"pics & video Stefan Marjoram Great video bouncing around the blogs this morning. It focusses on a true automotive animal - a 300 HP Land Speed Record attempting FIAT built in 1911 - and the crew of Englishman tasked with the mission "
The Beast of Bodmin – reimagined
In the depths of Cornwall, a hunter is on the loose
There’s a chill in the air. And hovering in that chill is the howl of distant canines.
The chill should be unexpected – this is August, after all. However, it is approaching midnight… it’s pitch black… and that howl is freaking us out a bit.
We’ve been invited down to Bugle in Cornwall, England, by the founder of Toniq Ltd, Colin Williams. I’ve known (of) Toniq and Colin for a decade or so – one of those people you frequently miss by a few minutes; in our case either at a race track, car show or somewhere else that smells of rubber and petrol. An acquaintance that until now was formed over phone calls and internets, fertilized by a mutual love for the lightweight sports car.
Finally we’ve shaken each others’ hands, and I’m sat in the latest Toniq CB200 wearing a helmet, in the pitch black, parked in a huge puddle. It’s strange for a first meet, sure, but I’ve had worse nights.
The effort of getting into the root of England, deep into Cornwall, makes this late-night shenanigan all the more dramatic, like having to work a bit harder to get the good reward, and despite the fact myself and the rest of the crew having been on the road for over ten hours (and severely beneath our expected quota of motorway-service-grub) we’re still wide awake.
This is an exciting shoot.
And it’s exciting because of the car. The Toniq is not like other cars. The comparison with a Caterham is predictable, and one Colin is well-experienced in having to answer, but under the skin of this CB is a whole new car. Don’t be fooled by the 2010 number plate, the gubbins under that silver and orange façade are as fresh as ‘going commando’. This very car is the start of the new generation of Toniq CB and is set to take them up a notch or two in people’s estimations.
The handling balance is incredibly well thought out with a rare front mid-engined layout and a weight distribution registering precisely 50/50 (with the right fuel load). With a kerb weight practically measured in grammes, plus tyres with more grip than a chav on a cheap TV during Black Friday, I know this is a beast which is ready to thrash…
But instead I’m just sat stationary in that huge puddle.
After a few atmospheric shots and the crew talking about settings on the parts of a camera the rest of us would leave well alone we get the go ahead to hit the open road. This is when I get to put my foot down… After a mile I stop.
I think I’ve swallowed things I shouldn’t have done and my eyelids are flapping. We’re beyond midnight now and there are very few street lights in this part of the world, so I couldn’t exactly stick on a pair of sunglasses. I could go on without glasses at all but, with no windscreen, hitting Roche and Bugle at 30mph feels like sticking my head out of the window of a 747 cruising over the Alps.
We happen to have stopped at one of many incredible spots around here – Roche Rock – and the crew insist on trekking across soggy marshy common land to the foot of this eerie monument. Colin mentions a few local myths about what it is and was, and before long the crew have grabbed what they need and we’re off again.
By now I’m wearing a clear set of specs having rummaged around the back of the crew’s van and I’m driving along the eerily unoccupied Cornish B-roads. It’s a chance to plonk my foot down, and I can tell you this little beast can shift. Dancing between apices and with an instant throttle response, a super-slick gearchange and brakes and steering designed to make people work hard, the car really comes alive. My senses are heightened on this moonlit night, on unfamiliar damp roads, ducking and diving through the moors like a rat running across a ploughed field.
The long bonnet and headlights on stalks will be familiar to drivers of sports cars like these, but what won’t be familiar is that weight distribution. It’s a feature Toniq are very pleased about. The car pivots about the driver and the front goes where you point it, not trying to plough straight on. Imagine going shopping and shoving all the heavy stuff at the far end (front?) of your trolley – and you’ll know how difficult it is to slalom between the deli counter and the people swarming around free samples of Red Leicester. But move the heavy stuff to the back of the trolley and you can turn on a sixpence Nectar Card. Same thing here in the Toniq.
The roadholding is spot on, but don’t think this is simply because of a super-firm suspension setup because before long we’re investigating back roads with potholes, cattle grids, and inch-deep mud. And here again the car shows how well-sorted it is. It’s arguably more impressive on these inappropriate roads than it is on the smooth sweeping roads and racetracks where you’d expect it to shine.
After a few more super-atmospheric shots the team want some noise and speed. Goody. The great thing about this car is that we can get noise and speed without having to flutter our eyelids and show a bit of cleavage to the local constabulary. All the performance and thrill you’d want can be found at ‘sensible’ speeds.
As we approach the early hours of the next morning and after a load of gigabytes of footage are in the bank we grab a few hours’ sleep and find our way to Spitfire Raceway at Perranporth Airfield. The drive there in the Toniq reveals its daytime personality – the looks of intrigue from onlookers, the uninhibited pointing of fingers from young children, and the pretending-I’m-not-interested head turns from hot hatch drivers are all there for you.
Finally, it’s time for us to try out the Toniq uninhibited. The wind is strong, which is good for us as it means the airfield cannot accept air traffic and we have the runway to ourselves. Here we see a 0-60 blast of 4-ish seconds and reaching triple figure MPHs are a doddle for the Cornish beast. Chucking it around the film crew’s chase cars and support vehicles as they trundle along the runway, too, reveals the car is predictable, and if anything a little too grippy… Not often a bad problem to have, but as we want the chance to get the car’s rear end as loose as our passengers’ we simply request some less grippy rear rubber, and the Toniq team rush to the factory to find some tyres which would fail an MOT before you could spell MOT.
With these new boots the car turns from grippy super-quick racer to bonkers hooligan (and there’s probably as much rubber now left on the runway at Perranporth as there is left on the tyres) which certainly helped us to get the shots we want, and helped me get the full feel of what this car can really do.
Whilst there, we used the car for a couple of challenges which we’ll tell you about another time and involved some youngsters having to get around a tricky agility course. This showed (through the occasional mishap, missed gearchange and missed braking point) that the Toniq can take a huge amount of abuse and still work perfectly. There are no ‘settings’ to adjust, no safety warnings. No ‘modes’ to select from. How you drive it and how it responds is up to you. You make it quick. Surely that’s what everyone wants from a sports car?
We’re not the types to ask about top speed, I’m sure Toniq will tell you if you want, but we know (as do our readers) that this is irrelevant in the modern world. We had a runway to ourselves and still got nowhere near its full potential. What we can vouch for, though, is the shuttlecock-hit-by-a-racquet change of direction, the passenger-pinning acceleration, the superb don’t-skip-leg-day brake feel, and the car’s ability to soak up abuse and want more – even from a 19 year old Chevy Matiz-driving “it’s ya boyz” type YouTubey guy who was getting the thing sideways after about two minutes of being in the car.
The film we’ve gone on to produce was set up to feel like the car is hunting you. And in a way it feels like it has hunted me down. This CB200 is more than just a two seater sports car, this truly is a Beast of Bodmin Moor.
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