There aren’t many areas of the automotive world where Britain still rules the waves, but the lightweight sportscar is one of them.
It’s a thought triggered by the first drive of the Austrian KTM X-Bow, a car that I’m struggling to see the point of in a big way.
At risk of sounding a mite xenophobic, foreigners just can’t do these motorised bedsteads as well as we can. Back in the mists of motoring history, Britain’s anti-car taxes created a trend of lightweight specials, stripped down versions of normal cars with their meagre performance offset by added lightness.
In the ‘50s Colin Chapman gave a new direction to the genre with the Lotus Seven. Which, give or take some carbonfibre bodywork and a Ford Duratec engine, is still going strong as the Caterham 7.
Other manufacturers climbed aboard the bandwagon – and occasionally fell off it. Caterham ended up suing a couple for the uncanny resemblance between their products and the official Seven.
And then the Ariel Atom appeared – getting rid of bodywork itself in the cause of lightness. It was, both literally and figuratively, the coolest thing to happen to the sportscar in years.
So why would anybody want to spend £50K on a car that lacks the Atom’s minimalist design chic while sharing its near-total lack of real-world practicality?
To my eyes, the Austrian-built KTM looks clumsy and contrived: like an Atom that’s been sent out in testing distinguish. The standard of finish might be high, and it’s certainly not lacking in performance, but as a trackday tool it’s appeal is going to be limited to those with deep pockets and limited imagination.
It reminds me of the (non) contest between two other lightweight sportscars in the mid-1990s, when the Renault Sport Spider got its nose bloodied by the Lotus Elise.
I don’t see this one ending any differently.