Ascari KZ1

Ascari KZ1 2000s British supercar

The story of Ascari Cars – and the KZ1 – began in ’95. The firm was based in Dorset, England. It was named after Alberto Ascari – the first double F1 champion. The new enterprise had a single objective – to build a supercar. The result was the Ascari Ecosse. It was designed by Lee Noble – who would later start up his own supercar marque. The Ecosse was fast … as in, 200mph fast! Only 17 Ecosses, though, were sold. That was sufficient, however, to get the attention of Klaas Zwart – a Dutch business magnate. He subsequently bought Ascari. The company relocated – to Banbury, Oxfordshire. It is a region renowned for high-grade motorsport and its associated activities.

Released in ’03, the KZ1 was nominally a roadster. But, it had racing running through its finely-tuned veins. The beating heart of the car was a V8 engine. It had been transplanted from the BMW M5. Ascari’s engineers, however, hauled out 100 more horses from the standard saloon car unit. Asa result, output rose to 500bhp. The motor was mated to a 6-speed CIMA transmission. The chassis – sorted by ex-Lotus staff – was race-bred. The tub and body were cut from carbon-fibre. The KZ1 had a drag coefficient of just 0.35. Slippery stuff, indeed! Nonetheless, super-stiff ventilated discs stopped it on a sixpence.

Like its Ecosse predecessor, the KZ1 topped out at 200mph. 0-60 arrived in 3.8s. 0-100, in 8.3. As you would expect, stats like that set you back £235,000. But, you also got a leather and polished-aluminium cockpit, for your outlay. And air conditioning. Plus – last but not least – access to your own purpose-built test-track. As a KZ1 owner, Race Resort Ascari was at your disposal. CEO Klaas Zwart built it for his own private use … and for those who purchased his products. Zwart’s custom design ‘borrowed’ corners from the world’s finest circuits – and shifted them to Spain. Perfect, then, for putting your new KZ1 through its paces. Alberto Ascari would surely have approved!

Jaguar XJ 220

The Jaguar XJ 220’s parts-list seemed more suited to aerospace than automobiles. The body was made from bonded-aluminium honeycomb. Its aerodynamics came straight out of Group C racing. The result was cerebellum-splitting acceleration. ‘220’ stood for its mph top speed. Jim Randle – Jaguar’s chief engineer – conceived the car. Thereafter, he coaxed a few colleagues into spending Saturdays on the XJ project. To begin with, at any rate, we are talking spare-time supercar!

The XJ’s race credentials were clear to see. Keith Helfet’s svelte bodywork was just for starters. A 5-speed transaxle ran through an AP clutch. Alloy wheels were centre-locking – for speedy wheel changes. Hefty brakes had 4-piston calipers. Suspension was wishbone/inboard. Output was 500bhp. In theory, at least, though, the XJ was a roadster. Jaguar teamed up with TWR – to found JaguarSport. A production facility was built – in Bloxham, Oxfordshire. In total, 350 XJs rolled out of it. Each with a price tag of £403,000.

When the prototype appeared – at the ’88 Birmingham Motor Show – it had triggered a tidal wave of excitement. Jaguar were besieged by orders. But when the supercar bubble burst, panic had set in. Suddenly, lawyers were overloaded with cases – as over-eager buyers tried to wriggle off the car’s high-priced hook. The Jaguar XJ 220 story – which began in Whitley, West Midlands – morphed into something more suited to Hollywood! What started as a sideline – to keep boffins’ brains busy – turned into a study in Eighties excess.

Noble M15

When it came to machines like the M15, Noble’s sports car credo was simple. Let the driver do the driving! That was in sharp contrast to many other manufacturers – who were happy to let gizmos have half the input. To Lee Noble, half the input meant half the fun! Founded in ’99, his firm shot straight out of the automotive blocks. The Noble M10 – released the same year – did 170mph. And with a normally aspirated engine! Its light plastic bodywork was key to that speed. The Noble M12 moved things up another gear. Its turbocharged Ford motor was really more racer, than roadster. Time to throttle back a tad.

The M15 was launched in 2006. Pundits – Top Gear amongst them – praised its performance. 185mph was on tap – with 0-60 coming up in 3.4s. The twin turbocharged Ford Duratec engine made 455bhp. And the power was smoothly delivered. As Lee Noble had clarified – his cars were about the total driving experience. The M15’s motor was mounted longitudinally. That evened out weight distribution – helping handling. The M15’s purposeful poise was propped up by a space-frame chassis. Topping things off was an integral rollcage.

The M15’s cabin was more than comfortable. There were electric windows – and sat-nav. Traction control and ABS, too. Did that border on computerised hand-holding? Possibly … but, then, Noble did have a duty to protect its customers! And their wallets, for that matter. By supercar standards, the M15 came cheap. £74,950 was loose change compared with some of its peers!

TVR Cerbera Speed 12

The TVR Cerbera Speed 12 further developed the Project 7/12 prototype. The latter was named for its 7.0-litre V12 engine. The 7/12 had wowed the crowd at the ’96 British Motor Show. It did the same at racetracks. Hardly surprising really – since 0-60mph arrived in around 3s. In the debit column, the 7/12 was far from forgiving, handling-wise. That was all to the good, so far as motor racing fans were concerned. The combination of the 7/12’s prodigious output – and hairy handling – made for some splendid spectating. In effect, the 48-valve V12 was two 6-cylinder motors combined. A 6-speed ‘box did what it could to transition power smoothly to the rear wheels. All of that was wrapped up in a TVR Tuscan modified chassis. So far as race-goers were concerned – with 800bhp flowing through what was essentially a souped-up sports car – the 7/12 was the gift that kept on giving!

But, there was more to come from the Project 7/12. In 2000, a new version was unveiled. Rebranded as the Speed 12, it was everything its predecessor had been – and more! TVR had used the McLaren F1 supercar as a benchmark. Which pretty much said it all. Flat-out, the F1 did 231mph. The Cerbera Speed 12 was about to top that. It was reputedly good for 240mph. That was in no small part down to the Speed 12’s weight – or lack thereof. TVR engineers had pared it down to just 1,000kg. Not only was the Speed 12’s bodywork breathtaking to behold – it was hyper-light, too. Optimal aerodynamics, then, were a gimme.

Sadly, just three Speed 12s were built. Without doubt, TVR – based in Blackpool, England – had built awesome performance into the car. But on the open road, that could be a double-edged sword. In the hands of the unwary, such poke might prove fatal. ‘TVR’ had been founded by TreVoR Wilkinson. Now, though, a new man was at the helm. CEO Peter Wheeler was a seasoned and skilled racer of the company’s products. If anyone knew the capabilities – and potential perils of the car – it was him. Wheeler felt that the Speed 12 was simply too powerful to take to the roads. It was rumoured that the car might compete at Le Mans – which rather reinforced his point! After all, the TVR Cerbera Speed 12 served up some 960bhp. As for the roadster, a price tag of £188,000 had been mooted. Some prospective buyers might well have seen that as a steal!

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