What would a car designed by Halfords look like? Can't imagine it? Well, this is the Japanese equivalent, produced in Britain by Far Eastern car accessory retailer Autobacs, and called the Garaiya RS-01. We slid behind the wheel to bring you a world exclusive first drive.
The parts company has 500 stores in Japan, and set up ASL - Autobacs Sportscar Laboratories - in April 2001. Despite Japanese ownership and the use of a Nissan Primera engine, the Garaiya has the feel of a true British sports car. That's because it's built in Norfolk, and is currently being tested at the Millbrook Proving Ground, Bedfordshire, where MotorDrive LiVe will be held next month.
Based on the short-lived but much-hyped Tommikaira ZZ, the RS-01 has a lightweight aluminium and steel chassis, which gives it the feel of a grown-up Elise. Indeed, it will be pitched mid-way between the Lotus and Noble's M12 GTO when it goes on sale.
It certainly looks the part, with rakish lines befitting a shrunken supercar. The front shows shades of Ferrari's 360 Modena, but the only parts noticeably borrowed from another maker are the Alfa Romeo 147 rear lights. Among the most striking features are the low-cut windows, which give a real sense of speed as the tarmac flashes by.
Despite being six months off completion, the Autobacs car promises much and drives like a thinking man's Vauxhall VX220. Feather-light steering provides superb feedback and great precision, giving near-millimetre-perfect control. The final suspension set-up has yet to be signed off, and this development car feels very firm. It will need to be fine-tuned to UK roads, but the company says customers will be able to take part in the testing and development of their own machine, tailoring the ride and handling to their personal tastes.
A mid-engined layout ensures a great handling balance whatever the settings, and the 2.0-litre motor proves perfectly versatile with a torquey power delivery. It produces around 180bhp, and although no official performance or economy figures have been recorded yet, acceleration is rapid. Unfortunately, our test car had a development gearbox which had no gate to guide the stick, so a steady hand was required. This will be fixed before production, says the firm.
The brakes have no servo assistance but, thankfully, with only 900kg to bring to a halt, the RS-01 slows very quickly, and there are race car-like levels of feedback. Even though the external dimensions are little bigger than those of an Elise, the cabin is surprisingly spacious and practical. There's plenty of legroom, and the carpets and cubbyholes will be alien to drivers of the Garaiya's stripped-back rivals.
The chrome trim mimics a TVR's switches, while the digital dials give a real sense of occasion. Those scissor doors are not so impressive, though, as they make entry to the cockpit difficult. By the time the Garaiya goes on sale in January, the mechanism will hopefully have been improved.
The RS-01 could also struggle on price. The final figure has yet to be confirmed, but the low-volume sports car should cost around £35,000. That seems steep next to the £27,995 Lotus Elise 111S, but is more attractive than the Noble M12 GTO's £47,950 tag. So has a Japanese auto parts store taught the Brits a thing or two about our own sports car market? The Garaiya is certainly a fine driver's machine, with suitably striking styling, but the price could prove a stumbling block. We can't wait to get behind the wheel of a UK-spec version with a finished box and properly fettled suspension to see if it's really worth £7,000 more than an Elise.