Holland might be famous for hardcore sex and softcore drugs, but a little known company is looking to change all that with a sportscar for the leaner, cleaner modern age: the Donkervoort GT.
Founded in 1978 by Joop Donkervoort, the company has developed a cult following in Europe with exquisitely engineered yet eye-wateringly expensive Lotus Se7en clones. It’s still a family concern; son Denis drives the race car and gorgeous daughter Amber mans reception and the press office, yet they’ve pumped more than 1,000 cars into the bright blue yonder from a small factory in Lelystadt, Northern Holland. It was time for something new. And over two years of development went into the GT, which will carry the hopes of far more than a small Dutch company into the coming decades.
On looks alone, it’s a winner – from the front anyway. This is the Lotus Se7en brought bang up to date, then armed with a flick knife for the full effect. Those vicious, slanting headlights join forces with the cutting, low slung splitter and those huge vents in the bonnet to give a front profile that would blow the homely Caterham into the reeds. That bonnet is seriously long, relative to the rest of this miniscule car, and that sloping, fastback rear isn’t the sexiest on the planet, but it’s certainly unique and dictated by aerodynamic and packaging requirements. Look at the naked, unclothed body of the GT and it’s clear this wafer thin bodywork is simply draped around the components in the most figure-hugging, aero-friendly way possible.
And such things as mere looks cease to matter when you slide into the figure hugging driving seat, pull down the wafer thin door that is so light it shakes in the breeze and fire up the guttural engine that, freed from the confines of a hulking great Audi and tuned to maximum effect, sounds way dirtier than almost anything Amsterdam can offer. Almost…
With just 270 bhp from a modified Audi 1.8 Turbo, this car regularly pulls down the pants of Ferraris, Porsches and Aston Martins in the GT4 Championship across Europe and the prototype took the production car record at the Nurburgring for a short while.
And the key to this breathtaking speed is weight, or lack of it. The Donkervoort weighs just 650 kg – the minimum weight of a Formula One car – thanks to a carbon-fibre chassis produced with the help of Advanced Composites in good Ol’ Blighty. They come with a reasonable customer list that even includes the McLaren-Mercedes F1 team.
The major manufacturers wet themselves over batteries, hydrogen and algae power, competing for the most preposterous way to power a car in the year 3012. Small manufacturers like Donkervoort have more realistic goals, like harnessing the technology we have right now. For them the affordable mass production of carbon-fibre cars is the Holy Grail. Because, with the reduced weight implicit in a carbon-fibre chassis comes increased fuel economy, performance, handling and a whole bundle of other goodies. It’s an awkward material though, and the likes of the Ferrari Enzo, Pagani Zonda and more justify their telephone number price tags with the hocus pocus effect of the chassis structure.
But with a recipe that includes carbon-fibre, Kevlar, glass and a variety of other materials, supported by an integral spaceframe that runs through the car, Joop Donkervoort thinks he has cracked the code and has come up with a starting price of Euro 89,000 (Rs 60 lakh approx). That’s expensive, but it’s a new benchmark for a carbon-fibre car and the company is so invested in the technology that it offers its services for other industrial applications.
Along the way, happily, he has also produced a hellishly quick car. It’s a raw, stripped down, emotive drive at every step, a pure driving experience brought about by the simple ethos of lightweight construction and top quality engineering on even the smallest detail. The GT screams through the 96 kph mark in just four seconds and does so with such violence that it feels twice that fast as the growling noise fills every millimetre of the claustrophobic cabin. Every time the needle hits 3500 rpm, the turbo kicks in and 35.6 kgm of torque – two-thirds of the amount in the near two-tonne BMW M5 – slingshots the car down the road.
Every change on the five-speed box is greeted with a Darth Vader’s sneeze inside the cockpit as the wastegates open and the next wave of acceleration starts to grow. Lift off and the whole car lurches like its hit a wall; with no mass to drag it forward, the reaction to every tiny input is instant and it almost doesn’t need the monstrously effective Tarox brakes. It’s an addictive experience, one that could put your licence in serious jeopardy, especially in Holland, which invented the Gatso and proudly displays them every few hundred metres on main roads. So the top speed of 248 kph, while it isn’t enough to worry the Italian supercar giants, is more than enough for the Dutch public highway and, as Denis has capably proven, most race tracks in this world. Because the straights are only half the story, it’s the corners where the GT makes much bigger cars look stupid. There’s now power assistance on the steering, but when the car is so lean that it makes a Lotus Elise look like a fat old bloater, you just don’t need it. Just the slightest nudge on the wheel, the merest suggestion, sends the car darting to the apex in a whirlwind of motion, speed and grace.
And it will drive however you want it to, with scalpel precision or fully sideways through the bend with just a Limited Slip Differential to catch you if the fun gets out of hand. Point to point this might just be the fastest thing I have driven this year, bar the Bugatti Veyron, and the scary thing is it could have been faster, much faster. Because the suspension comes with full adjustment via simple twisting handgrips in the rear, and it was set for comfort and traction in the violent storm that greeted our test. With a softer rear there was no scrabbling for traction, no violent and snappy slides wide, it simply found the grip and shot off towards the next bend. And at this price, the GT had to be more than a trackday toy in any case. The closed roof, luggage space in the rear and Connolly-leather clad interior were all part of the plan for a luxury Lotus Se7en, a new breed of GT car that brings race car handling to a luxury market.
Of course there are sacrifices to the altar of weight including traditional door handles, which are replaced with a wire and a press stud fastening, bodywork that shakes at speed and even the 6 kg aircon is an optional extra that works through two exceptionally lightweight vents. Don’t expect to find a multi-speaker sound system and cupholders here, this isn’t a Porsche after all. But then the Porsches, Aston Martins and Lamborghinis of this world, in petrol form at least, are already on borrowed time.
Luxuries, flappy paddle gearboxes, crash protection and sheer laziness have added fat over the generations that have been countered with sheer horsepower. That is a race down a blind alley. The GT’s figures of 11 kpl and 186 g/km of CO2 are magic compared to the immediate rivals, yet there is a long way to go for the Donkervoort clan. And while the opposition busies itself with solar, battery, hydrogen, nuclear and algae power to fuel the next generation of big barges, Donkervoort will set to work on an even lighter sportscar based on an even smaller VW group engine, which will drink marginally less than a thirsty gnat and emit less noxious fumes than a gassy cow. And that, right there, could be the ultimate sportscar for today’s leaner, cleaner age, and a shining light at the end of a very bleak tunnel for driving enthusiasts everywhere.