Chinkara Roadster 1.8 S

We sort of live in the country.

Here in Canada, that can mean wildly different things (and I'm a long way from permafrost!) but on the way to work I drive past farms for about 10 minutes. When I made the hour-long commute from my hometown, it was mostly country driving—pastures, grain elevators, sheep, cows, horses, the lot.

There's a really fun hard-packed gravel road shortcut on the route I used to take that I've used only once—my Fiat 500 Abarth is a little too prissy to get dirty and too compromised in the rough stuff. Still, I really enjoy driving on roads with loose surfaces, especially at relatively high speeds.

Looking at the map, well, I'm missing out on a road network that my car just can't handle all that well.

Now I'm thinking: maybe I should get a Chinkara Roadster 1.8 S.

Created by an Indo-German (Indian-German) couple from the beach town of Alibag, near Mumbai, the Roadster is closer in concept and execution to the original Lotus Seven than most. (If you're wondering, "Chinkara" is, fittingly, a type of gazelle.)

With only 40 horsepower from a 1.2-litre 4-cylinder engine, the first Seven in 1957 was a budget sports car for enthusiasts interested in entry-level racing. It was small, light, and slow: 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) was done in 16.2 seconds.

More importantly, it was assembled largely from off-the shelf components. Ford engine and gearbox, BMC rear axle—and Lotus would sell you the car in a kit to assemble yourself.

Similarly, Chinkara's take on the Roadster prioritizes off-the-shelf components to ensure both a low cost and durability. As they say: 

"The Chinkara 1.8 S Roadster can be customised, with every part being freely available in the Indian market and chosen both for performance and the reliability of its manufacturer. It can easily be repaired by any mechanic ensuring that availability of spares and maintenance are never a problem."

That sounds good.

What looks even better is that every photo of the car on their website shows it on a dirt road…meaning I'd have a more willing companion for bombing down local side roads.

For about 7,000,000 Indian rupees—$12,000 Usd. or less than $14,000 Cdn—you can have your very own Chinkara Roadster. The suspension, steering, and brakes are from the Maruti 800 (a locally-assembled Alto hatchback), the engine is an Isuzu 1.8-litre 4-cylinder, sourced from the Hindustan Ambassador taxi cab.

With weight at 745 kg (1,642 lbs), 114 horsepower, and 100 lb-ft of torque, the car still manages to do 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) in less than 8 seconds, with a top speed of 190 km/h (118 mph). 

Those specs put it in the same ballpark as my car. Solid.

That said, it's an extremely narrow car—the YouTube review below says that the only way to work the pedals is to take off your shoes!

In India, it's one of the few roadsters available, from any year, at any price. The review also notes that the fit and finish from the fibreglass panels isn't great—but were you really expecting a Mercedes-Benz?

I think the Chinkara Roadster is a fantastic idea, and I hope that Shama and Guido Bothe's hobby-turned-business brings them success—the world needs more go-anywhere sports cars.