It’s hard not be quite taken by the Lightning GT. Handsomely endowed with a cab rearward stance, when confronted with not one, but two, GT’s on the ground floor of Lightning Car Company’s offices on the bank of the River Thames, my immediate thought was, ‘Jaguar E-type meets Jensen Interceptor’. Rather a neat trick, that.
Five years in the making and, whilst it’s not been easy for chairman Iain Sanderson and co-founder Arthur Wolstenholme, they’re confident that the next twelve months will see cars finally roll off the production line. The fact that they’re still here at all, when so many British start-ups are long gone, is as much a testament to their passion as it is to the underlying imagination and individuality of their product.
The ‘product’ is a 402bhp, all-electric grand tourer with a range in excess of 150 miles and a body crafted entirely from carbon fibre. Perhaps most impressive, however, are the lithium titanate batteries that allow the Lightning to reach full charge in just ten minutes. About the same amount of time it takes to fill up your Ferrari 599’s 105-litre tank and then queue at a service station, for those so inclined, and that’s very much the crux of this endeavor.
“I lived in London where I saw Aston Martins going into Mayfair in the morning doing nine miles per hour and nine miles per gallon” recalls Sanderson, “and I felt that was wrong because of pollution in built up areas. I can see how money should buy you rights and privileges, but I don’t see why it should buy you the right to pollute four or five time more than the car next to you, when you don’t need the performance”.
You may be surprised to learn, then, that the development prototype Lightning you see here is loosely based on an original V8 version, penned by now-Lotus designer Daniel Durrant, although the only original part left over from 2002 is the windscreen. Supported by a small team, Durrant was later aided by the digital modeling team at Chris Longmore’s Drive Design consultancy to bring the car off the page to fully running prototype stage.
The car’s 2008 showcase at the London Excel represented a time frame of six years from sketch to metal, and in the design world a lot can, and often does, change. One thing Sanderson was adamant on keeping, however, were the somewhat magnificent dual buttresses flowing off the GT’s roofline. Inspired by the Vanwall Formula One cars of the 1950’s (the 1958 VW 5 taking the inaugural constructor’s championship from Ferrari, with Moss and Brooks taking three wins apiece), they offer bystanders the same visual drama as the GT tears silently away as it does on approach.
The design brief was, simply: keep the car looking good at all angles. Sanderson, however, admits that there’s still more work to be done before the first of an anticipated 20 cars are completed in Coventry early next year. ‘More work’ may mean raising the roofline by an inch to accommodate taller drivers but by and large, what you see here is what the finished article’s exterior will look like. As well as a roadster version of the GT, Sanderson believes the car’s platform also offers a fantastic base for a large saloon or SUV.
Coasting around the streets of west London in the matt black development car was an experience different to that of any other electric car I’ve been in. Firstly, the GT encapsulates that old-school grand tourer feel, with a high bonnet-line and low-slung seats, the Lightning felt akin to a Mercedes SLS. Whilst the powertrain consisted of just a single motor putting out around 150bhp, the GT possessed a point-and-shoot nature that will be familiar to EV owners, and it’s not hard to imagine how formidable the production car will be equipped twin 150kW motors generating over 400bhp.
“Top speed will probably be limited to around 150mph but we can limit it to whatever we want” states Sanderson, and the Lightning will crack 60mph from rest in less than 4.5 seconds “easily”. Overtaking should be something of a doddle for the Lightning, too, as a glut of instantaneous torque bodes well for brisk 30-70mph dash.
Of comparable width to an Aston Martin Vanquish, the Lightning disguises its considerable size well from behind the wheel. Yes, it’s large, but it’s also manageable, and watching Sanderson, a former offshore powerboat racer, thread the GT through some precariously narrow traffic calming measures with relative ease bodes well for the car as an urban mode of transport. That same width pays dividends in the cockpit. Though modestly appointed in this prototype, it’s clear that the production model will have ample space inside, partly due to the chassis integrated battery packs that run down the core of the car and, as a result, pave the way for a centre console (over a foot wide) that duly dominates the cabin.
The GT also feels surprisingly agile, due, again, to the batteries. “Handling will be exemplary” anticipates Sanderson, “because the weight’s where you want it: central and low”. From the passenger seat at least, direction changes feel light and crisp. The lithium titanate batteries, although very expensive (around £50,000’s worth per car) and a little heavier than lithium-ion batteries, have been totally reliable – to the extent that the Lightning team hasn’t seen them for the last fourteen months and over 10,000 miles. Encouragingly, these batteries are also immune to ‘bricking’, happily running from 100% to 0% charge. Again, high-speed off board charging makes long range, zero emissions motoring a realistic proposition.
Costing well over £100,000 to build, Lightning Car Company will look to sell the 20 cars due next year for between £185,000 and £200,000, and are now looking to convert the 2,000-or-so enquires they’ve received into deposits for build slots. Entrepreneur-minded individuals have been earmarked.
The overall impression of the GT is the juxtaposition of classic proportions and aesthetic onto ultra-hi-tech hardware, like a bridge between analogue and digital spheres. There’s a distinctly British charm to the car and for those who find a Tesla too small and a Fisker too brash, look no further.
Chairman Iain Sanderson
Photography Mark Raybone
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