FIRST DRIVE. Jannarelly Design-1 Prototype

January 30, 2017

From supercars to ’60s retro, the man who penned the W Motors Lykan invites James to test his first-ever sportscar on-track at the Dubai Autodrome.

  • Check out the original post on HERE, a pdf version from evo Middle East HERE, and OTTO magazine coverage HERE

EnginePowerTorque0-100kphTop speedWeightPrice
V6 Nissan, 3498cc304bhp @ 7200rpm274lb ft @ 4000rpm3.8 secs240kph790kg (385bhp/ton)$62,000

Just imagine if W Motors had given its design director Anthony Jannarelly a Lykan company car. I mean, cruising to and from work everyday in the product of his own creativity, it’s less likely Anthony’s imagination would have wandered, and his dream of a ‘glamorous’ Caterham Seven with ‘60s roadster styling may never have hit the design easel. It’s unlikely too that the man who penned the W Motors Fenyr Supersport, the Lykan Hypersport and the Zarooq Sand Racer, would even have met business partner Frédéric Juillot, nor discussed how the latter’s years as a boat-builder – and thus his team’s expertise with fibreglass bodies – would ultimately prove so beneficial to their joint venture.

It’s even less likely that conceptual art of the Jannarelly Design-1 would have caught public imagination the way it did in 2015. Granted, the pair might have saved themselves the headache of establishing an independent car company in the Middle East – the paperwork alone took close to six months – but we doubt the first prototype would have been built at all. Kiss goodbye to the two-dozen payments that got the production ball rolling too. Genesis of the Jannarelly Design-1 goes deeper than that though…

“When I was designing cars for W Motors, everyone just assumed I was driving a Lykan everyday,” Anthony explains. “But it’s a $3 million supercar. It’s just not possible. Instead I drive a Caterham 160S most days, and Frederic actually has a Donkervoort GTO-RS” – Holland’s answer to the Caterham – “so that’s how we met.

“Eventually we discussed designing something with the cool shape of a Porsche 550 but with the precision and control of a Caterham. I’ve always admired the Porsche 550, but engineering-wise it’s a bit dated. And with the Caterham you have an old school car with modern handling, but it’s not particularly glamorous. So it all started from that. At first this was just a side project. Then about a year ago we produced some pictures to see how people would react. It wasn’t too long before we started taking customer orders.”

Fast-forward 18 months, and Anthony’s enthusiasm for the project that bears his name hangs almost tangibly in the air as he walks me through the prototype. Testing at the Dubai Autodrome – the Jannarelly team’s home circuit – has paused temporarily as half a dozen engineers in matching black ‘Jannarelly’ t-shirts discuss tyre pressures, suspension geometry and rev mapping over a portable tool chest. I shamelessly eves-drop, but Anthony, in full flow, barely pauses.

“I always considered the ‘60s the best era for car design,” he continues. “Everything was more straightforward, and in a way, more human. I love the flow of those old shapes, so I started from that. I had the Ferrari 250 Testarossa very clearly in my mind during the design stage, and wanted to offer my tribute to this beautiful machine. So we built these ‘pontoons’ around the headlights and a deep front grille, because you just don’t see these on modern cars.

“I always loved that the Porsche 550 was almost symmetrical, front to back, so I included that in the design too as best I could. Also, if you look closely, you can see four ‘rises’, like shoulders, on the wheel arches. That’s probably the biggest throwback to the 60s.”

“I had the Ferrari 250 Testarossa very clearly in my mind during the design stage.”

Little wonder the Jannarelly design triggered such a response, and standing in the flesh today – complete with deep blue paint and red racing stripe – it’s lost little of its eye-popping impact, even if the yellow seats aren’t the best combination in this writer’s thoroughly untutored opinion. Indeed, the more we wander around Design-1 waiting for the engineering team to swoop back into action, more and more 60s icons begin to tease their inspiration. The deep inlet between the front ‘pontoons’ is pure Ford GT, the rounded slope of the headlights in side profile reminiscent of the Jaguar E-Type. Then there are the wide rear axle and rollover hoops, surely pure Shelby Cobra? Apparently not…

“To be honest the Cobra wasn’t much of an inspiration. We really wanted to keep the cabin narrow and the rear track wide to bring out those curves, a bit like a woman’s hips. From an engineering side this made sense too, because we only have so much room to fit a V6.”

Ah yes, the engine. The words themselves seem to ignite a flurry of activity from the engineers, several of whom remove two small pins to open the bonnet panel while others start jacking the nose for a closer look at the front tyres. Frédéric meanwhile, back from a recuperative smoke break, lands a hearty pat between my shoulder blades, offering an equally warm handshake as he dives into the technical side of Design-1.

The tubular chassis under all that fibre glass and occasional carbon fibre was designed in-house. The lightweight double wishbone suspension meanwhile was developed and tested in extremis by Campos Racing, a Spanish team notable for their championship success in GP2 and Formula E (the latter under the NextEV Team China banner). The setup works in tandem with lightweight – spot the theme – wheels sourced from 7Twenty in the UK and semi-slick Pirellis, an upgrade over the road-going Toyos initially used during development.

“The Jannarelly weighs just 780kg, meaning a power-to-weight ratio of 385bhp/ton. That’s more than an SLR McLaren.”

Power and torque meanwhile are an admittedly steady 304bhp and 274lb ft of torque, but that’s not the figure that springs my right eyebrow into action. The Jannarelly weighs just 780kg, 200kg of which is the drivetrain, meaning a power-to-weight ratio of 385bhp/ton. That’s more than an SLR McLaren, and more than sufficient for the UAE sports car to hit 0-100kph in less than four seconds (3.8, a confident Frédéric assures me) and a 220kph top speed.

So, from where has the 3.6-litre V6 and its mated six-speed manual transmission been sourced? The new Camaro Six? Perhaps a current gen GT-R?

“The Nissan Maxima”

Beg pardon?

“It’s a VQ35, so it’s pretty much the same base as you’ll find in the 370Z and the GT-R,” explains a clearly amused Frédéric. “It’s a small base, plus on the Maxima and the Altima, it’s mounted transversely with the gearbox, which is helpful for us with such a small car. Nose to tail, it’s about the same size as a Mazda MX-5, so even if we wanted to add turbochargers, they just wouldn’t fit. Don’t worry, there’s more than enough power.”

And in just under an hour, I discover just how right he is.

EnginePowerTorque0-100kphTop speedWeightPrice
V6 Nissan, 3498cc304bhp @ 7200rpm274lb ft @ 4000rpm3.8 secs240kph790kg (385bhp/ton)$62,000

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 evo Middle East 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.

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…

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 to 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.

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.

*Images courtesy of Awesome Group and Harisanker S

Technical Specifications

Engine: V6 Nissan, 3498cc, Naturally aspirated, DOHC.

Power: 304bhp @ 7200rpm

Torque: 274lb ft @ 4000rpm

Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Front suspension: Double wishbones, inboard fully adjustable coil over damper

Rear suspension: Double wishbones, outboard fully adjustable coil over damper

Brakes: Ventilated and perforated, 290mm front and rear

Wheels: 8 x 16in (front), 9 x 16in (rear)

Tyres: 245/45 R16 (front), 225/50 R16 (rear), Pirelli P Zero Rosso

Weight (kerb): 790kg

Power-to-weight: 385bhp/ton

0-100kph: 3.8 secs

Top speed: 240kph

Price: $62,000