Everything started from the best way ever. One question. A question that every petrolhead loves to hear. This question what will immediately put a ear to ear smile. THE question : “Would you like to drive it ?” And, like if it was not enough “You will see, the roads are incredibly stunning!”.
Well, how to say no ?
Flashback, some months before.
January 2016. I just arrived in South Africa for some professional reasons and I was driving around Capetown, on one of these amazing pass roads surrounding the area when I saw two prototypes, straight from the UK (I thought). It looked like a Ultima GTR, like a Radical, but it is neither one or the other… During one week I searched on Internet to try to find what it was but it never happened. The answer arrived one week after, at a local race at the Killarney race track. I was meandering in the pitwalk when I saw these two prototypes, again. I found a way to find the owner and finally the designer and builder, Craig Harper.
We discussed a lot about his car, a Harper Sportscars Type6, and my activity for Automobili Eleganza, and the desire to drive it was already there, in my deep me. But I did not say anything. Please understand, 400cv, 900Kg, no electronics aids.
Harper SportsCars is a car company built and owned by Craig Harper, a kind of magic engineer who touch to anything with four wheels and a engine (with character please), has done a lot of races in endurance, sprint, rally,… .
Fully handmade, the Type 6 is the evolution of the Type 5. The biggest difference is the engine, a 1.6 liter four cylinder located transversally for the type 5, and a 4.0 Liter V8 engine for the Type6, located longitudinally. What a difference isn’t it ? The car is built of a handmade steel tubular chassis with independent suspensions at the 4 corners, a fiber glass body, an engine the client could choose in any case, and a manual gearbox. This car has been developed to race but to be able to come and return to the racetrack…by the road. Forget everything you know about ABS, ESP, electronics system, confort (even a door), silence, or stop your reading there. This car stayed in the past of the automotive industry…for the best !
4 months later. I received a phone call. “Would you like to come with me to Knysna for a hillclimb race ?” Obviously, my answer was yes. He we were, some weeks later, driving in a very dark Friday morning in a racing car in the middle of the common traffic. Program of the day : make 700km, try to not be pulled over too much by the traffic department, have fun. After the dark came the rain. I will stay in the X5 and S4 following us with all our stuff. The road will allow us to have some fun under this dramatic weather.
After a incredible hillclimb won by a Chevron B26 in front of a Nissan GTR of 1 700hp and a Dallara F1, we took the road to come back. If Craig want me to drive the car, he also is conscious that his car is not as easy as that to drive in town, thanks to the racing clutch. He took the car out of town and stop it just at the bottom of a mountain pass, on the emergency lane, at the border of the town. My excitation became nervous and I transform very quickly this excitation in fear.
I take my place in the carbon fiber seat, and raise my arms. Craig tightens the 5-point harness. I let the helmet slide around my head, turn the key. Contact on. The man told me some last words, like a last warning :”Be careful on the three first gears, you will lose the traction very quickly. Have fun, but come back in one piece”. Hum. I push the button, and start ! What a noise ! The 4.0 Liter Lexus V8 sounds incredibly loud. First gear. I push the engine on 2000rpm and remove the left foot from the clutch. It’s move…for two meters before the engine stops. Oups. Second time, 3000rpm, go ! You can discover my first minutes with this amazing machine :
I notice some play in the steering wheel at low speed, one more reason to be careful. When we are moving, the clutch become very easy to use. 2nd, 3rd, 4th, foot down ! Oh my f#@k*ng god ! My all body tries to dig the seat, my neck is fighting to keep the head straight. I lift my left foot and hope to rest a little bit during the gear change, but the huge “PSCHIIIIIIIITT” of the enormous turbo say no. I go to fifth gear, and the same thing arrives, again. I am already addict to it. First corner, first braking, deception. These brakes are made for a racing use, and not for a cruising tour like we had before the pass. They are completely cold. Hopefully, the handling of the car is perfect and I turn with more facilities than expected. The suspensions and the chassis, linked to the very thin carbon fiber seat, work together to give me the perfect feedback of what happens under the wheels. The feedback is close to the Porsche Cayman GT4 we tried some months ago and the car gives you quite the same feeling. There is no limit of grip, no limit of power, the limit is your brain.
One funny thing when you drive this car, this is the other people eyes. In a traditional modern GT or supercar, these eyes show jealousy and envy. In this car, these eyes show some astonishment and surprise. Every time you stop, someone is asking “what is it?” “Is is road legal ?” “What is the engine?” No jealousy, never. You can not imagine how nice is it to be able to drive a sport car without all these bad looking people. This car is a smile machine, for everybody, driver and walkers.
I will drove this car for around 250km of mountain roads, and the car will never surprise me in the wrong way, when the brakes are warm. Every town I crossed driving this car were a pretext to make another endless acceleration when I arrived out of each town. The fourth will send you from 50 to 220 km/h much faster than the time I needed to write this sentence. The third is a catapult. Each corner is a pleasure. This car will probably give you one of your best opened road experience, until you lose your driving license. Because yes, this car is incredibly fast, looks incredibly safe and the limits are fare away from the legal ones. Could we maybe consider it as a drawback? It will be to you to choose it… I personally find that this car, is a perfect modern interpretation of this old prototypes which runs into the endurances races in the late sixties. However, as these old prototypes, you don’t want to know what happen when the limits are there… It is probably the crash for a non-professional driver. Craig told me that the limits are easy to control when you understand the car balance… I will juste believe what he says, I don’t want to be the first one to crash a on the road !
My drive take end in a little restaurant on the side of the road. The car did not break me. I did not break the car. It is probably one of the best superlight and sport car I have never driven. Much faster than a Super7, more interactive than a Ferrari 458 Challenge, very close to Cayman GT4, for three times less expensive. Yes, this car will cost you around 30 000 euros, import tax included. One drawback? Yes, one. It will probably never be road legal in Europe, except maybe some private imports via England…