Have you ever wondered what you'd do if you won the lottery? After treating my friends to the bender of all benders, I reckon I might settle down and have a crack at making my own sports car. And this, very roughly, is how I'd go about making it.
Simple ideas are often the best, so fundamentally I'd be looking to come up with a car that a) I'd personally get a kick out of driving, b) I'd be prepared to pay for and c) I'd continue to enjoy ogling at and driving in years to come.
I'm not looking to reinvent the wheel here, so that means an open-top two-seater that's mid-engined and rear-wheel drive. I'd set a target weight of 2,200lbs and a target price of $60,000, the idea being to offer the performance and driver appeal of cars that normally cost twice as much as my car. Then I'd start talking to designers, although not just limiting myself to car industry people (so anything from Reebok trainers to IKEA furniture might work its way on to the design palette).
Finally, I'd come up with a company name, a model designation and a company motto. So how about BS (for Beautiful Sportscars), the BS1 and, “BS, the life of your drive” (ahem).
To get to that 2,200lb target yet still have a car that I'll want to use every day, I'll need to be pretty smart with the materials used in the basic construction. To keep the cost down, I'll use a combination of aluminum and steel for a space-frame chassis. For the body panels, the obvious choice is glassfiber-reinforced plastic (GRP), but with the advances being made in forged carbon (as used by the Lamborghini Sesto Elemento), there's scope to use this for some of the more important panels. Not only will this make the BS1 look and feel more special, but it would also help to keep weight down.
Engine, gearbox, performance targets
The engine will be my single biggest cost factor and, at $60k, a custom unit is right out of the question. Something like a Honda S2000 motor would be a giggle but, it being 2011, we need to be thinking about fuel consumption, reliability and emissions as much as we do about 8,400rpm. So I propose using an off-the-shelf V6 turbodiesel from Volkswagen, mated to a similarly sourced 6-speed dual-clutch gearbox but with a lower final drive to reduce the overall gearing.
The engine will be tuned to produce as much torque as possible, and to deliver a demonic growl at full throttle plus a series of disturbing hisses when you back off. Our target figures are 250hp, 350lb-ft, 60mpg, 0-60mph in 4.5sec, 0-100mph in 10.0sec and a top speed of 147mph.
The sort of driving experience we're talking about will be a bit like a half-scale version of an Audi Le Mans car, with gigantic thrust low down and a snappy paddle-shift gearbox for when the revs run out, which they'll do very quickly indeed in the first four gears. Throttle response will be tuned to be as crisp yet as smooth as possible, but there will be no traction control or ESP (too expensive), so you'll be on your own if you get it wrong.
Chassis, suspension, steering
The BS1 will be mid-engined, with rear-wheel drive. It will not, however, be so focused that it can't be used on the road. Quite the opposite, in fact. So once the basic platform has been designed, I'll spend most of the time refining the chassis to make it as usable as possible on the road.
Thus, while the steering will be laser precise and the all-around double wishbone suspension firm enough to maintain perfect control of the body at high speeds, the damping will be surprisingly chilled. The whole car, in fact, will feel spookily like a Lotus Esprit Sport 300 in its general response, with a touch of Noble M12 to its ride quality and a hint of Boxster S to its balance mid-corner.
The steering will be power assisted, but only lightly at high speeds, and the alloy wheels will be 18in at the front and 19in at the rear, with conventional 215/40 rubber at the front and 235/35s at the back (in other words, not track-day tires). The grip levels will be decent, obviously, but not to the point where you can't use the throttle to steer the car if you are tasty enough. A limited-slip differential will be optional but highly advisable (kerr-ching…).
The late Peter Wheeler's motto at TVR was: “If it looks good and goes like stink, it'll sell.” Dial a bit of extra reliability and customer care into the equation and the recipe will still stand up today. Except, of course, that the BS1 is mid-engined, so it'll look very different from TVR's like the wild Sagaris (RIGHT).
Just so long as it looks low, wide, mean and beautiful, the BS1 will be entirely irresistible to its intended audience. The idea is to make it so good looking that people buy it before they even drive it – and then, of course, they'll be even more amazed by what they discover.
It would be nice to have carbon-ceramic brake discs and an anti-lock system on the BS1, but unfortunately our treasure chest isn't that deep. This isn't a major problem, though, because with sufficient fine-tuning and, remember, only 2200lbs to keep in check, the car will still stop on a dime and have a delicious, fade-free feel to its brakes. These, by the way, will be supplied and jointly signed off by Alcon, which is one of the best in its field.
For the BS1's roof, I will refine the system used by TVR, using light carbon fiber panels to switch between a fully open car, a targa-style car and a fully closed car. The panels will store vertically behind the seats, leaving a small but perfectly formed luggage area in the nose.
The interior will be simple but not sparse in its design – more luxuriant in look and feel than a Lotus Elise's but not as conventional as a Porsche Boxster's. An on-board data logging system, complete with “drift box” software, will be standard equipment, and a removable sat-nav unit will be integrated into the center console.
Marketing and Aftermarket
Hopefully, the BS1 will sell itself, what with it being so beautiful to look at and so brain-bendingly excellent to drive.
To begin with, though, it will be sold from just one premises, which will contain a full parts division and customer care center – in other words, not through a non-interested, over-ambitious, under-informed dealer network.
BS customers will be treated like part of the family once they've bought their cars, and if the idea subsequently takes off, the aftermarket operation will expand accordingly. There will be a two-year warranty on all mechanical components, 12,000-mile service intervals and an optional high-performance driving course for those who want it.
It all sounds so easy, doesn't it? Pinch a bulletproof engine and gearbox from VW, knock up a sweet-handling, mid-engined chassis, make the whole thing look beautiful – then stand back and admire the order book as it swells.
The reality, of course, would probably go something like this: Have good idea about ultra-torquey new diesel-engined sports car, try to make it work, throw heinous amounts of money at project – and end up producing one very dodgy, rather weird-driving prototype. Which would lead to abandonment of idea and return to day job.
Who knows, maybe there's a nugget of something in the BS1 that might one day make it on to our roads. And maybe pigs will fly west for their summer vacations this year. But if there is a message, it's this: As the world of cars gets ever more complex and produces machines that are increasingly sophisticated in their design and engineering, there's still a desire for something at the other end of the scale. A sports car that's simple to understand and easy to interact with. And, most of all, just good fun to drive.
The sort of car someone who had won the lottery might crave, in other words, having already bought everything that there is to buy. One day…