What is it?
The work of Caterham’s ex-technical director, Jez Coates, the intriguingly named Zolfe Classic GTC4 is a front-engined, rear-drive two-seater that has been designed primarily to be driven on the road. It will also, you suspect, prove indecently rapid at track days. There are no frills and there is very little in the way of luxury.
If the name – not the Zolfe Car Company or even Zolfe Cars, just Zolfe – sounds a little bit clunky, the car itself is anything but. Financed by a Midlands-based entrepreneur and plastics guru, Nic Strong, and designed by a collaboration of companies and individuals that include the aforementioned Coates, alongside Stadco, MTCE, AP Racing and Avon Tyres, the Zolfe is a delightfully simple, back-to-basics sports car very much in the mould of Ginetta’s new G40R.
Anti-lock brakes, power steering and traction control have each been eschewed in the name of purity. The fun factor is what counts in this car, just as it is with the Ginetta, and just as it was when Coates was in charge of things at Caterham.
As such, the engine is a straightforward four-cylinder unit, supplied by either Mazda or Ford depending on how much power you want (our test car had a rippling 2.3-litre, 280bhp Ford lump, but anything between 180 and 300bhp is available). Suspension is by double unequal-length wishbones all round, while the brakes, as intimated, are great big ventilated discs by AP Racing.
The killer statistic, though, is the Zolfe’s kerb weight. Anyone who knows Coates from his days at Caterham will be well aware of his obsession with kilograms, and in this case the number is an impressively trim 698kg. And that’s not a cheat figure that doesn’t include items such as paints and fluids; it’s a genuine all-up number which, if you do the maths, means there’s some 401bhp per tonne on offer in the case of the test car.
What’s it like?
A reasonable degree of physical dexterity is required merely to climb aboard, as I discover when I lower my backside towards the bucket seat and realise that it’s at least a foot further away than I thought. Once you’re ensconced in it, however, the Zolfe provides the most fantastic driving position.
You sit low in it, really low, but the pedals and steering wheel are both positioned just so, and the view forward appears to be along what looks like a never-ending bonnet. You feel a lot like Biggles, even before you’ve turned the key and fired it up.
When you do, there’s an almighty shriek of sound as the highly tuned Ford engine bursts into life and then settles into a loud but not unpleasant idle. The gearbox is from an MX-5, as is the differential that goes with it, and as you move away, knee muscles trembling slightly on your clutch leg, a wave of concentration washes through you.
Thought number one as you rumble along said roads is that the ride quality is unexpectedly good. No, it’s better than that; it’s excellent. There’s a level of sophistication present to the damping that you simply don’t expect from a machine as small and mad looking as this. The steering, meanwhile, is alert and alive in the way you’d expect it to be, but also refined in a way that you would not.
So while the first few hundred yards pass in a blur of exhaust noise and anticipation of whatever mayhem is to come (just a twitch of my right foot sends a thump of response via the crank that’s strong enough to light up the back tyres momentarily), the overall impression is one of surprise – at how well resolved the chassis feels, at how sweetly things like the gearchange and steering operate, and how much less home-made the whole car feels on the move.
Should I buy one?
Once you look beyond the rough and ready cockpit of the test car (which is nothing like representative of what customer cars will be like inside), it’s a car with endless potential to entertain. To get the full-fat 280bhp engine installed (and once you’ve tried it, you’ll want it) you will need to spend nearer £40k than £30k, but once you’ve done so you’ll discover a car that’s outrageously rapid in a straight line but every bit as capable in the twisty bits, too.
It’s the sort of car in which you can lose yourself for a while if you’re not careful. I got properly carried away in it at one point and found myself driving in a manner that I haven’t done for a very long time indeed on the public road. Yet that was only possible because the basics in the Zolfe are so fundamentally correct.
There is a uniquely base form of appeal to a car like this, a car in which there’s little more than a big, powerful engine in the nose and a well sorted rear-drive chassis beneath your backside. You need to know what you’re doing to get the most out of it, of course, and the Zolfe’s raw purity of purpose won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Far from it.
But for a certain type of customer – someone who’s had a Caterham, perhaps, but no longer wants to get wet – the Zolfe could be just the thing. And anyone who’s thinking about a Ginetta G40R right now should give it their closest attention.
Zolfe Classic GTC4
Price: £32,000-£38,000; Top speed: 140mph; 0-62mph: 4.5sec (est); Economy: 26mpg (tested average); CO2: na; Kerb weight: 698kg; Engine: 4 cyls in line, 2300cc, petrol; Installation: Front, longitudinal, RWD; Power: 280bhp at 7500rpm; Torque: 200lb ft at 6000rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual; Fuel tank: 50 litres; Wheels: 6.5x15in (f), 8Jx15in (r); Tyres: 195/45 R15 (f), 245/40 R15 (r)