The ethos of Lotus has been, as per the words of Colin Chapman himself, “simplify, then add lightness”. And that was most definitely the foundation of the brief for the legendary Lotus 23. Tipping the scales at a mere 454kg, it was a bona fide featherweight, but one that packed a punch, too. Especially in 23B guise with the twin-cam 1.6 litre Cosworth developed engine. The term ‘giant killer’ may have been thrown around more than once or twice.
Of course, the 23B of 1963 is not what we’re looking at here, so it would be moot to go into the technical details of the Lotus. What we’re looking at instead is a modern take on one of Chapman's greats. This is the Tiger ERA 30, and it’s about as close as you can get to the original without needing to sell a vital organ. Plus, with more modern and commonplace mechanicals, it’s a more robust, usable machine. Make no mistake though, this is no pastiche. This is a serious, focused race car with a registration plate - just like the original.
Tiger Racing has been around since 1989 and has built itself a position as being one of the UK’s leading kit car manufacturers. Offering kits through to road-ready ‘turn key’ cars, Tiger has built itself a reputation for quality and service. The cars it offers aren’t ‘bitsa’ kits - they’re a way to experience the thrills of the original cars on which they’re based.
This model, the ERA 30 is arguably one of the company’s most distinctive offerings. It’s also far more faithful to the original Lotus than one might think. Under that GRP body, which is dimensionally accurate to that of the Lotus, is a space-frame chassis. There is double wishbone front suspension with wishbone and trailing arm rear suspension. Steering is handled via rack and pinion, and is just 2.2 turns from lock to lock. The brakes are better than those of the Lotus, with beefy four-pot callipers up front and single-pot out back. There is a full complement of Spax dampers for each corner, sitting behind a bespoke set of split-rim Image alloy wheels.
Power comes from something more modern than the Cosworth-fettled twin-cam of old. Instead, there is the four-cylinder 1,781cc engine and transaxle from an Audi 80. An unexpected one, but also a clever one. The ERA 30 was built with this engine and transmission in mind, as the latter element lends itself to the design of the car. Furthermore, the engine itself is modern and reliable, but not so modern that it needs to be governed by myriad computers. Quite the opposite in fact, as you’ll see from the pictures that fuelling is handled here by a barking pair of twin Weber carbs.
This car was built for the most part by Tiger, with the current owner finishing the build off himself. A seasoned classic car enthusiast, he has demonstrated an incredible level of attention to detail in the build. It was registered for road use, with the J registration and chassis number of the Audi, in May of 2018 and has covered fewer than 1,000 miles since. Other projects and a planned house move have brought about the sale.
Given that this Tiger ERA 30 is, in essence, a two-year old car, there is little in the way of paperwork. It simply hasn’t had the chance to accumulate any! However, there is a V5 present with all the correct information, along with a current MOT certificate.
The Tiger ERA 30 might be a road car on paper, but don’t think there have been any road car compromises. The easiest way to categorise this car would be to think of it as a race car with a registration plate - just like the Lotus version of old.
The ERA’s body had drop-down ‘doors’ either side, which are secured in place by sturdy locking clips. Slide into one of the two GRP bucket seats and you’ll find yourself sitting low in a sea of raw metal and rivets. No carpets, no heater and most certainly no stereo. That’s what the twin Webers are for! The GRP seats are each complemented by a set of four-point harnesses. The dash, a thick swathe of gloss black, houses a number of gauges such as revs, speed, fuel, oil pressure and temperature. There is a bank of switches down to the right of the Mountey steering wheel to activate the lights etc.
As for controls, there is the Mountey wheel as mentioned above. Down in the front of the cabin, there is an adjustable pedal box (the seats are fixed), between the seats there is a handbrake, while the manual gear shift is to the right of the driver, as per the specification of the 23B variant of the original car.
Other features include a low, wraparound Perspex screen, lightweight wing mirrors, rear view mirror and rear view pod, and MSA roll-bar for safety. It is a noisy, no compromise place to be, but it’s also immersive, visceral and raw. You don’t get this from any other 2018 car, that’s for sure.
The GRP Lotus-style body is simplicity at its best. However, within that simplicity we are happy to report that there is no damage to be seen, nor any stress marks/cracks - but then this car is barely two years old. The paint isn’t actually paint in the case of this car, and is in fact a colour included into the gel-coat mix, as such this Tiger is green to its core. There are breaks in the colour though, such as the period correct yellow ‘mouth’ around the front air dam, and of course there is that Perspex screen to draw the eye. The front is fitted with a vent, as is the rear on each corner.
Access to the engine and rearward mechanical components is via the lifting of the rear clamshell, which despite being near 50% the size of the car is no issue to raise. Underneath it, you can see the exposed webbing of the GRP construction. Atop the rear clamshell is a domes area for aero, though the clamshell features an opening should said dome’s clever be removed.
In excellent order throughout, the ‘doors’ and rear clamshell operate as they should with no fitment issues to be worried about.
The underside of the car is panelled and completely flat, again in the pursuit of aero benefits - it is a race car after all.
Barely run in, the mechanics are, as you would expect, in excellent order. Everything bar the engine and transmission was brand new and off the shelf in 2018 - there is nothing used on this car. It is all as new. As such, there is nothing of concern to note. The engine and transmission were serviced and refreshed before being fitted to the car, and as such they perform faultlessly. They’re also no doubt considerably less stressed, given the featherweight nature of the Tiger compared to the Audi where they once lived.
Obviously driving this car is something that takes getting used to. Being so low, it puts an entirely new perspective on things - literally! However, once you adjust to the position you’re truly in for a treat. The steering is direct and gives the driver more feedback than he or she could ever need. The brakes, while impressive, do not overpower the small car, and the engine makes light work of shunting it towards the horizon. All with the bark of those twin Weber carbs and stainless steel exhaust system.
Is it comfortable? If you’re looking at this car and comfort is on your list, we hate to break it to you, but no, it’s not. But it doesn’t need to be. What it is, is exhilarating and through that, encapsulating. Yes, you’re going to know about every bump in the road, but you won’t care, you will be smiling as you drive along. It’s a visceral, raw thing to drive. Unlike anything else. You’ll feel like Jim Clark, even if you’re just going for a blast to the local Tesco Express for some milk. Get it on track though, the backdrop to which this car truly belongs, and you’ll get the full experience and in doing so, you will unleash this nimble little car’s full potential. But unlike everyone else, loading their track cars onto trailers at the end of the day, you’ll be able to drive home.
The appeal for a car like this is obvious; it’s the drive. This is a car that you buy to get behind the wheel of. It’s a car to become consumed by on a country road blast on an organised track day. It’s a break from the norm, a bit of fun, a way to experience driving in its most exposed, basic, engaging guise. This is not a car for parking in a show field, it’s a car for driving to the show, sun out, wind in hair.
It’s also a car with an honest to god spirit. It’s the wheeled embodiment of the famed Lotus 23 of old, but without any of the concerns or compromises. It’s been designed to be as close to the original as possible, but without needing to carry the price tag of one. As such, you can give this thing a thrashing, it positively encourages it. And you can do it without fear of going bankrupt if something breaks or if you put it in the kitty litter at Brands Hatch. If any of those things happen, you just give Tiger a call and they’ll sort you out. It’s a slice of the past with the convenience of today. Dare we say it, it’s probably a bit faster and a lot more reliable than the original car thanks to that Audi engine. It’s the perfect machine in which to experience high-speed classic thrills, but without needing to worry about the cost of any spills.
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