Crisp November air rushes past my crash helmet as I accelerate out of a long left-hander. Pushing the billet aluminum pedal to the firewall causes the rear to slip wide, the tires momentarily losing traction on the bumpy, wet surface of a former military airbase. Slide gathered up with a quarter-turn of the steering wheel, I accelerate along the main straight, using the momentary respite to savor the opportunity to drive a car with a prancing horse on its nose.
And make no mistake, despite its compact size this is a Ferrari. Available to purchase through the Ferrari dealership network, the Testa Rossa J uses the same paint and leather as the company’s larger cars. It has been tested at Ferrari’s Fiorano circuit to make it feel just like an original Testa Rossa, and features a Ferrari chassis plate under the hood.
This is also the first all-electric Ferrari, and the first to be built outside of Maranello, Italy. It is instead assembled in Bicester, near Oxford, England. In the same way Magna Steyr builds cars for BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes in Austria, and how Multimatic built the Ford GT in Canada.
A 75-percent replica of the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa from 1957, the J is built by The Little Car Company, which is also busy constructing the similarly compact Bugatti Baby II and an Aston Martin DB5 Junior complete with James Bond gadgets. Next will be a full-size Tamiya buggy for customers to build themselves, and several more manufacturer-backed projects are waiting in the wings.
Back to the Testa Rossa J, and we find an electric car that is as achingly beautiful as the full-size original. The swooping, pontoon-style fenders and gleaming red paintwork are enough to make any driver weak at the knees, no matter their age. And on that note, while intended for children as young as 14, the lowered floor due to the lack of an exhaust means adults can step into the car, ease themselves down into the leather seat, and fit surprisingly well.
Feet resting on pedals from a Ferrari F8 Tributo; hands gripping a beautiful wooden steering wheel by Nardi; back resting against a seat made from Ferrari leather. This is a car fully deserving of the prancing horse emblem. There’s even an options list for those who want something beyond the standard colour palette, or a set of genuine Borrani wire wheels, as worn by the original.
As with other vehicles from The Little Car Company, there are various drive modes to pick from. These are selected with a turn of the Ferrari-style Manetinno switch, which doubles as a key, and range from Novice to Comfort, then Sport and Race. Power output for each mode is 1kW, 4kW, 10kW and 12kW respectively, with the top speed of both Sport and Race being 50mph. This, with that cold November air in your face, is plenty, and actually feels like quite a bit more. Driven more sensibly, the range is a claimed 55 miles.
Also like the Bugatti Baby II and Aston Martin DB5 Junior, the engineering is top-drawer. The hydraulic disc brakes, complete with dual-circuit master cylinder, are from Brembo, while the period-correct tires come from Pirelli, which has collaborated closely with the project. The springs are from Eibach and the dampers are from Bilstein, while an optional race pack adds adjustable dampers, drilled disc, a roll cage, a brake bias adjuster, and the potential for a limited-slip differential, too. The final options package was yet to be finalized when I drove the car in mid-November.
Ben Hedley, chief executive of The Little Car Company, said: “The chassis is one of the things I’m most proud of. [Ferrari] let us into their museum, scan the original paper drawings of the chassis, then we recreated it in 3D. So the chassis beams you see are the same as on the original car…apart from the doors not opening and we put an extra spar across the top for stiffness, the chassis is identical. So is the [suspension] geometry.”
Hedley, often beaming as he explains just how much effort has gone into these vehicles, adds: “Oh yeah, it’s got a hydraulic handbrake…just because.”
It is this playful approach – yet one that is executed with perfection – that is surely key to The Little Car Company building perfect miniatures for the world’s most prestigious carmakers – companies that normally prefer not to be seen together, let alone publicly share a manufacturing partner.
Back to the circuit, and the Testa Rossa J, light on its feet at 250kg, largely thanks to the aluminum body, feels every bit the vintage racer. The sun is shining on a damp but drying track, and leaves scattered below an overhanging tree make the exit of one corner particularly treacherous – as I find out by spinning through 180 degrees after being too greedy with the accelerator.
I take a more cautious approach on the next lap, feeling grip come, go, then return again on corner entry as the Ferrari settles onto my chosen line and I aim for the exit. I’m going into detail here because this car, albeit designed to accommodate children, is the real deal. Its handling is to be experimented with, examined, learnt from and understood to get the most out of it.
Small wonder that The Little Car Company has plans to form a racing series, along with driving experiences for owners and their children to bond over and enjoy their cars together. It doesn’t take much imagination to see a grid of these cars at a future installment of the Goodwood Revival.
And it really would be a full grid. These pint-sized cars are being snapped up by collectors the world over, many of whom order the next model as soon as it is announced. And, while they are not street-legal when departing The Little Car Company workshop, I understand some buyers are looking to see what’s possible with quadricycle rules in the US and elsewhere.
Sticking to Enzo Ferrari’s old formula of producing one fewer than can theoretically be sold, just 299 examples of the Testa Rossa J will be built. Many are already accounted for, with buyers not phased by the €94,000 ($105,000) starting price, and instead paying extra to go down the Ferrari Atelier route, adjusting the color of the leather to their preference. Many also opt for the Borrani wheels, Hedley says, and most so far have gone for a historic paint livery too. At least one has asked theirs to be delivered unpainted, instead opting for the natural beauty of the hand-formed aluminum body.
However buyers spec their Testa Rossa J, they’ll be getting something very special indeed.