Everybody remembers their first car. Technically speaking I had driven others before (we'll come to those later), but the first car I ever actually owned was a Quantum 2+2. So named because of its (slightly optimistic) two plus two seating layout, the Quantum was one of the success stories of the 90s kit car industry. It used Ford Fiesta running gear allied to a tough and pretty GRP monocoque. Most, like mine were XR2 based, but there have been examples built with the later Zetec engines, turbocharged CVHs and even the occasional Diesel.
Inside, the car's humble origins become apparent; you sit somewhat lower than in a Fiesta, but the dashboard is instantly recognisable. On the flipside, so too is was an excellent heating and demist system, electric windows, a decent stereo and a large glove box – all considered luxuries on a kit car of the time. Add to this some space in the back and a comparatively huge 450 litre boot and it really was as usable as the donor car.
The Quantum interior - puppy not included.
So far, so good, but usability isn't really what sportscars are about. Fortunately the stiff tub combined with Quantum's own suspension geometry and spring rates provided a very entertaining driving experience. True, the unassisted steering was a little heavy at parking speeds, but you could forgive that once on the move. Prod the throttle and the Vulcan-built engine would suck air rather vocally through the K&N air filter, past its enlarged ports and valves and then out through the exhaust. A lumpy cam provided a suitably sporting burble at tickover and a lightened flywheel gave instant throttle response, ideal for scaring passers by with blipped down changes! However it was the chassis' balance that really made the car come alive when pushed; it maintained a very neutral stance only really giving into understeer when wet. In the dry it proved very throttle adjustable and a deliberate lift could easily bring the back end into play, yet it never felt nervous in the way that a 205 GTi could. In honesty it lacked the Pug's last degree of steering feel and turn-in ability too, but it remained playful, whilst never quite giving you enough rope to hang yourself. It was the perfect combination for an enthusiastic young driver.
Whilst the Quantum was a genuinely capable and versatile car, the other things that make your first car stand out are the experiences you have with it. I was lucky enough to be living in Devon at the time and my memories of the car will always be intertwined with the county's rural roads and those of neighbouring Somerset and Dorset. I did my first trackday with it at the Haynes test track in Sparkford; I used it to drive to my first serious job interviews in London and when I finally moved to the other side of the country it was the car that took me there. However my defining memory will always be of driving it back from a friend's house late one summer evening. It was about 1am and I'd just started the car on the street outside when I heard an interesting noise. An enthusiastically driven TR5 buzzed pass heading in the same direction and I pulled away behind it. Within yards the road went into national speed limit and I was just about able to keep up. And so for the next half hour or so we flew through the lanes of Somerset and Dorset in convoy under the stars. With the hood down I could hear the Triumph's straight six echoing off the hedgerows and had a perfect platform from which to see the driver threading it through corners with just a hint of four-wheeled drift. We continued like this unhindered by traffic until we reached the main road, then with a wave we headed off in opposite directions. It remains one of my all time favourite driving experiences.
The Quantum at Wiscombe Park Hillclimb
So what of the other cars before that? The first car I actually drove after losing my L-plates was a Citroen Saxo belonging to my parents and I did eventually own that too. Recently in fact, which is why I'll come to that one in the future.