Currently reading: How we'd design our dream car
The perfect car is the one created inside your own head. So here's the best thing on four wheels, according to Autocar
Andrew Frankel Autocar
9 mins read
2 November 2019

If you’re reading this, I guarantee you’ve done it. Whether at school, on holiday, while bored at work, you’ve sat down and designed your own ideal car. How much power, how much performance, how much weight and so on.

But today the desire to pen the perfect car seems stronger than ever. You don’t need me to tell you that we are at the end of an era, that all we’ve taken for granted about the way cars are built throughout our lifetimes will shortly become no more than history. Electric cars are coming and I think most of us know that if they are to deliver true driving pleasure, it will come in a form that, as yet, is unknown to us. Even the best of them, the Jaguar I-Pace in my book, is at best a competent and characterful device employed in a transportational role.

So now, and while I still can, I’m going to design my ideal car, right here on this page in front of you. No one will agree with all the decisions I make, few with most, most with few, and some with none; but that doesn’t really matter, any more than does the fact that no one but a very well-resourced lunatic would actually try to manufacture such a car. This is my little fantasy, untroubled by issues like homologation and whether there is even a market for such a car, which, without a posh brand name behind it, there certainly would not be.

What’s the first question? Has to be how much, doesn’t it? It’s so tempting just to duck the issue and design a carbonfibre wonder-car with beryllium brakes, but that’s too easy. The car has to be within the reach of the merely quite well off, not the absolutely stinking rich. So I’m going to aim for an £80,000 list price, and spec it accordingly.

Second is how it’s built, and at this price point you can forget carbonfibre. This car will have an aluminium body and an aluminium structure and a weight target of 1150kg dry, which is very, very light by most standards, but realistically achievable without resorting to using exotic and prohibitively expensive materials. Next has to be size. It’s such an important consideration, it’s staggering to see how widely ignored it is today. Modern sports cars and supercars are just too big in general and too wide in particular, so I’m going to change all that. My car is going to be narrow, no more than 1800mm wide, which is still more than enough for two people to sit side by side in comfort. Two people? I thought about creating a 2+2 but this car is going to be so small that if there’s to be adequate luggage space and a decent-sized fuel tank, those rear seats are going to have to go.

Adequate luggage space? Absolutely. This car is categorically not a track-day weapon. It is a car that not only could be used every day, it’s one you’d choose to use every day. Of course it will be fun to drive on the track – hilarious, in fact, because its performance is going to be so accessible – but no one is ever going to break a lap record in one, because it’s just not important. One of my few mantras is that the amount of enjoyment a car can provide is defined as how fun it is to drive multiplied by the number of times you feel inclined to drive it. That, to me at least, is what’s important. So it has to work in all weathers, and on as wide a variety of roads (and tracks) as possible.


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The next consideration is probably the most fundamental, because it affects everything. Where do you put the bloody engine? I’ve agonised about this. I don’t want it in the front because putting that much mass on the front wheels must affect the way it steers, plus transmitting its power to the rear wheels (presumably I don’t need to explain why it’s going to be rear-wheel drive) will add weight and limit traction. But I don’t really want it directly behind the driver because that’s going to extend the wheelbase further than I ideally want it to go.

Really, I want it behind the rear wheels because that’s the only way I get to keep my optimal wheelbase, decent luggage space and uncorrupted steering. But if I’m going to do that, I need a flat-formation engine to keep the centre of gravity as low as possible, whereupon you’re all going to accuse me of designing a 911 by stealth. This is why no one has ever tried to follow the 911’s lead. And there is the weight distribution issue too.

So it’s going to be mid-engined. I’m not that happy about it, but when you’ve factored in all issues concerning mass, polar moment of inertia, traction and steering feel, it seems to me to be the least bad option.

Now, what sort of engine is this? You will, I am sure, have worked out it will drive through a six-speed manual gearbox, but I’m hoping its actual configuration will come as a surprise because, so far as I’m aware, it’s never been used in a road car before. And I really don’t know why. I still need that low centre of gravity, which draws me to a flat formation, but a four is too rough, a six too, well, 911-y. But a flat eight? Why not? In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Porsche used a flat eight in its 908 to win every major sports car race on earth save Le Mans, I’ve driven one and it sounds utterly fabulous. It also means it will be space efficient and quite short in length, so I can retain my hope of a super-short wheelbase.

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It will be oversquare in dimensions both to make sure it revs and keep its width (and therefore the car’s) under control and actually quite small. I think 3.0 litres is more than enough, from which 360bhp at around 8500rpm should be easily realised.

We’re getting there now. I’m no suspension engineer so I’ll bow to conventional thinking and have double wishbones at the front and a multi-link arrangement at the back. I’ve been wondering about differentials, too, and my thinking is that a mid-engined car this light and without much torque won’t need a limited-slip differential almost all of the time. So I’d propose to make quite a gentle, purely mechanical LSD an option alongside a springs-and-dampers suspension package for track use. The idea is that while you’re lumbered with your choice of diff, your springs and dampers can be swapped over very quickly by anyone with a modicum of mechanical know-how. I’m not sure if it will need one, none or two anti-roll bars – I’d rather live without them if possible – but if required, it or they would be fully adjustable. The steering will be hydraulic with a slow and linear rack by modern standards, a quite large diameter, a firm and slim rim and absolutely no buttons.

