The gearshift mounting on the Leading Edge 240 RT sums up the pure, racer-like nature of the car. It’s open and visible in the cockpit, set high and close to the steering wheel in a perfect position, with the linkage rod heading straight back between the seats. If you look closely at the base of the stubby gearlever, you can see the ball moving around in its socket, surrounded by flecks of oil. There is no pandering to aesthetics here, just a pleasing devotion to function.
The theme is echoed around the cockpit: the welding of the extruded aluminium chassis is proudly on show, the passenger’s footplate is drilled for reduced weight, while the plain and simple switchgear
and instrumentation sit in a high-quality aluminium panel.
Clamber in and you feel very much at one with the car – snug, low and safe, surrounded by curving bodywork in a way which would be totally alien to any Caterham pilot. If you’ve tried a Caterham and felt too exposed, this will be a more reassuring experience and there is plenty of space for tall drivers.
The lightweight racing buckets are also perfectly set to match the pedals and wheel. You attach a plastic cut-off switch to the dash on the passenger side to fire up the electrics – perhaps the only racer-like device missing is a starter button, but a key is perfectly acceptable. It’s almost as if starter buttons are passé now, anyway.
We drove the Leading Edge 240 RT the year before last (28 Aug ’02) and pronounced it much improved over the original Tommy Kaira ZZ, which was notoriously tail-happy and tricky at the limit. You may remember that the Leading Edge Sports Car Company has resurrected the Tommy Kaira, originally built for the Japanese, and is now selling it in the UK as a rival to Caterhams and Elises for track-day fans.
The 2004 model you see here is further improved with redesigned rear suspension geometry, more powerful Willwood four-pot brake callipers and ventilated discs at the front and drilled items at the rear. New styling tweaks include superb 17in Kahn anthracite alloy wheels, an aggressive new four-headlight nose, a removable hard top and an (optional) extreme rear wing. The roof works particularly well, keeping buffeting to a minimum even without side windows, so you can drive it to and from the track… but only dark, secret parts of us like that massive rear wing. Overall, the visual effect is far more mini-Group-C racer than an Elise could ever be.
Thrust is provided by a tuned 2.0-litre Nissan engine from the Primera, running throttle-body fuel injection, good for 240bhp: in a car weighing only 809kg, it means 0-60mph in a claimed 4.4 seconds.
On the move, the 240 RT immediately impresses with its ride: it’s Elise-like in its magical ability to absorb all but the harshest bumps and the chassis feels enormously rigid. The Nissan engine is slightly disappointing, though. Our car may have been off-song, but it didn’t feel like the claimed 240bhp, though it thrives on revs and only comes alive after 5000rpm, with the powerband extending to the 7700rpm red line. Make no mistake, this is a rapid car, but we expected more brutal thrust and sharper throttle response in the midrange, especially after driving cars like the Elise 190.
Attacking the first bend in anger was an interesting experience – on tippy-toes. Editor Sutcliffe helpfully pointed out that the old Tommy Kaira would turn in and almost instantly spin if you overcooked it. But this revised car is neutral and benign in the extreme, more prone to understeer at the outer limit of adhesion, but by that time you’re travelling very quickly indeed. There is no understeer at turn-in and the steering is meaty and full of feel.
The Bridgestone SO3 tyres fitted to the test car aren’t the stickiest option – it really deserves a serious set of Michelin Cups or similar – but even so, the level of grip is immense. Even the most brutal lift will not make this car spin in the dry: to get it sideways, you need to be stupid, dip the clutch and literally hurl it out of shape.
The 240 RT is great fun, full stop, for drivers of all abilities and is capable of huge cornering forces. It feels heavier and less delicate than an Elise, but more purposeful, more of a pure racer, and that’s no bad thing. Prices start at £22,995 for the 160bhp model, up to £29,355 for the car tested here. Expensive, yes, but as an alternative to the everyday melee of track cars – Elises and Caterhams included – it’s well worth a try.