Another day and another car to be consigned to the cemetery of automotive dreams. In today’s tale of woe, we look at a motor that was completely uncompromised in its dynamic ability; but perhaps that’s where it went wrong.
All personality but no beauty
Robin Hall and Andrew Barber were both talented ex Rover engineers who had just finished work on the dynamically brilliant R50 ‘new’ Mini which, of course, we know went on to be a runaway success.
But history will always remember this as one for BMW and not for Rover. BMW supposedly set nothing more than a few parameters for the new icon, but never really gave the team at Gaydon any credit, despite years of hard work building something that could truly take on the world. The R50 could have been redemption after all the BL years and later Honda royalties for Longbridge: it could have been a new start.
Perhaps the ‘theft’ of a new beginning and recognition was what pushed these two engineers to find equity and set up FBS sportscars in Brackley, Northampton.
Development was in their blood and you would imagine the finished product would be nothing short of spectacular. Well, the results spoke for themselves:
FBS stood for (gulp) the Future of British Sportscars and what a strange future it could have been if this car did take off. I have seen awkward cars and I have seen ugly cars before, but this design is, well, downright diabolical.
The designer was found through a University competition and the ‘winner’ was an Italian chap called Giovanni Doglioli. He was perhaps having a bit of an ‘off day’, as this car was never ever going to win any admiring glances. But perhaps this was not Giovanni’s fault as, since the FBS, he’s gone on to hit after hit, including the striking gtc4 lusso.
Anyway, all monsters need a name. So, in another stroke of ‘what the hell’ thinking, they decided to name the new car the Census. I mean what gets the blood flowing in any sportscar enthusiast more than national admin?
Anyway, enough of kicking this car while it’s down. Yes, it may have had a few fairly substantial faults, but there was actually some good reasoning behind its weird as hell looks. This car was to set new standards in driving dynamics and handling; it was to have no concessions to anything, bar how it drove. The layout was classically British but with a twist, having mid front engine rear wheel drive utilising the brilliant Duratec V6 from the Ford Mondeo. The stumpy looks meant the car could have a wheel in each corner like the aforementioned Mini, so with less weight over each axle it was a bit of a hoot to drive in anger according to much of the press.
The CAD designed chassis must have helped too as it was supposedly the stiffest in its class, and in true Lotus style it was all connected to the wheels through soft springs and hard damping.
A fair bit of effort was also put into ensuring the driving position was unbeatable, utilising Vectra Sri seats and the steering was specially designed around the mk1 focus rack, making it sublime to steer. Tiff Nedell explained on old old Top Gear that “as soon as you’re inside, you instantly fall for this car”. High praise indeed, as there aren’t many people in the industry I trust as much as I do Tiff.
Performance was on the money too, with a 0-60 of just under 6 seconds. And at £25,750, it wasn’t the most expensive niche sports car around. So, what happened? Well, for one, that styling could never have helped. Maybe car enthusiasts are incredibly shallow, but most likely it was due to some very talented rivals. Around the new millennium, it was a renaissance period for track day startups like Ariel, Noble and Radical and, m10 aside, they were talented without being twatted by the ugly stick.
It was believed that 50 cars a year would have been the break even point for this start up. But in 2.5 years only 3 prototypes were built, alongside 8 more cars for customers until inevitably the Future of British Sportscars folded in August 2003. To add further salt into the wounds, the following year two of the eleven cars were used in the critically panned joke of a film “Fat Slags”, based on the Viz comic strip of the same name.
Being the butt of the joke, however, did little to dent Robin Hall’s enthusiasm, who went on to help form kit car company Edge Sportscars which, in turn, stopped trading in 2011.