Jannarelly Design-1 prototype. FIRST DRIVE. Dubai, UAE

 

Engine Power Torque 0-100kph Top speed Weight Basic price
V6, 3498cc (Nissan) 304bhp @ 7200rpm 371Nm (274lb ft) @ 4000rpm 3.8secs 240kph 790kg (385bhp/ton) $62,000

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I should explain that, while 30 orders have already been taken and a five-year plan to produce 200 cars per annum is already in the works, this particular Design-1 remains a prototype at present: the stitching of the leather seats is not quite up to production quality, the doors need to be affixed to the chassis rather than the body for added rigidity and a few weeks after this test, a carbon fibre diffuser will have appeared under the rear valance. Nevertheless, so keen is Jannarelly to see how its first sports car performs, the team has invited crankandpiston.com to be the first, non-in-house team member to put Design-1 through its paces. Once again, my mind wonders just what might have been had Anthony been given a Lykan company car.

On-track on the Autodrome’s Oval Circuit, I’m given my introduction to the two-seater cabin. It’s pretty bare bones, with neither radio nor air conditioning, and when I lean in for a closer look, I catch a glimpse of the chassis and aluminium panelling. The process of alighting is the first challenge. In-keeping with the retro design, the doors – which are almost lunatically light – open halfway up the bodywork, paving the way for an extra wide sill behind it. To step over this and feed both Converse between the seat and the steering column, I have to balance my weight on both roll hoops and plonk myself into the awaiting seat, making sure to feed my legs under the bulkhead as I do so.

It’s a tight squeeze. To pry my 6ft 2in frame into the car, both driver seat cushions have to be removed, meaning I’ll spend my run sitting on the bare tub beneath. There’s also the customary four-point racing harness, which takes a degree of fidgeting before I find a comfortable fit. Much like its Caterham forebear there’s only so far my seat will go back on its runners, meaning my legs are rubbing against both the rim of the steering wheel and the centre console housing.

The position of the pedals is a little snugger than I’d hoped, although new aluminium pedals on the production version will be fully adjustable. Like the Caterham, the centre console is almost completely stripped out, with a Ferrari Dino-inspired gauge box in front of me, bare carbon detailing and just a couple of flick switches for the headlights about it as far as creature comforts go. Well, save a cup holder, inexplicably, in front of the handbrake, plus red-hinged housing that needs to be flipped backwards to reach the starter switch behind it. A bit ‘Lamborghini’, but I like it.  

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Unlike the Caterham though, the bodywork wraps itself around the driver, but deep inlets in the door ensure there’s plenty of elbow and shoulder room. Unlike the Caterham, there’s plenty of room between myself and Anthony, who slides gracefully into the passenger seat beside me. And unlike the Caterham, the windscreen is so radically concaved, and my seating position both low and high at the same time, it’s pretty much pointless. Probably best keep my sunglasses on.

“To pry my 6ft 2in frame into the car, both driver seat cushions have to be removed, meaning I’ll spend my run sitting on the bare tub beneath”

Anthony walks me through the basics, warning me that I may want to hold the gear lever just below the knob, otherwise I may catch my hand on a protruding bolt head (again, prototype). With that, he flicks the red housing up, holds the switch behind it, and there’s a sharp rasp as the naturally-aspirated V6 fires into life. Strange. For such a 60s-inspired machine, I’d expected a little more warmth and heart to the initial growl.

I’m curious too, as we round the first sequence of mid-speed left and right handers, why Anthony decided against a more flamboyant name over ‘Design-1’…

“Well my name is quite complicated, and I thought if people have to remember ‘Jannarelly’ plus another complicated word, it would be too much. This car has to grow organically with its owner. I want them to give it a name that suits them.”

None of which I can hear, unfortunately. Sound-deadening in the Design-1 is non-existent, even just below mid-range revs, the engine note is close to deafening, the vibrations through the bodywork alone causing both wing mirrors (there isn’t a rear-view) to slowly pivot downwards. Rather than constantly adjusting them, I stop using them altogether…

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It’s only after Anthony gets out and I’ve sourced a full-face helmet that I start to pick up the pace. For the first laps I’ve been stroking the V6 along, and though our test mule today is packing only 275bhp and slightly thicker bodywork means the kerb weight is up to 800kg, I’m keen to see what this ‘glamorous’ Caterham is capable of.

