Posted on: Sep 04, 2012
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Track Day Icons: Caparo T1


This is what Han Solo would drive if he had to give up space flight.
Taking a slightly different, but far more insane approach to the track day car is the Caparo T1. This is a car which is both more powerful and lighter than the Ariel Atom 500, and in fact has the highest power-to-weight ratio of any street-legal car. A sort of relative of the legendary McLaren F1, this is the kind of car which brutally punishes amateurs, but which is potentially fantastic in the right hands. The T1 was largely the work of two men, Ben Scott-Geddes and Graham Halstead, both of whom had quite a bit of involvement in designing the McLaren F1.

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Toward the end of the project, the two also enlisted the help of Gordon Murray, a name familiar to any devoted fan of the F1. The idea of the T1 is to showcase Caparo's ability to make such a lightweight, but still street-legal car. The design of the T1 is rather odd-looking, and it seems that the design team came up with it by simply adding to a Formula 1 car only those parts as were strictly necessary. Say what you will about the Ferrari Enzo being inspired by F1 car, the Caparo T1 is as close to the real deal as could ever be driven by mere mortals. Those mortals would have to have quite a bit of money, though.
The T1 will cost you around $350,000, which is Rolls-Royce Phantom money. Then there's the cost of all of the driving lessons you'll need in order to not kill yourself, it all starts to pile up. The dry weight of the T1 is only about 1,000lbs, which is not much more than an F1 car. The mid-mounted engine is a 3.5-liter naturally-aspirated V8 which puts out 575 horsepower, but can reach as much as 700hp when using methanol. The transmission is a six-speed Hewland sequential, which uses paddles to shift between gears but also has a clutch pedal for taking off from a stop.
This pedal is extremely difficult to use, and requires either the most delicate of pedal manipulation, or a lack of concern about lighting up the rear tires pulling away from the light. Neither of these is really great for street use, but it is here where we should point out that the street legal status the T1 enjoys is for the UK only. Zero to sixty comes in "less than 2.5 seconds" and the T1 can hit a top speed of 205mph. Even on the track, this is quite an impressive amount of speed, and all of the many, many adjustable parts need to be set up just so.
Unlike some of the other cars in this series, this isn't something you can just jump into and go. It requires prep time like a dedicated race car. There are some who probably have a negative opinion of the T1, and it's even possible that a few of them have already left comments on this article by the time you've read this far. This is actually pretty understandable. The T1's first TV appearances didn't go all that well. While being driven by Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear, part of the floor fell off while it was being driven at speed. But this is still vastly overshadowed by the incident on Fifth Gear when it was being driven by Jason Plato and caught on fire while going 160mph.
This sounds pretty bad, but the reason for these incidents was that the car which was being used for these TV appearances wasn't the actual production model, but rather a testing prototype. In fact, the low-speed cornering problems and even the car's inability to go over a speed bump, both of which were mentioned by Clarkson, already had solutions in the works before the segment was filmed. These sorts of things happen while testing supercars, we just usually don't hear about them because they don't happen on TV. Although it should still be said that it might not have been the best idea for Caparo to let them test an unfinished product.
Even with all of the above issues taken care of, the T1 is not an easy car to drive. Even with headlights and license plates, it has performance characteristics similar to that of a Formula 3000 car. These aren't the sort of vehicles which someone is typically allowed to drive without extensive training, and the T1 would is the one and only exception to this rule. Even for those who possess the skill, the T1 is a screaming and uncompromising machine which does not take kindly to being driven in anything but the most serious of mindsets.
But even as inaccessible as it is to so many of us normal members of the public, the T1 is still a fascinating car. The idea that this kind of awesome power is something which you can just go out and buy is incredible.

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by Jacob Joseph
Track Day Icons: Caparo T1
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