Donkervoort D8 GTO-JD70 2020 review
Dutch equivalent of Caterham uses five-cylinder Audi engine to get 610bhp per tonne
When, as a young man, Joop Donkervoort began importing the Lotus Seven to mainland Europe, he hit a problem. It wasn’t road legal, so he had to make some minor alterations. It would appear that in the intervening 42 years, he hasn’t stopped.This is the Donkervoort D8 GTO-JD70, built to celebrate Joop’s 70th birthday and hence restricted to 70 examples. It’s based on the regular D8 GTO, which, beyond being a roadster with its engine in front of its occupants and rear-wheel drive, has moved on quite a lot further from that Lotus than the Caterham Seven has in the intervening decades.There’s still a mainly-tubular steel chassis, welded at Donkervoort’s Lelystad factory in the Netherlands, but it’s mated to structural carbonfibre, which is also produced in-house; Donkervoort’s factory does manufacturing, not just assembly. All in, the chassis weighs just 54kg yet has 20kNm/deg of torsional rigidity. Pushrod-wishbone suspension is fitted all round. For a time, Donkervoort ran Cosworth power. Then it struck a deal with Audi for a V6. It reverted to Cosworth when this fell through before coming to a new arrangement to use Audi’s 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine, as found in the RS3, thanks to Ulrich Hackenberg, Audi’s then-technical director, liking the idea. That was the start of the D8 model line, which proved to be a spectacularly fast racing car; with a roof on it, the D8 GT won its class at the Dubai 24 Hour in 2011. Customers wanted it as a roadster, though, so here you have it: the D8 GTO, with ‘O’ for ‘Open’.The D8 is a bigger roadster than similar lightweight offerings. At 3.83m long and 1.85m wide, it’s bigger than the latest Ariel Atom (3.52m x 1.88m) or Caterham (just 3.38m x 1.58m, shorter without a spare wheel or around 100mm longer and 100mm wider in SV form). At a claimed 680kg, though, it’s still a light sports car.Donkervoort now makes 50 D8 GTOs per year and has introduced useful detail changes when creating the JD70 – effectively a new model update. Latest emissions regulations mean the engine now has a petrol particulate filter. This mutes the exhaust sound so much that there’s no need for a big muffler under the boot floor, so the exhaust exits at the side. This in turn creates room under the boot – whose contents no longer get cooked, happily – for a diffuser, while there are louvres in the front cycle wings to ease frontal lift. Donkervoort cars have become gradually, and to these eyes attractively, ever more aerodynamic over the years, to the extent that the JD70’s top speed is now 174mph.Some 415bhp probably helps in this respect, too – a mammoth amount for a little car. This drives through a five-speed manual gearbox with relatively long ratios (the five-pot is a torquey engine that became only more flexible with the latest emissions-related update) and a limited-slip differential. There’s also adjustable traction control, optional ABS and optional power-assisted steering.