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Top Gear mag's greatest cars - lightweights

Selfish, uncompromising... and the most fun you can have with your clothes on

  • For Top Gear magazine's 300th issue, we celebrated the best 50 cars over 299 issues: here's our pick of the best lightweight cars

    These days, you see Colin Chapman’s “Simplify, then add lightness” quote all over Instagram. But it was uttered way before the endless scroll of social media. Even before Top Gear’s first issue and way before minimalism was cool. See, the reason that Colin’s philosophy still stands up is simple: it works. 

    Look at his creation, the mighty Seven. 2017 marks its 60th year in production, and in an era of three-phase charging, electric torque- vectoring and turbine range-extenders, the Seven is as simple as things get this side of a pedal car: a steel spaceframe chassis, engine at the front, power at the rear, and driver slung over the back axle to feel everything the featherweight is doing. It’s driving purity. 

    The 620S shows how far the Seven has come. It’s the slightly less hardcore version of Caterham’s most hardcore car: the 620R. But weighing 610kg and having a 310bhp 2.0-litre, supercharged Ford Duratec engine, it’s still pretty hardcore. But the violence of lightweight cars can be turned up or down depending on the levels of sadism of the people bashing them together in leaky sheds around the world. 

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  • Take the Morgan 3Wheeler. A nostalgic throwback complete with RAF roundels and decals from a Forties warbird. Driving it isn’t about peeling the skinny front tyres from the wire rims, it’s about being exposed and embracing your environment while feeling like Biggles. And the original Elise. A car that allowed lightweight to be attainable to the masses, thanks to being small, affordable and built around an aluminium tub that was glued and riveted together. 

    Then there are the plucky companies constantly trying to piss on the chips of lard-arsed hypercars like the Bugatti Chiron. They create bespoke and beautiful engineering artworks that blow a hole in the power-to- weight graph with a vital ingredient: lightness. Radical, KTM, Caparo and Donkervort have all had a go, but BAC’s Mono is probably the best example. 

    Who’d have thought two brothers from Cheshire could collate the most exquisite collection of componentry and meld them together into a droolworthy single-seater that makes you feel like Ayrton Senna on an A-road? It’s visceral. And expensive (£229k as tested). But the jitter and jiggle you feel as the Mountune-fettled 2.5-litre buzzes against the carbon-backed seat, and the pneumatic gearbox forces the satisfying sounds of compressed air into your ears, is magical. 

  • Ultimately, when it comes to driving, there’s one currency that matters: fun. And lightweights are rich in it. However, if there’s one company that can serve up LOL-worthy lightweights more than any other, it’s Ariel.

    The Atom (a set of scaffolding with a Honda engine strapped to the back) was seminal. Every iteration since has redefined fast, thanks to no bodywork, and, beyond a chassis, drivetrain and a set of wheels, only the most rudimentary concessions to the legislators.

    But Somerset’s latest offering – the Nomad – encompasses many aspects of the beauty of lightweights in one lollopy off-road package. 

    It’s a concept that could only have come from a brain overly lubricated with Somerset cider, yet is executed so well it tugs at your head and heart in equal measure. With a few clicks on the dampers, you can change it from track car to trophy truck. It also looks like what you wanted from the Argos catalogue as a kid, yet oozes so much quality and engineering nous that no matter your disposition, you’re left with nothing but admiration. 

    Lightweight cars were around a long time before Top Gear magazine, and as long as there are men in sheds, they’ll be a long time after. And there’s nothing wrong with that. 

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  • Ariel Nomad

    I find myself imagining I’m in some giant remote-control Baja buggy, and it’s like I’m reliving my childhood all over again 

    It looks ridiculous. It serves precisely no purpose. It’s an off- roader with open flanks to aid mud ingress and has two driven wheels. It’s the most fun car any of us have ever driven 

  • Caterham Seven

    The Caterham is, without doubt, the biggest buzz you’ll get this side of launching a cruise missile from your underpants 

    It has a puppyish enthusiasm whether donutting around cones or clipping apices. It’s mad as a box of frogs, your feet won’t fit, but boy does it know how to have a good time 

  • BAC Mono

    The BAC Mono fires down the straight like a lit firework and my helmet fills with furious swearing 

    The closest thing you can get to a single-seater, F1-style driving experience on the road. Sure, it has drawbacks as main family transport, but for selfish thrills and purity of purpose, the Mono is in a class of one

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