In garages, workshops and sheds right across the UK, tinkerers and would-be mechanics get their fingers dirty.
Most undertake straightforward vehicle maintenance, while others restore bodywork or make running-gear modifications. A small number, however, squirrel themselves away for weeks at a time and only emerge once they’ve built something truly staggering. It might be a lightweight track car with two motorcycle engines, or a diesel supermini that’s faster than a modern super-saloon.
Welcome to the world of the one-off special – a world where people tend not to ask why but why not?
Seat Arosa drag car:
“You start off in second gear, engage the launch control system to hold the engine revs, then try to get the clutch release just right,” says Paul Lynas. “As soon as you let go of the clutch, it’s like being catapulted. That’s the only way I can describe it.”
Lynas is the driver of this Seat Arosa drag car, a Darkside Developments project. It was with him at the wheel that the Arosa recorded a quarter-mile time of 9.7sec at Santa Pod. It hit 60mph in 2.3sec and 100mph in a scarcely believable 4.8sec that day. For a while, it was the fastest front-wheel-drive diesel car on the planet.
Darkside Developments built this car to push the boundaries of what could be achieved with a four-cylinder diesel engine. The base unit is a 2.0-litre common-rail lump, uprated in just about every way imaginable.
With a Borg Warner turbocharger from a John Deere combine harvester, which boosts at an astonishing four bar, the engine develops 550bhp and 650lb ft. The exhaust runs right out through the bonnet and every time Lynas builds the engine revs, a thick, acrid plume of smoke bursts into the air like ash erupting from a volcano.
With all that power and torque being sent to the front axle alone, the Arosa demands plenty of skill on the part of its driver. It’s all about managing the clutch release, reckons Lynas, although he points out that on a treated drag strip, the slick rubber does find enormous traction. The Hoosier tyres are purpose-built for drag racing and they’re run at just 6psi. They’re so baggy, in fact, that once the car is up to speed, they expand in diameter by an inch and a half. As they grow taller, they also become narrower, which helps to reduce the car’s frontal area.
To add yet more power, the Arosa runs a nitrous system, which is programmed to release its payload into the cylinders only when the road speed, engine speed, gear and boost pressure are all just so. The faster the car goes, the more nitrous the system releases, which means the car seems to pull harder and harder as it races down the strip, according to Lynas. How fast is it? Despite running on a low-grip concrete runway rather than a sticky drag strip, it bested our long-term BMW M5 for a video recently.