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The Caterham F1 team has completed its move to Leafield in Oxfordshire and Caterham Cars is in the process of moving there. The factory originally housed Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) and when Walkinshaw acquired the Arrows F1 team, that moved in as well.
Though the factory does not possess the amazing architecture of the McLaren Technical Centre (MTC) my guess is that it is of similar floor space. TWR Arrows occupied only a small part of the whole.
To give some idea of what there is, when it was owned by TWR, the facility built cars such as the Jaguar XJ 220 and Jaguar XJR-15. It built DB7s for Aston Martin and designed and built the mid-engined, two-seat, Clio V6 for Renault.
After TWR folded in 2002, the facility was bought by John Menard, the American DIY stores magnate and NASCAR team owner. It was used as a base by Super Aguri during its brief spell in F1 (2006-8), the Japanese outfit simply moved into the area which once housed the TWR Arrows F1 team.
As Menard Engineering and Menard Competition Technologies, the factory serviced various aspects of the motor and motor racing industry. Like most such operations, it did not attract attention in the wider world. Ricardo Engineering had a massive input into the engine of the McLaren MP4-12C, but Joe Public has never heard of Ricardo.
Tucked away in the Oxfordshire countryside, what is now Caterham's headquarters is a substantial unit and is actually too well-equipped for either an F1 team or to continue production of the road cars as they are at present. Since Tony Fernandes is a shrewd man, my guess is that he has interesting developments in mind.
It may seem odd to say that it is too well-equipped for an F1 team but, among other things, it is geared for the production and testing of high performance engines, something of which Caterham F1 has no need since its engines are supplied by Renault. Tony Fernandes has bought dynometers capable of testing engines to 1,000 bhp.
A couple of years ago, I paid two visits to MCT with a pal who was a potential customer and so I saw everything. Here is a taster, we both represented Coventry Climax. My pal has acquired the name. The project came to nothing, but it involved modifying a Yamaha V8 outboard engine to automotive use.
An outboard engine revs relatively slowly compared to a car engine because there comes a time when a propeller is no longer gaining speed, but is simply generating froth. On the other hand, to bite through water, it has to have serious low-end torque and torque is more useful than horsepower in everyday motoring conditions.
On our first visit, I saw the Yamaha engine run, with its propeller dipped in a tank of water. On the second visit, the engine had been stripped and we were given a detailed description of what modifying would entail. Since there were representatives from Yamaha and Hewland, the transmission maker, you can guess that it was not an idle enquiry.
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