What ever happened to the Caparo T1?

Shane grew up working in his dad’s garage before studying engineering to PhD level, and then realised he preferred writing about and driving cars. Managed to make a living out of it, too. Just as well with three kids to feed…

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Most will remember the Caparo T1 for rather publicly singeing racing driver and TV presenter Jason Plato’s eyebrows as he tested it at high speed for Fifth Gear in 2007 and it caught fire. Few will know the full story behind that incident, which took place at the Bruntingthorpe airfield in Leicestershire, or indeed the full story behind one of the most astounding supercars ever made. Where did it come from? Wasn’t there a police version? Did they all go on fire?

Don’t worry, it’s not real. Stuff of nightmares, amirite?

Don’t worry, it’s not real. Stuff of nightmares, amirite?

Three years after Plato got burned, in 2010, I got my one and only chance to experience the T1 first hand. With his unfortunate incident in mind I turned up for what I expected to be a quick photo shoot of one of the client demonstration Caparos on a little-used runway in the middle of the UK (I’m being vague because I can’t, for the life of me, remember where it was). Back then, though sales of 25 cars per year were planned, only 10 had been completed. So to even have the opportunity to sit in one was a privilege.

Yet the car’s minder didn’t see it that way and he was more than happy for us to take action photographs on the public road, even though it was the midst of winter and his car was worth nigh on £250,000. Not only that, but once the images were in the bag, he jumped into the photographer’s car, gave me a thumbs up and indicated that he’d see me back at base. That meant a full hour on British back roads, with one of the most extreme road cars ever made to myself. Gulp.

“Please let there not be a tractor coming the other way. Please let there not be a tractor coming the other way. Please…”

“Please let there not be a tractor coming the other way. Please let there not be a tractor coming the other way. Please…”

The T1 began development at a company called Freestream, set up by Graham Halstead and Ben Scott-Geddes, engineers that previously worked on the McLaren F1 project. Caparo, an international technology business, acquired the firm in 2006 and renamed it Caparo Vehicle Technologies, under which it developed and marketed the T1. It was nothing short of a dramatic demonstration of the company’s abilities in terms of manufacturing and engineering.

That same year, the T1 was unveiled for the first time at the Top Marques show in Monaco, mooted as the first ever ‘1,000bhp-per-tonne’ road and track car. Thanks to a bespoke carbon chassis, it was said to have a dry weight of less than 500kg. By the time it was my turn to take the wheel, Caparo had settled on a ‘production’ spec for the engine, designed and built specifically for the T1 by Menard Competition Technologies. It was a screaming 3.5-litre V8 producing 583hp at a maniacal 10,500rpm. In an era of 600hp SUVs, that might not sound like a lot, but the power-to-weight ratio was nearly double that of the Bugatti Veyron’s and has been bettered since by only a few specialised, mental, barely road-legal machines. Making the most of this performance was a fully adjustable chassis and aerodynamics package. We’re not just talking about a few settings for the massive rear wing; you’d need to be a motorsport aerodynamicist to understand how to get the best from this car.

Something, something, fancy aerodynamics…

Something, something, fancy aerodynamics…

Not that I’m about to tweak anything for my short blast. I’m more concerned with working out how to turn the indicators on and off and moving off from a standstill without lunching the transmission. This is not an enjoyable car to drive slowly. Thankfully, other than one heinous T-junction incident (which required patience from about 10 other drivers as I negotiated the 90-degree turn in tiny increments), traffic is light. That means maintaining pace, which, unsurprisingly, the Caparo is rather good at. This car does 80mph in first gear.

The sequential gearbox requires no clutch when you’re on the move and it (unexpectedly) eases each new ratio into place as you flick the right-hand carbon paddle. There’s relentless shove from the back and it’s impossible to drive slowly (“try it for yourself, officer”). Literally nothing on the public road is as quick – nowhere near. Then you look down at the dinky digital readout and realise there’s still another 4,000rpm to go before peak power kicks in. Words don’t do this thing justice.

Evil-looking bodywork covers evil car?

Evil-looking bodywork covers evil car?

A big surprise is how supple and drivable the Caparo is on a relatively narrow and bumpy B-road. Sure, it’s stiff and it follows cambers, but it’s not excruciatingly uncomfortable. Likewise, even in damp conditions you learn to lean on the (variable) traction control. In any case, there’s a torrent of information coming through the tiny steering wheel and the seat to make sure you know just how much grip is available. It’s intuitive in the same way an average go-kart is, though with the world turned up to ‘fast forward’. Until you hit the brakes, in which case it feels like you’ve run into the horizon you were chasing until that point.

Doesn’t matter that you can’t understand any of this as you won’t have time to look down at it anyway

Doesn’t matter that you can’t understand any of this as you won’t have time to look down at it anyway

As I ease the Caparo back into the yard at the factory it’s dark and there’s that unmistakable hot smell coming from the T1 as it pings and ticks as it cools. It never did catch fire and I have something rather more special to remember it by. Shame the follow-up never materialised. Guess we’ll have to content ourselves with the forthcoming Aston Martin Valkyrie…

“Let’s try it without a helmet for this drive past,” he said. Fear is model’s own

“Let’s try it without a helmet for this drive past,” he said. Fear is model’s own

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