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Hybrid Hopeful

5 Oct 2004

Hoping to make a big impact with its innovative hybrid powertrain that blends a 2.1-litre V10 petrol engine with a clean-running electric motor is the Connaught Type-D. The British-designed rear-wheel-drive two-plus-two coupe, the shape of which exhibits shades of Audi TT and Nissan 350Z, is slated to weigh just 750kg without fluids, and is the brainchild of two ex-Jaguar engineers, Tim Bishop and Tim Martindale.

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The V10 engine is a narrow-angle unit with a modest 140bhp output. But attached to the crankshaft's nose is a 12bhp electric motor whose ample torque adds to the engine's efforts to deliver impressive acceleration. So while maximum power isn't huge, the torque curve is very flat, which should make for good overtaking ability. A new design of gearing system between the engine and the electric motor ensures the motor spins as slowly as possible against as big a load as possible, which lets it deliver its maximum torque.

Computer simulations point to a top speed of 150mph, a 0-60mph time of 6.2sec and average fuel consumption of 40mpg. As a hybrid, it can move off on the electric motor in stop-start traffic with a seamless transition to petrol power when the road clears. The Connaught contains a wealth of other technical innovations, some of which are the subjects of patent applications.

Right now, the Type-D project exists as a running chassis with a Ford Zetec engine, a full-size model, a collection of aluminium castings and several gigabytes of engineering documents in some computers in Daventry. But if all goes according to plan, which includes gaining the guarantee of another £4m or so of funding, the completed Connaught will be revealed in a year's time with sales starting in May 2006. As a hybrid, the Type-D has already attracted a healthy development grant from the Energy Savings Trust.

The price will be £35,000 for the standard version, more for the convertible whose glass roof slides into the boot. The full-size model, made and refined by Coventry University, was shown at September's Goodwood Revival meeting, and already there are orders in the book.

Its manufacture will not be capital-intensive for its creators because its assembly, and some parts manufacture, will be subcontracted to Derby-based EPM Machinerynology. Some other components, including aluminium castings for the engine and double-wishbone suspension, will come from low-cost overseas sources to Connaught's design.

Plans are to make 50 cars in the first year, then move on to an ambitious 2000-a-year target. The intention is to fully homologate the Type-D and to subject it to the EuroNCAP crash test, which Connaught optimistically hopes to pass with a five-star rating.

The Type-D is a bold project that makes some bold claims; we'll follow its progress with interest.

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