Quite a lot, it seems. Under sharp acceleration, the punchy V6 fires rather than feeds its power to the rear wheels, they in-turn jinking out of position enough to require a flick of counter steer to bring them back into line. As the V6 gets into its stride though, the Pirellis begin to dig deeper into the tarmac, and while the acceleration is quite linear, the lightness of the tub means it’s more ruthless than I’d expected of a Maxima engine. I ignore Anthony’s advice almost immediately, finding the protruding bolt head several times with the top of my hand via the short throw transmission.

Cack-handedness though can’t knock the effectiveness of the transmission: the biting point of the clutch is surprisingly high – my first run is a mess of bunny-hops – but on-track, the changes feel smooth and oily rather than ratchet-like. Saying that, short gear ratios mean acceleration, though still progressive, is urgent. I’ll admit that the accompanying ‘ker-chunk’ with each shift is oddly satisfying, representing a drivetrain more archaic and agricultural than ultra modern and soulless, suiting the 60s roadster character of the Design-1 well.

“I ignore Anthony’s advice almost immediately, finding the protruding bolt head several times with the top of my hand”

Ditto the steering. There’s no power steering at all, the consistent weight through the wheel almost akin to a go-kart in terms of textured feedback, and while I shudder at the use of this over-used cliché, the connection to the front wheels means it’s the most apt I can think of. Indeed, I’m quite staggered at the urgency with which the front end pitches into the hairpin apex on the long back straight. Admittedly it doesn’t feel quite as crisp or instinctive as the Caterham, but the confidence it inspires is seriously impressive. Somehow, even the rear wheels stay railroaded through the apex, jinking only when I begin to feed the power back in on the way out of the corner.

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I spend the next few laps getting braver under turn-in and braking, confident that the tyres will dig in and the body will pivot beautifully. Balance mid-corner is pretty much spot-on, yaw under lift off oversteer proving wonderfully progressive and easy to catch. Once again though, I do find myself wondering if the Design-1 boasts the sharpness and agility of a Caterham. Yes, predicting when the rears will step out becomes easier with each passing corner, there’s no inconsistent lightness to the weighted steering, and the rush of adrenaline as the revs are wound up and the buffeting from the wind becomes more pronounced barely fades during my afternoon run. Still though, there are a few niggles.

The brakes for instance are aluminium from AP Racing, but short travel in the pedal, a degree of snatchiness and, quite honestly, lees oomph than I’d like for such a light car mean I end up relying more on engine braking than I’d like. Lean on the front end out of the turns and the front tyres will keep body roll and understeer well at arm’s length, but my confidence into the corners isn’t quite as strong. It takes a while, but soon I notice that, depending on what corner I’m going round, the fuel gauge begins changing its mind. Unsure whether I’m running on fumes or have a quarter of a tank left, I bring my time behind the wheel to a close.

Testing continues long after I’ve prized myself from the unpadded seat. There’s a lot of promise beneath the fibreglass bodywork, and with a Fast and the Furious-starring supercar already under his belt as far as mainstream cred goes, Anthony is all too aware of the challenge ahead of him. Neither he nor Frédéric show signs of that pressure today mind you. Yes, the Jannarelly may not be quite as nimble or honed as the Caterham Seven, but then that wasn’t the primary goal. From concept onwards, the Jannarelly hoped to take the idea of Caterham-like driving and stuff this into a design celebrating the more romantic, more rounded looks of an era now long gone but rarely forgotten. Whether the Jannarelly Design-1 can one day count itself amongst such illustrious company remains to be seen, but even on this brief prototype run, it’s proven itself to be a fast, agile, precision machine with just enough presence to make a legitimate name for itself in the sports car world. Once again, it makes you wonder what might have been had Anthony Jannarelly taken the Lykan company car instead.

Enjoy our Jannarelly Design-1 test drive?

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