Brooke 260 Double R

Eat your heart out, Stirling Moss. A UK company is producing this hi-tech near-replica of the Ferraris and Vanwalls of the 1950s. And it's road-legal, says a breathless Sean O'Grady

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Price: from £27,995
Engine: 2.0- and 2.3-litre Cosworth Duratec unit (options from 190bhp to 300bhp)
Transmission: Five-speed manual (six-speed sequential is optional)
Performance: 155mph-plus; 0 to 60mph in 3.1 seconds Fuel consumption: roughly 30mpg
CO2: 215g/km

Now I know why they invented windscreens. Bowling up the A11 in Britain's latest, and possibly craziest, sports car, the Brooke - which is not fitted with what you or I would recognise as a windscreen - you suddenly realise: a) how much grit and other detritus there is lying around on our roads; b) how easily it can end up in your face; and c) how painful it can be when it hits you at the legal speed limit.

Actually, the folks who make the Brooke will, if you wish, manufacture their vehicle with a much deeper windscreen than the test car I tried. What that means in practice is that they will just cut the curved perspex they use for the purpose a little bit higher.

The thing is, the Brooke is put together by four blokes in a workshop in Devon. Their ambition, as you can see, was to create a machine for the road that captured some of the charm of a 1950s Grand Prix car and which, more importantly, embodied the most important principle of a race car: the best possible power to weight ratio. Hence the specification of an ultra light/ultra powerful Cosworth engine, a carbon dashboard and that minimal, glass-fibre bodywork (with seating for two).

Those lines, by the way, are a sort of amalgam of the Coopers, Vanwalls and Ferraris that excited motorsport enthusiasts half a century ago. It works well, and there really is nothing quite like it on the road. A polished aluminium tub is an option.

But don't let antique looks fool you; in the Brooke, you'll be able to get up to speed quicker than Stirling Moss ever did. You'll see 60mph come up in three seconds and you can comfortably hit 150mph-plus, should your nerves be up to it.

That's what happens when you have a 260bhp engine pushing all of 550kg around. Usually, you'd find such an engine power output in the likes of a BMW 5-series, say, in a car weighing 1,700kg. The magic power to weight ratio in the case of the Brooke is 473bhp per ton - rather better, for example, than the Lamborghini Murcielago, at 350bhp per ton.

For those who need to know, the suspension comprises chromoly aerofoil section unequal-length wishbones at front and rear, if you please, which look funky too. In the interests of weight reduction and the rawest, most unmediated of driving experiences, they have also chosen not to lard up the Brooke with the usual sophisticated safety kit, so there are no airbags, anti-lock braking systems or electronic stability controls.

This feeling of vulnerability does make you into a much more careful driver, however. Actually, the car is built around quite a beefy steel tubing frame, so it's stronger than it might look.

Even so, you tread carefully. You wouldn't, after all, really want to spin your Brooke on a busy motorway or A-road. I managed not to, mainly because I contented myself with pressing the beast to anywhere near its limits only on the loneliest and straightest bits of road I could find.

Yet vulnerability can be fun. It's exhilarating to be in something so patently willing to murder you. You leave the airless environment of the office, clamber into its tight-fitting (very tight fitting, in my case) sports seats, clasp that tiny, tiny Momo steering wheel and you've already left your worldly cares behind.

Then you fire her up, via a traditional starter-button, naturally. The Cosworth makes a truly wonderful sound. It's the same engine that is fitted to the Caterham CSR I recently tried, and it generates the same burbly noises. It doesn't snap, crackle and pop as readily as the Caterham, but that is down to the tuning. It still makes a hell of a row.

Once you've got used to that din, your hand falls to the race-style gearbox, positioned on the driver's right-hand side in the door panel, in traditional racing-car style. Like the rest of the car, it's very direct.

You've no ground clearance to speak of, so even the most modest of speed bumps or other road obstacle has to be approached with extreme caution. The only discordant sound you'll hear driving a Brooke is the one you notice when you ground it. Very nasty.

In truth, of course, this aspect of the car's design tells you a great deal about it; in particular that, while it is certainly a hoot to drive on the public highway, it is much more at home on the racetrack. That's also why the headlamps have to be extracted from two pods that you unscrew on the bonnet - not handy for nipping to the shops at night.

For the nation's growing army of track-day enthusiasts, this car might one day build up something of the following enjoyed by the formidable Caterham. It certainly deserves to.

In only one way is the Brooke a depressing thing. The maximum production rate of this vehicle is likely to be in the low hundreds per year. Does such cottage-industry activity represent the future of the British automotive sector?

When we are losing so many highly skilled jobs, notably at MG Rover at Longbridge last year and at Peugeot in Coventry now, you wonder about a product such as the Brooke. Yes, it's a craft-based specialist affair, of the type that the Koreans or Chinese are unlikely to start churning out, so the jobs are safe. But is this what it's come to?

In many ways, the Brooke is reminiscent of the British industry's pioneering, swashbuckling past, with motor sport at the fore. It also seems to be true that the smaller the British car company, the more successful it is, although the current travails of TVR do make one wonder about that.

This Brooke is just a toy. A great toy, to be sure, thoughtfully engineered, but a toy nonetheless. There are no doors, no roof and no boot. It's not practical. It's not going to replace our great volume makers. It's almost not a car at all. It's barely legal. You'll love it.

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The rivals

Ariel Atom: From £19,900

This is totally mad. There is no discernible bodywork, and it's another track special with a potent power-to-weight ratio (up to 483bhp/tonne at the top end of the range). Again, this is a car only for the brave.

Caterham CSR 260: From £31,193

It's come a long way since it was the Lotus 7. The basic shape first saw the light of day almost 50 years ago, but that's the only thing that hasn't changed. Powered by same Cosworth unit as the Brooke.

Westfield V8 SEiGHT: £25,167

Another variation on the theme. Less well known than the Caterham, the Westfield offers a similar driving experience, with classic styling and a variation on the legendary old Rover V8 unit. Nice piece of kit.

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