Rally motorsport special at Autosport International 2017. Producing up to 300hp, it has a six-speed sequential gearbox, a full roll cage and umpteen other modifications to make it eligible for race series all over the world. It looks superb.

Audi UR Quattro

Autosport International 2017

If the 124 Rally looks great, this classic Audi Quattro looks sensational – still. More than three decades on, the car that turned WRC rallying on its head continues to fascinate. It’s the excitement of cars like this that WRC 2017 is hoping to reignite.

Avatar Roadster

Autosport International 2017

Specialist sports car maker Marlin revealed the production-ready version of the car it first showed here last year: the Avatar Roadster. The Ford Focus ST-powered machine produces 250hp for the promise of stunning performance, and there’s talk of a Focus RS-powered version producing a staggering 350hp. Like the look of this new, track-ready British sports car?

Bentley GT3 racer

Autosport International 2017

Bentley is winning in GT3 racing with the big Continental GT3-R. British GT racing grids may be cowering a little at the sight of it in 2017 – it’s a monster, but a very quick one at that.

Liberty Walk Ferrari 458 Italia

Autosport International 2017

If your low-slung Ferrari supercar isn’t quite low enough for you – or indeed, head-turning enough – you’re in luck. Liberty Walk will graft on this unique bodykit and basically lower the entire body almost onto the ground. If a Liberty Walk 458 is good enough for Justin Bieber, then who are we to argue?

Slammed BMW M3

Autosport International 2017

And if you thought the Ferrari was extreme, check out this low-riding BMW E30 M3. The front wheel rim is virtually touching the bodywork, it’s that low! Luckily, the Airlift kit means you can raise it up again so you can actually drive it on the road…

Racing Smart Fortwo

Autosport International 2017

Proving you can race absolutely anything, here’s a track-ready Smart Fortwo. There’s even a championship for the micro-sized city car racers.

Ford Focus RS v Raleigh Burner

Autosport International 2017

We’re not quite sure of the link here, but we like it all the same. Who else had a Raleigh Burner in the 1980s?

Ferrari Dino

Autosport International 2017

It wasn’t just racers and supercars, either. The Coys Autosport International auction is another annual staple, and the entry list this year is as amazing as always. This achingly beautiful Ferrari Dino 246 GT is about as perfect as can be – as you’d expect, given a £250,000-£280,000 guide price.