There’s nothing unusual about the arrival of a new sports car. New makers of small sports cars arrive all the time. Some of them memorable, others are not. I won't drag this out: the Elemental RP1 is a little bit special.
In its technical make-up the RP1 is similar to, but not exactly like, several other lightweight roadsters. The tub is a carbonfibre one – of the good sort, not the cheaper sort, but I’ll come back to that – with steel subframes hung from either end.
The front subframe supports the cooling systems and front suspension, which comprises double wishbones and inboard spring and damper units. Behind the two-seat cabin sits the rear suspension – double wishbones but not inboard dampers - and the powertrain.
This is one of two key areas where Elemental is a touch unusual. Instead of a transverse engine and the gearbox it would get on a road car – as you’d find in an Ariel Atom, KTM X-Bow or Zenos E10 – the Elemental’s engine, a 2.0-litre Ford Ecoboost unit, is mounted longitudinally and drives the rear wheels through a six-speed Hewland gearbox that’s mounted behind it. Which all means that the engine can be set lower in the chassis. The BAC Mono is similar, although it is only a single-seater.
Where the Elemental differs again from the light car norm is in the amount of underbody aerodynamics it offers. There’s a long diffuser at the front of the car and another one at the rear, and the claim is that at 100mph the RP1 will generate 200kg of downforce.
Weight is claimed at 580kg, with a 47 percent front, 53 percent rear balance. And given that the Ecoboost engine is tuned to produce 320bhp, the car should get along fairly well. Elemental is yet to produce a full set of numbers because this is a prototype, but it estimates a 0-60mph time of 2.8sec and a 0-100mph time of 6.4sec, which is what you’d hope it should do. As I write in July the company is working on a production-spec car, with deliveries expected early in 2016.
Elemental calls this a prototype, but I’ve driven ‘production ready’ cars that don’t feel quite so pleasingly finished. The carbonfibre is well presented, the lightweight one-piece seats slide back and forth easily and the cabin is simple and clean.
Some things will change – the seat will go lower, the pedals will adjust too and some more elbow room will be put into the carbonfibre tub. All of those will benefit the driving position (and the aero), although it’s far from a disaster now. What is quaint, and cool, is a high foot position, which allows the space for that front diffuser. It’s something you notice and that feels odd once, but then you never think about again. It’s very natural.