Certifiable, crazy and insane are just some of the ways you can describe the Tata 'Super Nano'. And you wouldn’t be far off the mark; what with a claimed 200bhp-plus kicking out of the rear and those mad, mad wheels. But just what is it? Weekend track car, real racing car or something to drive to the movies in?
I put the question to J Anand (of JA Motorsport). “Well, officially, it’s an engineering showcase, a sort of here’s what we can do. But it’s also loads of fun and shows the Nano in a new light.”
Like he said, that’s the official answer. I, however, think this is what happens when you make an ex-racing driver pilot a 37bhp Nano around, month after month. Of course, Jayem Auto, JA Motorsports’ mother company, works closely with Tata Motors on many of its engineering projects, so, the Super Nano is a step in the right direction too.
But what’s a 200bhp Nano like to drive? It’s clearly racing car-like to climb into. You need to squeeze your way past the jungle gym-like roll cage, and seat adjustment is only via a set of spanners. Once in, you get clipped into the racing harness and it even needs an external power supply to get going. Everyday usability? You can forget that.
Starting up is an eye-opener in more ways than one. Sequential motorcycle-based gearbox in ‘N’, I hit the tiny starter and flex the throttle; the dragon awakens with a primaeval scream, stabs of exhaust spitting from the rear. And the revs soar, even if I so much as tap the accelerator. The din from the unsilenced exhaust is so loud, the farmer from the adjoining field comes over to see what the fuss is all about.
Getting away from rest though, isn’t easy. I try not to fry the clutch and am a bit too gentle; the Super Nano stalls. This motorcycle engine may have approximately 200bhp, but there’s only a Swift-like 95-100lb ft of torque, and real grunt is way up the power band. The next time around, I give it more revs, slip the clutch a bit and make a clean-ish getaway. Phew.
The motorcycle-based gearbox only has to be ‘tapped’ up or forward to shift to the next gear, but I’ve also got to remember not to pull back for the next, as you would on a traditional H-pattern layout. And that’s not easy once you are in the thick of a set of corners.
Acceleration from rest is also a bit disappointing. I’d like to tell you the Super Nano runs away from the line with its tail on fire, I really would, but initially, there’s only plenty of noise from the exhaust and not much else. Yes, the revs rise and the engine spins faster, but the Super Nano is much slower off the line than I expect. That’s probably due to the comparatively low torque and the high gearing, again.
What I discover later, however, is that there’s much more performance at the top of the powerband: of course, there is. What’s worse is that I’ve been shifting up at what I assumed was the redline, but there’s at least 3000rpm more to go. No earplugs needed though, to protect from that shrill F1 car wail; now I’m officially deaf.
The motor, in fact, only really wakes up past 8000rpm and then, this junior dinosaur quickly turns into a full-fledged T-Rex, big steak knife teeth and all. And only then – as I begin to hit the 11,000rpm mark regularly before snap shifting to the next gear – does the real Super Nano begin to reveal itself. The rear squats down marginally as I accelerate out of a tight corner, the scenery comes rushing at me in a blur past 8500rpm, and so continuous is the build-up in acceleration, it feels like the car is running away from you.
What’s also pretty unreal is the grip this car generates. Of course, it’s nothing like a Nano, which bobs and rolls constantly and feels like a shopping trolley. In contrast, the Super Nano is low-slung and wide, and comes with tyres that are at least five times as wide. I find myself carrying an incredible amount of speed into corners, tapping down on the gearbox as I turn in with a fair amount of controlled aggression. And once settled, I can accelerate as hard as I want, the front wheels going a bit light with the weight transfer to the rear.
The set-up does favour straight line stability over agility so it understeers quite a bit, and the unassisted steering needs a bit of heave-ho. But for something that started out life as a Nano, this is simply unreal. How I’d love to drive this on the road and scare a few sportscar owners. “Darling, did we just get blown away by a Nano?” I’m sure J Anand does that every time he wants a bit of a laugh. The unassisted brakes, however, do take some getting used to, the pedal pressure required by the AP racing brakes is a bit unnatural.
Which brings us back to the seminal question: what is it?
Is it just a Nano with a more powerful motor and bigger wheels? Clearly not. Under the wider track and extrovert body, this beast is part-superbike and part-F3 racing car. It uses a modified superbike engine and gearbox, yes, but the wheels, brakes and tyres are pure racing stock. There's also there’s an additional tubular chassis-cum-roll cage for extra stiffness on the Super Nano’s custom-made A-arm suspension bits.
I’m also a sucker for the Super Nano’s over-the-top looks. That wide track is just crazy, the massive wheel arches give it plenty of character; and don’t you just love those vertical slots next to the air dam that allow air through to the brakes?
So, the Super Nano is a piece of civilised lunacy based on a utilitarian platform. And why do I really badly want one? Well, because it’s there.
Shapur Kotwal, Autocar India