There will be a choice of tyres, the standard car coming on the equivalent of a standard Pirelli P Zero, with a Trofeo R option for track jockeys, but in either event they would not be massive: a 215/40 at the front and a 255/35 at the rear should be more than enough for a car of this power and weight. The brakes would not need to be big, nor at this price would there be any question of a carbon-ceramic option, so they will fit easily behind the 19in rims.

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Inside would be simple and as driver-focused as possible. Maximising all-round visibility would be a crucial consideration. The ‘seats’ would actually be moulds built into the rear bulkhead, offering a standard configuration, optional removable padding and, for those who wanted it, a seat-fitting service where the mould is designed around your specific dimensions. Generous adjustment of both the pedal box and steering wheel would mean drivers from 5ft to 6ft 5in would be accommodated in comfort.

I’d like lots of mechanically driven, analogue dials, but accept for reasons of weight and packaging that a simple, scrollable TFT screen will do the job wildly better. The car will be engineered for air conditioning and cruise control, but navigation and entertainment will come via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto alone. An adjustable bracket designed to accommodate a wide range of hand-held devices would be fitted. There will also be plenty of storage space on board.

And that’s about it. This would be a car that recognises that fun is far more important than fast, and that the more you can use the car, the more fun you will have. Of course I understand that such a car will never be built, although almost all the ingredients are out there. Indeed, if all you did was take the best bits of an Alpine A110 and Porsche Cayman GT4 and added a bit of flat-eight loveliness, you’d be pretty much there. Shame it’s never going to happen.

Steve Cropley's ideal car

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That my favourite car is front-engined and rear-driven goes without saying – I’m from that generation. And it’s a coupé, because I never met an open car that wasn’t a little bit compromised on rigidity.

I’m probably okay with a 2+2 but would prefer a two-seater with a low H-point and a fairly high cowl height: I enjoy the sensation of sighting corners down the bonnet, which incidentally needs to be a sculptural confection of bumps and bulges, though not for no reason.

It must be shrink-wrapped around the engine, perhaps a mildly hybridised supercharged V8 – say, 3.0 litres and 450bhp all up – driving through a McLaren-level seven or eight-speed paddle-shift gearbox.

Other stuff? Perfect, quick-geared steering and powerful brakes. A unique exhaust note, only intrusive when you’re trying. Above all, it must have reasonable ground clearance and short overhangs because I’ll need the near-impossible combo of great body control and ride suppleness. Oh, yes, and low road noise. Shouldn’t be difficult, should it?

Matt Saunders' ideal car

Since Frankel’s idea amounts to little more than a supersized Porsche Cayman, I don’t feel too bad about part-plagiarising another one.

I’d make it a front-engined, rear-driven super-GT coupé with a sweet-sounding, naturally aspirated but eminently drivable V12 engine, as well as a taut but supple sporting chassis tune, and a really belting manual gearbox. The kind of car that neither Ferrari nor Aston Martin quite makes any more, albeit for different reasons. Aluminium monocoque construction, lightweight alloy bodywork, but not so light that the cabin wouldn’t be comfy or inviting.

It wouldn’t be epically quick, but could certainly blow your ears back; needn’t be much use on a track day except for the delicious potential for skids, but it’d be second to none on the long drive home. It must sound sublime, though, and have the most perfectly balanced and feelsome controls going.

What I want is a modern Vanquish or 550 Maranello and, while I’d like to imagine it needn’t cost £300k, I guess it’d be naive to think I could make it for much less these days – and more naive still to think I could afford one.


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si73 2 November 2019

For me I would like a modern

For me I would like a modern interpretation of a 924/44/68, occasional rear seats, admittedly more for kids, mid front engine but with a low cg like a boxer, high performance not necessary just fun. Space on board as well as comfortable enough to make long journeys possible.

Ah a brz or gt86. Perfect.
Now I just have to wait for them to come down into my price range

Deputy 2 November 2019

Now the hard part..

.. right guys.  You've done the easy part, a few ideas and a concept or 2.  Now set up the Just In Time global supply including the raw materials to make it feasible and train 2,000 people to build it to the required quality, every time.  Easy?  Just ask Dyson.  (PS I work for one of the worlds largest automative suppliers!!)

275not599 2 November 2019

Quite happy with my recently

Quite happy with my recently purchased BRZ: half a naturally aspirated flat eight in front mid-engined position, 6 speed manual, RWD, light weight and low C of G, practical 2+2 with great seats.  Not a 0-60 hero, but very zig-zaggy, also short geared with most of the performance available between 4500 and 7500 rpm, so you can thrash it on the public road in a way you never could a long geared, turbo'ed Porsche.  Inexpensive too, because they haven't sold well - buyers in this price range tend to go for hot hatchbacks.  Complaints?  Well it has EPAS which is sharp but means near the limit I am more aware of what the rear tires are doing than the fronts.  Also comes with very road oriented tires, but that's easily changed if you want higher limits. 

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