It’s in the pub car park, still hot and ticking slightly as it cools. It has a pair of wheels visible under some cowls outside at the front of what looks like a glider fuselage and a single, fat rear tyre can just be seen at the back. So it must be a vehicle of sorts, but the rear tail wing and the pair of jet engine cowls blending into the rear bodywork make it look like a combination of a glider and a Lockheed A-10 Thunderbolt (alias the Tankbuster or the Warthog). Unlike most cars this looks very military with matt grey paintwork and stenciled labels such as ‘Keep 2m clear when motors running’, ‘no handhold’. I just had to have a word with the owner.
Q: This looks more like a glider fuselage with two wheel pods on the front. Is it some sort of jet car?
A: It’s a very slippery and light 3-wheeler and yes the detachable canopy is from a glider.
Q: Does it have a jet engine then?
A: No it has a front mounted 600hp turbocharged 2.5 litre Subaru Impreza engine driving all three wheels through an automatic gearbox. The things like jet pods at the back are air intakes for the entrained exhaust powered water cooling. The brake lights are incorporated which gives the illusion of exhaust flare and sometimes the exhaust does proper flares too.
Q: Wow that must be pretty quick. I guess you could keep up with a Bugatti Veyron then?
A: It’s a close thing and really a battle for traction. Acceleration is about the same up to 120 mph with all 3 tyres trying to smoke but up to 160mph the computer controlled rear wing gives exactly enough traction to get the edge. After that we can flatten the wing and carry on to 260mph with the Veyron in our mirrors. We don’t need to compare ourselves this way though – it’s easier just to say that this is a match for the supercars but the quickest 3 wheeler ever. Although, having said that, we are working on the next version where the rear pods will partially fold in to give less drag and with that we are hoping for a few more mph.
Q: What about braking?
A: Backing off from 260mph gives 600bhp worth of drag. Slamming up the wing gives drag and downforce so we can pull 3G on the brakes – only a good idea with a full harness on though and it’s hard to hold your head up. In some ways the brakes are too good, especially at lower speeds, as there is always a danger of collecting all the cars behind you whenever you stop.
Q: Why isn’t the rear wing on straight?
A: The wing is computer controlled for downforce as well as lateral force, hence the sideways tilt. We literally fly round corners. It sounds silly but we park the wing sloping to stop people putting their drinks on it at the pub. The car always has a crowd round it and it was fun when the start up routine tipped all the drinks off the back but we thought glass on the road was a bad idea.
Q: So what made you build it then?
A: I heard about some Australian guys who had built a successful drag Subaru WRX and it struck me that the drive to the rear could just power one rear wheel and that would enable a streamlined plane-like body to be used. They were getting 600hp and the thought of that in something light and aerodynamic was too much to resist.
Q: So it’s a road car?
A: Yes it is used daily on the road and is easy to drive slowly. What really freaks people out is when we play a loud jet engine soundtrack on the stereo and the best bit about that is playing the sound of a turbine spooling down after parking the car. The main problem though is talking to people about it all the time.
Q: Oh – that’s me too I guess. Well thanks for the chat; will we be seeing any more of these on the road?
A: We hope someone will take up the design and produce the car albeit with a bit less power. The Thunderbolt was a spectacularly beautiful plane and its character should live on in a car.