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Road racers: the drive of your life

Every one of these cars can be bought for less than £45,000 but they all accelerate from 0-60 mph in under three seconds

August 18, 2012 | By:

Some cars turn heads, these stop traffic. Some cars make people gawp, these cause jaws to drop. For Neil Lyndon, they're the ultimate. And they're less than fifty grand

Ariel Atom road racer-620 By Jess Loughborough on Flickr CCSome people are so indifferent to cars that they wouldn’t even notice if the 1925 Hispano-Suiza from Sunset Boulevard glided by with Gloria Swanson herself reclining on the cushions in the back. But everybody – everybody – notices these cars when they see them on the street. The wonder is that such extraordinary creations are allowed on the street at all.

The KTM X-Bow, the Ariel Atom 3, the Lotus 2-Eleven and the Caterham R500 are all road-legal race cars. They are most at home on the track but they can legally be driven on public roads between the circuit and the owner’s home. They can be kept in the domestic peace of your garage and, as long as you put fuel in the tank and oil in the engine, can reliably be depended upon to start when you next feel inclined to whip off the dust covers and gun your little darling off to the track. No team of mechanics required.

They may also offer their owners the most fun it is possible to have in human life with all your clothes on. Every one of these cars can be bought for less than £45,000 but they all accelerate from 0-60 mph in under three seconds. That makes them quicker in that way than the 270mph £1m-plus Bugatti Veyron, which is supposed to be the fastest road car ever produced. Better yet, these cars would blow away a Veyron on the track as if it were standing still.

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Many owners of super-expensive supercars like Porsches and Aston Martins like to show off their cars and their talents at the owners’ track days that every racing circuit in Britain regularly provides. All those hedge fund traders and investment bankers with their fat bonuses like to think that the soul of Ayrton Senna lives on beneath their hand-made shirts and needs only a session at Brands Hatch in their own BMW M5 or Maserati GT to be set free.

The consternation of these self-regarding chaps is a delight to behold when a Lotus 2-Eleven or a Caterham R500 blasts past them and nips in front on the inside of their racing line just as they have set themselves up for a corner.

These two-seaters may not be able to top 150mph but, with the handling characteristics of single-seaters, they are to most supercars what a Porsche Boxster is to a Kia Picanto. They make everything else look ordinary, dull and sluggardly. They are as nimble and as quick to change direction as thought itself. Only a top-notch motorbike can come close.

My own favourites are the KTM X-Bow and the Ariel Atom 3. The X-Bow is made in Austria by the motorcycle manufacturers KTM and looks and feels, thrillingly, as if the designers could not entirely bring themselves to complete the leap from two wheels to four. The Ariel first emerged more than 15 years ago from a student design project at Coventry University but, with its exoskeletal chassis of visible tubing, it remains today as amazingly sensational to set eyes upon as it is to drive.

Either one of them would come high on my list of top ten dream cars.

Being able to buy both would be even better.