Okay, time for something a little bit different. Long story short, I wanted to showcase two cars I’ve been working on, as well as bit of RP stuff. So, I decided that a magazine article would be perfect for this…
@Yamahafazer600, this is what I was talking about. In a similar vein to @Deskyx’s Dimension Nova T250 Ver.2, but not a fast!
I’m not going to lie: I love special edition cars. 30th anniversary models, recreations of classic cars, you name it. And one of the most recognisable labels of a special edition car is the XR badge found on a handful of Erins throughout history. It’s a step-up from the X badge, which designates that that car has been tuned in the pursuit of performance. XR’s are limited edition, specially made versions of their cars that are designed to provide the most brilliant of driving experiences to the lucky few who get one. Only 500 of the car I’m driving today will be made, and it’s one we’ve been looking forward to. Erin’s two seater coupe, the Nardella, is getting the XR treatment. And better still, we’ve been invited along on a pre-release test.
It’s not often that car companies lets us tag along on vehicle tests, which is partially why I’m excited for today’s review. The other reason stands in front of me on a sign, reading “Erin Motor Company - X Department Research and Development Centre”. For Erin fans, this is holy ground. It’s been the birth place of all of the company’s sports tuned cars for the past 50 years, and is also home to ErinSport. Everything from sports saloons to two seat roadsters to Le Mans winners have come out of the steel gates that greet the crew and I, the dew still clinging on. It may well be just past 5 am on a fresh June morning, but I’m thoroughly awake.
Bang on the dot of 5:07 am, the gate opens to let an Erin Berlose towing a motorsport trailer through, followed shortly by a small convoy of vehicles. We are greeted by some company executives; introductions over, we’re in the van and off.
The X Department’s R&D centre is built on a disused airfield, part of the aptly named “Airfield Industrial Estate” in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. A good location to secretly test sports cars, under the disguise of a town more accustomed to elderly tourists and ramblers. But that’s not all; Ashbourne is on the edge of the Peak District, the place we’re headed to this morning.
Erin obviously liked the benefits of this place. It’s filled with a mix of roads, some twisty, some straight, that are often quiet and, most importantly, hard to reach. Trying to conduct automotive espionage in a place where the weather can change in moments is not going to being fun for anyone, meaning the X Department pretty much has free reign of this beautiful part of England.
Climbing higher into the hills, the sun appears behind us at last, dousing the sparse landscape with a gorgeous orange glow and giving us a preview of the distinctive bright green of the grass up here. Cars have been tested here by Erin since 1955, when then-CEO Dominic Erin was looking for a location to put that year’s Targa Florio car through its paces. Another car tested here is one that is intrinsically linked with the Nardella XR - the Lira 200SL.
The Lira is one of the most famous Erins of all time. From 1968 to 1981, it was the company’s 2 seater entry level sports car, famed for its V4 engine. In 1972, to celebrate the 50,000th Lira to be built, the X Department released the 200SL, the SL standing for Super Lightweight. This was a special edition, stripped down version of the Lira that was designed to be more focused than the base car. It didn’t carry the XR badge, but only because Erin had yet to start branding such cars this way. The similarities between this and the Nardella are obvious, so what better an excuse to bring them together.
The first hour or so is spent testing the car. We’re in a quiet corner of the Peak District, having just passed through the little village of Wetton. The road in question is the one linking this village with Butterton. It’s a narrow, hilly trail that descends into a valley and is surrounded by cow fields. This is one of many roads they use regularly, and like all of the roads they use regularly, they don’t tend to obey the speed limits.
“We don’t worry about the police catching us” says one of the engineers. “Very few are up at this time of the morning, and even fewer are going to be that bothered about us speeding down roads barely anyone uses”. I ask him “But what if you encounter another vehicle? It’s not like you can pass easily here”. He laughs, and replies simply “It’s a good excuse to test the brakes.”
A few more runs and its off to the next location. This time, it’s an unnamed road near Harlington, that follows an old river bed, providing a number of circuit-esque sweeping bends. And then it’s off to another location, deeper and deeper into the Peak District. I may not be driving the car, but seeing it being finalised and adjusted is something special; it’s a glimpse into the thousands of man hours that go into designing a car.
