It's a working title. Other alternative names are, "Project Savings Destroyer", "Project Relationship Ruiner", "Project Cracked Hands" or the more mundane "Project Clio".
Over 10 years ago I was lucky enough to get invited to a PalmerSport track day by BMC Software. Actually, I didn't get invited, my boss did, but he didn't fancy it, so it was passed down to me. If you don't know about PalmerSport, their track days are to normal driving experience days as caviar is to a poached egg. They are the creme de la creme of track days. For almost £1000 they ought to be. Without going into massive amounts of detail, the day is a full 8 hours of pretty much non-stop driving amazing cars across 4 different tarmac tracks, a skid-pan and an off-road course at Bedford Autodrome. You get to drive all sorts of fantastic machines; the line-up is different now, but back then you had a single seat Formula Jaguar race car, a Le Mans prototype, Porsche 911 GT3, Jaguar XJR, Caterham Superlights, Go-Karts, Land Rover Defenders and the Renault Clio Cup.
I'd always been a petrol head, but that experience really got me hooked and for years and years afterwards I really wanted to get a track toy. At first, I wanted to build myself a Caterham replica like a Westfield or a Haynes Roadster. At the time I had no garage and lived in a mid-terrace house with a really steep driveway so I didn't have anywhere I could work on such a project. I looked into hiring a garage or a small industrial unit. I even applied to the council for planning permission to fell some trees behind my property so I could put a driveway leading to my backyard and build a garage/workshop there. They said no.
In late 2018 I moved house. Now I have a big double garage. I still thought about my project. I decided building a Lotus 7 replica like a Haynes Roadster was probably a little bit beyond me seeing as I can't weld and getting hold of the right donor car to strip for parts was becoming more and more difficult I decided I should buy a normal car and set it up for track use. My last 3 cars have all been BMWs and I really like how rear wheel drive cars feel, so my first thought was to get on old Beemer or something similarly RWD and go nuts.
Problem was that so few cars tick all the right boxes once you limit yourself to RWD only. I'd got it narrowed down to a 130i, a 328 or 330i, a Nissan 350Z or an MX5, but there were problems with all of these. All of them are stupidly heavy except the MX5 which is stupidly rusty and under-powered. The BMW parts are expensive and the 350Zs were expensive if you wanted one that didn't look like it had been used to ram raid Tesco Express. I toyed with the idea of a Honda S2000, but again tidy examples are quite pricey and I'm not a massive fan of no torque and all your power being available for a third of second before you start bouncing off the rev-limiter...I've been there before with a Celica VVTL-i I used to own.
I thought back to my PalmerSport day and something occurred to me. Out of all the exotic cars I drove that day, the one in which I had the most fun was actually the Clio. Driving the Clio in it's pseudo Cup Racer spec is difficult to describe. Imagine crossing the personality of a coked up football hooligan with a tiny, over-excited dog and then making it into a car. That's about as close to a description as I can get. It was just violent and noisy and raw. The first Clio I took out had a tyre blow out. We went back to the pits and got a spare car which was cold. It kangaroo'd like crazy below 3000RPM then screamed its way up to 7000RPM all whilst having all the finesse and refinement of a brick to the mouth. It was great!
And so I decided to buy a Clio.
I'm no stranger to french cars having had a fair few Peugeots in my time, but I've never owned a Renault before. I got up one Saturday morning and decided today was the day. I was going to pull the trigger on my decade long ‘dream'. So, off I went with a wad of cash and can-do attitude in search of my track weapon! 187 miles9 hours and 6 test drives later it began to dawn on me that I wasn't the only person who had realised relatively cheap track day shenanigans could be had in the form of the little Renault hot hatch. As such, the cars in my price range were a collection of what can only be described as ‘shit boxes'. I mean literally, this was in the sort of £2500-£3500 price range and every single one of them had some serious issues. One I drove in Leicester had an engine that was making a mooing noise at tickover. Another I drove had no variable valve timing. Another looked like it had been dragged out of a canal. I looked at an older 182 in the Mk2 shape and that...that was literally falling to pieces and made a noise like the wheel bearings were just bags of gravel.
I was about to give up when I got a call back from a guy I'd been trying to arrange a viewing with of a Mk3 197 Cup. The Cup being the slightly limited-ish-edition version with a different chassis and suspension set up and the removal of most interior refinement in an effort to save weight. In fading light I made it to the home of the Cup. It too was a shit box like the others, but I saw some potential in it. It drove the best out of all the cars I'd tried that day and I agreed to buy it.
And that's when the trouble began.