On the Swift Demise of a Boutique Supercar

Ambitious and flawed, the Caparo leaves behind a very mixed legacy.

byLawrence Ulrich| PUBLISHED Nov 11, 2015 10:21 PM
On the Swift Demise of a Boutique Supercar

Compromise is a given in the automaking world, even for visionaries like Tesla’s Elon Musk or hypercars like the Bugatti Veyron. But not the Caparo T1. No, the Caparo T1 was different.

Hailed in 2007 as a Formula 1 car for the road, the Caparo looked like a teenager’s nocturnal dream jetted into daylight: Bewinged body, exoskeleton like a praying mantis, a structure made from carbon-fiber and aluminum honeycomb; firepower by way of an Indy-derived 3.5-liter V8. A good parentage of the engineers came from the McLaren F1 supercar program. When tested on Top Gear, the T1 sent Jeremy Clarkson into one of his pants-wetting spasms, culminating in lines like, “You can forget Enzos, you can forget Koeniseggs, this is in a different league!

And then the floor fell off. And then the fuel supply got all wonky.

Yet, unlike some vaporous exercises (Vector WX-8, Terrafugia, Lotec), the Caparo was both corporeal and unreal. Extreme as Torquemada, and equally torturous to some drivers, the T1 produced 575-horsepower and weighed roughly 1,250 pounds—twice the power-per-pound as the Veyron. It eye-blinked to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds and pulled up to 3 g’s of downforce-aided lateral acceleration. The Caparo lapped the Top Gear track in 1m, 10.6s, whipping the then-champion Koenigsegg CCX by a remarkable seven seconds, despite an apparent life-and-death tussle between understeer and oversteer. And while the T1 was denied a spot on the show’s Big Board (because it couldn’t surmount a speed bump), this track-day assassin was ostensibly street-legal in most countries. It even had a tiny passenger seat staggered aft of the driver.

But like so many other automotive dreams, the Caparo may have carried the seeds of its own destruction, from its single-minded approach to its $350k price.

Its conglomerate parent company, Caparo Industries, is verging on collapse in the face of Britain’s ongoing steel crisis. The firm is shedding hundreds of jobs in the “Black Country,” where foundries have smudged the skies since the industrial revolution. (Per Dickens, these West Midlands factories “poured out their plague of smoke, obscured the light, and made foul the melancholy air”).

David M. Benett/Getty Images

Even more poignantly, Caparo chief Angad Paul, the 45-year-old son of founder Lord Swarj Paul, died Nov. 8 after a fall from his London penthouse. This, just two weeks after the company went into administration, the U.K. equivalent of court-managed receivership. Friends of the Paul family have called it a suicide.

Caparo has no tomorrow, at least as an automaker. Fewer than 30 examples of the T1 have been built, apparently none since the global recession. In January, the company unveiled a redesigned, police-livery T1 Evolution at a racing car show in the U.K., said to pack 700 horsepower at a price well over $1 million. There’s been not a peep since. Scouring the books, administrators from PricewaterhouseCoopers are already asking tough questions about whether the T1’s un-recouped development costs played some role in the parent company’s crisis and attendant loss of jobs.

For us, the T1’s seeming endgame isn’t the point. What matters is that Caparo turned vision into flesh, and that can never be taken away. In some grungy bar two decades from now, someone will lift a pint and ask if anyone remembers Caparo, and how its T1 would smoke any car it came across. Someone else will nod with respect, and talk will turn to the industry’s eternal underdogs and dreamers, from Tucker and DeLorean to Koenigsegg, Pagani, or McLaren itself. On a carbon-fiber wing and a prayer, Caparo asked the question that few manufacturers dare raise, let alone answer: If we built the ultimate performance car, what would it be?