Finally, at 6:31 am, it’s my turn to drive. We’re now at The Pack Horse Inn at Crowdecote. It’s been a regular stop on these tests for the X Department ever since they began testing here, and we finally get to meet the other car I’m driving today. The Lira 200SL sits in the carpark in front of the pub, next to its owner, esteemed car collector Joseph Goodman. A former ErinSport engineer, he knows this place very well, and regularly drove cars for the department. He’s seen as a bit of a legend at the X Department, and he is warmly welcomed by the engineers.
One of the executives briefs us on what we’ll be allowed to do. “You haven’t got long in the car, before the traffic gets too busy” he says, handing us a map of the route we’re taking. They’re not trusting me entirely with the car, as I’m being accompanied by an engineer. But, we’ll be followed by Goodman in the Lira; it’ll be an excellent chance to compare the two.
What amazes you when you get into the car is the sheer lack of features. The biggest luxury here is the radio, which is only a small touchscreen with a handful of buttons. A very limited aircon system has been fitted as well, but that is pretty much it. The dashboard itself is made of a lot less material too than the standard car, one of the many weight reductions in the car. Behind me, I can only see the roll cage, and a pitiful amount of carpet that’s only there to cover the bare metal.
Sound sparse to you? That’s because its supposed to be. You buy this car for the experience of driving it, not the creature comforts. And that driving experience begins the moment you start the 2.4l i4 Turbo. This is the same engine as the one found in the Merna XEco from last year, slightly more powerful and just as loud. A warbling baritone fills the car, and I take her onto the road.
I immediately felt the weight difference. With some 150kg shaved off, the car is much sharper in the corners and more planted. The acceleration too is greater too; 0-60 takes just 5.8 seconds, and the torque from that turbo really forces you back in your seat. This car could be faster, but that’s not the point. What really counts on this machine is the work they’ve done elsewhere, which you notice the moment you take it onto some twisty back roads.
The suspension is perhaps it’s best feature. The XR has been fitted with the same active system found on more expensive X-tuned cars, and it feels dynamic and responsive. Push it hard round a sharp bend and the car stiffens up to keep you flat, without overdoing it and making the ride choppy. Over bumps, it’s certainly firm, but doesn’t become uncomfortable. It’s able to react fast and deal with rougher surfaces, and you’ll find that to be a real a confidence booster when it comes to how far you want to push the car.
Much like the suspension, the grip of this thing isn’t too razor sharp either. There’s enough to stop the car from understeering or oversteering, but also enough to keep you on your toes from time to time; this car can get a bit loose when you want it to. The ethos of this car seems to be about enjoyment, and letting you fully appreciate the excellent all-Aluminium chassis of the base car in its most well-tuned state.
By now, we’re in some of the highest reaches of the Peak District, and the early morning sun is becoming brighter. I get to see the reflections from the gentle bulges in the bonnet every once in a while, reminding me that is more than just you’re average sports car. The styling is tasteful; it may well have bigger flares on the wheel arches and there’s some minimal aero body work dotted around the car, but it’s not unsightly.
Behind me, I see the Lira. It looks suited to these sorts of roads and despite the 40 year age gap, it keeps up fairly well. Every so often, the gorgeous and gentle rumble of its V4 pierces the air, only adding to the sound of the Nardella. The engineer beside me is certainly happy too. While he has been jotting the odd note down on some paper and typing some numbers into his tablet, he’s clearly wanting to see what I think of this car too.
Perhaps if there is one thing to criticise, it’s that this car is too sporty. I can’t imagine taking it on a motorway with the lack of sound insulation, let alone luxuries, and it’s by no means relaxing to drive. Perhaps I even need to be a little more awake to drive this thing safely; either way, this is not made for the morning commute.
But then again, what better a way to experience this part of the world; Erin know that when the X Department develop cars up here, they always turn out well. This will be no exception when production begins in just over 2 months time, and the rest of the automotive press get to drive this car properly.
We reach Newhaven and pull over into a petrol station. The rest of the X Department team are waiting there; my time in this car is over. It may have only been 25 minutes, but it’s been a genuine experience. This is one hell of a special car, and I’m now getting into an equally special one. Goodman gets out of the drivers seat and I climb in to the Lira 200SL.
