Haven't we been here before - a low volume British manufacturer, with a heritage dating back to the 1960s, producing a K-series-powered mid-engined sports car with an advanced chassis? Beginning with Mini-based sports coupes, GTM has been using the mid-engined concept since day one. And it's stayed true to its roots with its latest SVA-approved Libra and drop-head Spyder models, which combine cute, elegant lines with cutting edge construction.
Peeling back the skin of the Libra reveals an F1-style composite chassis tub, complete with integral roll-cage. Extremely rigid and weighing just 98kg, it acts as the mounting point for the front and rear double wishbone suspension as well as the steering rack and column, and can accommodate a range of different powerplants.
Four-cylinder MG Rover K-series options from 1.4 to 1.8-litre VVC are no surprise, but the 2.5-litre KV6 powerplant is a conversation starter, packing 190bhp in its arsenal, along with 179lb ft of torque. In a car that sits kerbside at 830kg, that equates to an impressive 228bhp per ton.
The motor dominates the whole experience from the first twist of the key, growling charismatically through the clear Perspex screen inches aft of your head. Blip the throttle at tickover and the little coupe twitches in anticipation; a look at the figures reveals why - GTM claims the Libra will clock 0-60mph in 4.9sec and reach 150mph.
Unlike some small sports cars, interior space isn't an issue. I'm 6ft 6in tall and found that after sliding into the low-slung seat there's a surprising amount of head- and legroom. Other cabin plus-points include clear, easily read instruments and good all-round vision.
The comfort theme extends to the ride quality. Our £23,995 test Libra was equipped with adjustable dampers with three recommended settings - standard, sport and track. Standard offers a surprising degree of compliance, soaking up the worst lumps, bumps and potholes although you can hear the rear suspension's race-style rose-joints working away. Trouble is, whilst sparing your vertebrae, the softer setting sees the Libra lurch into roll-oversteer in demanding corners. This attitude is easily corrected by the nicely weighty, feelsome steering, but it's not what you want. A quick damper tweaking session - which requires opening the front and rear clamshells - improves matters, 'Sport' stiffening the little GTM in roll, while retaining an acceptable ride.
Show the Libra a smoother, switchback road and the package reveals its promise. With a 45/55 weight distribution split, plus a low centre of gravity, the agile Libra hits the sweet spot through sequences of tighter curves, where its sharp turn-in and accurate steering allow you to maintain serious pace, with minimal understeer from the front Goodyears. Sadly, raise the pace to three-figure speeds down a bumpy A-road and the composure and ride quality deteriorate, while cambers and poor surfaces require constant steering inputs to keep the Libra on line.
Shame that, given the firepower on tap. The KV6 engine's dynamic demeanour easily confirms GTM's performance claims. Torquey, smooth and rev-happy, it blends linear, instant response with such aural delights that you can't help blipping the throttle on each downshift. And while cog-swapping is a meaty task given the nature of the short-throw gear linkage, it's also accurate and direct, allowing crisp shifts, especially when pressing on. Stopping power is similarly impressive: 305mm front discs, squeezed by four-pot callipers, bode well for fade-free trackdays.
Clearly the GTM Libra is a fast, exhilarating, well-built, comfortable, good-looking package. Dynamically it can't match the standard-setting Lotus Exige (£29,995) but with further rear suspension tweaks in the pipeline, there's more to come from the Libra.
|Engine||V6, 24v, 2497cc|
|Max power||190bhp @ 6500rpm|
|Max torque||179lb ft @ 4000rpm|
|Top speed||150mph (claimed)|
|On sale||Now (Contact: 01509 852646)|