The killer statistic, though, is the Zolfe’s kerb weight. Anyone who knows Coates from his days at Caterham will be well aware of his obsession with kilograms, and in this case the number is an impressively trim 698kg. And that’s not a cheat figure that doesn’t include items such as paints and fluids; it’s a genuine all-up number which, if you do the maths, means there’s some 401bhp per tonne on offer in the case of the test car.
A reasonable degree of physical dexterity is required merely to climb aboard, as I discover when I lower my backside towards the bucket seat and realise that it’s at least a foot further away than I thought. Once you’re ensconced in it, however, the Zolfe provides the most fantastic driving position.
You sit low in it, really low, but the pedals and steering wheel are both positioned just so, and the view forward appears to be along what looks like a never-ending bonnet. You feel a lot like Biggles, even before you’ve turned the key and fired it up.
When you do, there’s an almighty shriek of sound as the highly tuned Ford engine bursts into life and then settles into a loud but not unpleasant idle. The gearbox is from an MX-5, as is the differential that goes with it, and as you move away, knee muscles trembling slightly on your clutch leg, a wave of concentration washes through you.
Thought number one as you rumble along said roads is that the ride quality is unexpectedly good. No, it’s better than that; it’s excellent. There’s a level of sophistication present to the damping that you simply don’t expect from a machine as small and mad looking as this. The steering, meanwhile, is alert and alive in the way you’d expect it to be, but also refined in a way that you would not.
So while the first few hundred yards pass in a blur of exhaust noise and anticipation of whatever mayhem is to come (just a twitch of my right foot sends a thump of response via the crank that’s strong enough to light up the back tyres momentarily), the overall impression is one of surprise – at how well resolved the chassis feels, at how sweetly things like the gearchange and steering operate, and how much less home-made the whole car feels on the move.
Once you look beyond the rough and ready cockpit of the test car (which is nothing like representative of what customer cars will be like inside), it’s a car with endless potential to entertain. To get the full-fat 280bhp engine installed (and once you’ve tried it, you’ll want it) you will need to spend nearer £40k than £30k, but once you’ve done so you’ll discover a car that’s outrageously rapid in a straight line but every bit as capable in the twisty bits, too.
It’s the sort of car in which you can lose yourself for a while if you’re not careful. I got properly carried away in it at one point and found myself driving in a manner that I haven’t done for a very long time indeed on the public road. Yet that was only possible because the basics in the Zolfe are so fundamentally correct.
There is a uniquely base form of appeal to a car like this, a car in which there’s little more than a big, powerful engine in the nose and a well sorted rear-drive chassis beneath your backside. You need to know what you’re doing to get the most out of it, of course, and the Zolfe’s raw purity of purpose won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Far from it.
But for a certain type of customer the Zolfe could be just the thing. And anyone who’s thinking about a Ginetta G40R right now should give it their closest attention.
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