Zenos is a brand-new British sports car company that you probably haven’t heard much about until now.
But, trust me, you will come to know all about this small but perfectly formed car company from Norfolk in the months and years to come – because having driven the very first fruits of its labours, the E10, something tells me that Zenos is here to stay.
And I feel extremely privileged to be able to write that, having been given first dibs at the very first pre-production car.
But before we go much further with the ‘what’s it like to drive?’ part of this story – answer, astonishingly good for something so fresh out of the box – who is Zenos Cars, and how did it come to exist in the first place?
The company is the brainchild of two people: Ansar Ali and Mark Edwards, both of whom are ex-Lotus and, more latterly, ex-Caterham. Ali was actually the boss at Caterham between 2005 and 2012 and was assisted in his quest by Edwards for much of that time.
But in 2012, when Tony Fernandes bought Caterham and headed for F1 and beyond, Ali and Edwards took a deep breath and decided to leave and set up a new sports car company called you-know-what.
The company’s ethos would be to build simple, affordable sports cars and form a brand that is “passionate and inclusive about everything it does.”
And thus, Zenos Cars was born, with the further help of another ex-Caterham engineer, Chris Weston, who I just so happen to have known quite well for most of the past 15 years.
So what makes Zenos Cars so different from the rest of herd? And why do we get the impression that it will flourish rather than fail in the years to come? Four reasons.
One, they came up with a price point for the entry-level car first – an enticing £24,995 – and designed and built the car to that price afterwards. More often than not, people make the mistake of doing that part the other way round, which more often than not can prove disastrous.
Two, they came up with a brand structure that already includes two further models so that potential customers can buy into the long-term future of the brand, because they can already see into that future.
Three, they have employed a small band of people who already know the sports car business inside and out, and who really do care about what they are doing.
Four, they decided from the outset to make the customer king, which isn’t always the case with start-up British sports car companies. Hence the reason that Zenos has already embarked on a unique customer testing programme in which people who want to buy can, and have, driven the first prototypes.
In 20-odd years of writing about cars, that’s a first in my experience. Quite why no one else has tried it before is one of those things that seems so obvious, but only with the benefit of hindsight.
At the moment, there are two test mules for customers to sample: the basic E10 and more track-orientated E10S.
Both use the same fundamental chassis and suspension design, which consists of a hybrid construction of aluminium and carbonfibre-reinforced plastic, on to which double wishbones are bolted at each corner with “affordable” Ford-sourced parts being used as much as possible elsewhere – for the brakes, steering, engine, gearbox, loom, ECU and so on.
The central tub is made from the same material that BMW uses to such good effect in the i3 and i8 and it works, says Ali, “because it’s UK sourced, which is an important factor for us, and is 70 per cent as stiff and light as full carbonfibre yet costs a tenth of the price”.