The RP1 is based around an innovative carbon and aluminium centre tub, the development of which was partly funded by the British Government’s Technology Strategy Board. It uses an aluminium composite sandwich material for the floor and the front and rear bulkheads, while the fixed side walls, central spine and dashboard are made from carbon fibre.
The front subframe, front suspension and steering mounting points are all mounted on the aluminium bulkhead. Elemental says that the rear subframe design incorporates a "cassette-style" mounting system, which allows the various powertrains to be fitted to the same basic transmission and suspension set-up.
Elemental says that the production development car is powered by a Ford 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine re-tuned to deliver 280bhp. However, the three-pot Ford 1.0-litre EcoBoost will also be offered alongside a version powered by a 999cc Honda Fireblade engine.
The traditional bloke in a shed doesn’t tend to make a credible sports car any more.
He has been usurped by 2014’s version, a far more advanced specimen, armed with the electronic tools, business nous and industry experience to design and engineer a car from his bedroom, proving that it will all work before a spanner is raised in anger.
The embodiment of this thoroughly modern way of making your own car from scratch – and making sure that it works – is the new Elemental RP1, a lightweight, mid-engined roadster with 500bhp per tonne that is road legal and can be on your driveway by this time next year.
Sitting between the likes of a Caterham Seven and a Lotus Exige in its blend of track and road abilities, the RP1 is the self-funded work of six men with decades of experience between them in Formula 1 and the aerospace industry, plus development work on road cars that include the McLaren P1.
With no real full-time company base to speak of, the six of them designed and engineered the car ‘in the cloud’, sharing CAD files and tweaking each other’s designs before coming together to build two prototypes, the second of which you see here.
Meet the six of them and they’ll compete to show you the design flourish, aerodynamic feature or piece of engineering sophistication of which they’re most proud.
Get on to the bigger picture and technical director John Begley, who first had the idea for the RP1 about seven years ago, tells you the “arbitrary task” that perhaps best sums up the RP1’s ability as a road car, before you get to its ability as a sports car or track-day weapon.
“It’s the sort of car you can live in the south-east of England with and drive it to Le Mans without filling up, is comfortable enough for the journey, has luggage space for some spare clothes and a tent, is lockable and secure, and can keep your feet warm when you drive off the ferry early in the morning,” says Begley, who worked with McLaren’s F1 team before switching to the automotive division to work on the Mercedes SLR McLaren, the 12C and the P1.
It can also be driven to a race track, raced and looked after with a handful of tools and then driven home, Begley adds. “Although in theory no one will probably do this, it shows how simple we’ve made it to look after,” he says.
That simplicity is key to the RP1’s appeal. Operations chief Ian Hall describes it as “a car to be manufactured”. Thought has been given to making the car easy to assemble, with most parts doing more than one job.
Designing the key structures in-house has allowed Elemental to control quality, and parts are sourced from only a handful of controlled, trusted suppliers. So easy is the RP1 to assemble that Hall reckons he could assemble one himself in only a few hours, using a simple set of tools and Allen keys.
Elemental is now on an advanced second prototype seen here, known as XP2 in a nod to the way that McLaren names its prototypes, and last week it began dynamic testing, tuning those computer simulations for road use. Further fine-tuning development is planned, including reducing the weight of various components, before order books can open in the spring.
At the heart of the RP1 is a carbonfibre composite and aluminium tub designed and built by Elemental in-house, a development of the solely aluminium one used on the first prototype.
The tub weighs just 60kg and its design has been overseen by composites expert Peter Kent, another Elemental man with McLaren F1 experience in addition to roles on the 12C and P1 road cars.
The tub uses an aluminium composite sandwich material for the floor and the front and rear bulkheads. The fixed sidewalls, central spine and dashboard are made from carbonfibre and are part of the main tub.
The front subframe, front suspension and steering mounting points are all on the aluminium bulkhead. Double wishbone suspension features, with inboard-mounted Eibach springs and Nitron dampers.
Stopping power comes from four-pot Caparo calipers and 280mm discs, which sit behind 17-inch alloy wheels shod with 235/45 tyres. The rear subframe design incorporates a ‘cassette-style’ mounting system that allows various powertrains to be fitted to the same transmission and suspension set-up.
Three engines are being offered in the RP1. The most potent, and the one fitted to the XP2 prototype, is a high-power, high-torque 2.0-litre Ford EcoBoost unit with 280bhp.
Ford’s 1.0-litre EcoBoost unit will also be offered with as much as 180bhp in a lighter but more civilised and economical version, and a 999cc Honda Fireblade-powered model revving up to 13,000rpm and weighing below 500kg will be a low-volume special mainly aimed at track customers because it requires the greatest commitment to drive.
Each engine will be hooked up to a Hewland sequential gearbox, which still needs some “civilisation work”, according to Begley.
Although there’s still engineering and development work to do, the design is nearly complete. It’s the work of ex-Ford designer Guy Colborne, who says the look is inspired by a modern, high-performance GT racer, with nods to motorbikes, such as its central exhaust.
The close relationship between Colborne and the engineers, including bodywork and aerodynamic expert Mark Fowler, another ex-McLaren engineer, has led to key aero features being part of the design.
The front diffuser, for example, allows air to be channelled under the car and out behind the front wheels, creating a nice styling feature and improving the aero. The tub is also left exposed in places to create the body sides and dashboard. Elemental will leave the carbonfibre exposed and paint the bodywork any colour that you like.
There are further smaller flourishes that you might miss at first glance, but it all adds to the RP1’s appeal. The seat and pedal box are adjustable, allowing drivers between 5ft and 6ft 6in tall to drive it. There are F1-style wooden planks underneath to stop bumps in the road from scratching the tub.
There’s also 210 litres of luggage space in two bins in front of the rear wheels; the driving position is a ‘feet-up’ one, motorsport-inspired and enabling the front diffuser to push more air underneath; the cabin’s footwells are warmed from air from the frontal components; and the fuel tank is an impressive 55 litres.
With the car’s engineering well under way, Elemental is now close to moving into a factory in the Welsh valleys. It plans to have the RP1 in production by next summer,
building about two dozen in 2015 before ramping up to 100-150 per year. Up to 40 people could be employed by Elemental, which plans to sell the car globally.
No prices have been set yet, project manager and finance chief Jeremy Curnow saying only that the RP1 will be “more than you hope but less than you feared”. A loose estimate has it alongside the most potent Caterhams in the £40k-£50k bracket. Orders will be taken only when it’s ready.
Elemental kept a low profile before the car’s public debut at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last month to avoid the oft-seen man-in-shed approach of over-promising and under-delivering. Based on evidence so far, Elemental should prove once and for all that the niche British sports car need no longer be a cottage industry.
What's in the name?
The biggest challenge of all with the Elemental RP1 was not the construction of the carbonfibre-aluminium tub, making room for three different engines or ensuring respectable everyday usability. It was choosing a name.
“Everything we came up with seemed to already be taken,” says project manager Jeremy Curnow, “and it felt like we had thousands of suggestions.”
In the end, Elemental was chosen for the company name “because it reflects the simplicity and purity of the company’s design ethos”.
RP1 was simply the name of the folder on technical director John Begley’s computer when he first started doing some designs for the car. To link Elemental with RP1, the RP1 logo is displayed on the car as if it is on the periodic table.
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