And my, what a difference. If the Nardella’s cabin is sparse, then the Lira’s is positively barren. Almost everything has been stripped out in the focus of absolute weight loss, and it shows - this car has a kerb weight of a mere 742kg, meaning the 130 bhp from the tuned 2.0l V4 engine makes a serious impact.
6.8 seconds from 0-60. That’s it. On a car that was made in 1972. This thing can keep up with most hothatches. The difference is though, hothatches don’t tend to feel light or nimble. Whatever revs you’re doing, this car will rocket away the moment you hit the accelerator.
We rocket down the A515 before switching onto some backroads. The Lira was a car that always loved corners, and with even less weight to worry about, the 200SL is a borderline masterpiece. Sure, it’s not as tight as modern cars, but it’s that slightly rounded feel that you get with a vehicle of this age that makes it all the more fun. It’s just a little bit dangerous to be doing 45 round a sharp, downhill right hander in this car, and it only makes it more enjoyable.
The chassis setup is also fantastic. The fibreglass body that replaces the normal steel one should make the car feel looser, but it doesn’t. All of the key components are molded to a steel subframe connected to a steel chassis, as well two roll bars to compensate for the lack of rigidity. The result is that it feels solid, strange for something this light. No rolling in the corners, no high centre of gravity, none of that whatsoever.
It must be said that the brakes were a bit iffy. Great when they were cool, on the sloppy side when they were hot. Goodman tells me that they’re original spec discs and pads, meaning that they won’t hold a candle to modern systems. “Why not upgrade them?” I ask him, especially given the huge availibility of aftermarket bits for the Lira. “Nah” he replies. “It’d spoil the experience”.
That’s exactly what this car is. An experience. Owning this car is an agreement with yourself that you’re willing to give up modern automotive amenities in exchange for one of the most fun to drive cars money can buy. On any other road, I’d be getting annoyed at the wind noise, the rough ride, the lack of padding in the seats, the absence of a radio - you get the picture. But when you’re slinging this little gem round the Winnats Road, nothing else matters.
The sumptuous noise of that V4, that is so instantly recognisable and so much better than other 4 cylinder blocks; the response of the steering, that’s light enough to be manageable but still gives you enough feedback to keep you from getting bored; the ever-so-slightly difficult nature of driving this car, thanks to its astonishing power-to-weight ratio and racing suspension setup; it’s a combination like no other.
We arrive in Bakewell. I’m in need of refreshment and more breakfast. Plus the obligatory Bakewell Pudding. How can you come to the Peak District without a visit here? It feels like a safe retreat from the spectacle and grandeur of the District. More than that, it gives me some time to mull over two great cars that I’ve driven today.
There is no denying the similarity in ethos these vehicles share. Even if one is a modern, advanced sports coupe and the other is a barebones, no frills weekend toy, they both centre themselves around being the ultimate version of their respective base models. They’re celebrations of the design achievements of these cars.
I found an instance connection with the Nardella XR. It’s going to be one of the best cars of this year, no doubt. Proof that even the big manafacturers like to let their hair down once in a while, and making something purposefully lacking in practically in favour of pure driving pleasure.
The Lira 200SL too is a superb car. You could never drive this every day, but I see few better ways of spending a Sunday afternoon than blasting one of these through the English countryside. It’s old without being outdated; a magnificent ode to the joys of driving.
Cars like these don’t come around often. They’re a special treat for motoring journalists like myself; a break from the usual reviews of everyday cars. And that’s because they’re made to remind us that driving is not all about the daily commute or the school run. It can, on the off occasion, be just about you, the driver. Any special edition car has got to make you feel special too, and it’s exactly what the X Department does with XR models. That limited list of cars made this way that began with the 200SL has now got another entry, and it is one hell of a driving machine.
The Nardella XR goes on sale at the start of November this year, for 26600 Automoation Dollars.
#So yeah, big well done if you managed to read all of that
This - believe it or not - was meant to be shorter. But, I decided to go wild. It was inspired by articles in car magazines, especially Top Gear magazine.
I do realise that in quite a lot of this review, I was bigging up my cars, which probably comes across as just me blowing my own trumpet. So, if anyone would like to review these cars for real, just PM me and I’ll be happy to send a test model
Critique/comments/complaints all welcome!