7 Supercars That Tried To Challenge The Status Quo
This isn’t an exhaustive list of bespoke supercars. Not even close. What it is, however, is a glimpse past the veil of what you usually read about. Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, McLaren, and the like are fantastic companies with a long history of making some of the world’s most incredible machines, but what if nothing they do interests you? What then?
Then, you start making phone calls.
Founded in 1964 in response to their local government’s refusal to reignite the Mille Miglia, a team of dissatisfied racers banded together to form Scuderia Brescia Course, so-named after the town where the Mille Miglia had its starting line. The team was wonderfully car-agnostic as well, meaning that the wealthy privateer could turn up with a brand-new Alfa Romeo or Porsche and receive the same team support.
By the late ’60s, the increasingly successful operation entered its clients into a number of prestigious events; this reflected a strategy for both national and international competition. At the Bertone stand for the 1968 Geneva Motor Show, the team’s lofty ambitions became clear: project Panther sought to contest over 3-litre prototype races in the World Sportscar Championship.
Bertone was contracted to create the stunning prototype, and somehow, found the time to include several revolutionary details: an alloy and titanium tube frame chassis, a hydraulically-controlled main rear spoiler, and even 24-volt electrics. Originally, BRM was to supply the engine for the project, but the team ended up courting Maserati for a powerplant. It was not to be—a lack of support both in Italy and abroad showed Scuderia Brescia Course wasn’t quite ready for an all-out assault on the world stage.
Lola Ultimo GT
The UK is a nation of race car builders, and Lola has been around for years, focused almost exclusively on making cars that win races. By the late ‘70s, both Lola and Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti found themselves with a bit of free time. Apparently commissioned by a wealthy Canadian client, the Ultimo is based on the Lola T70 race car, but fitted with an 8.2-litre Chevrolet V8 engine. Sources peg its output at 625 horsepower, with a 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) sprint in about three seconds. Top speed was a conservative 200 mph (320 km/h). The bodywork was aluminum und shteel, with the front and rear sections made using reinforced fiberglass.
In terms of pecking order, the Lola Ultimo would have unquestionably been the fastest road car in the world at the time. Consider the competition: Ferrari’s Berlinetta Boxer had as much power as a chipped Subaru WRX, Porsche was busy mucking around with the 928, and the Lamborghini Countach was a better poster than performance car. The Ultimo’s engine was supreme—and don’t forget its race- and championship-winning chassis.
The styling? Yeah, glass buttresses behind the cabin! Sadly, Michelotti died early in 1980 at the age of just 59—he never stopped working. The Ultimo wouldn’t be shown until the 1981 Geneva Motor Show, a posthumous gift that laid the template for supercars since.
Colani Ferrari Testa d’Oro
First shown as a styling mock-up in 1989, the Testa d’Oro was a project with one goal in mind: win records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. In the late ’80s, designer Luigi Colani was obsessed with the place, designing streamlined motorcycles and cars for different vehicle classes. I remember the creations from the June 1990 issue of Road & Track—the one with the yellow mid-engined Corvette concept on the cover.
Starting with a largely standard Ferrari Testarossa, Colani turned to tuner Lotec for engine modifications. Ferrari’s 12-cylinder engine was punched out to 5.0-litres and given two turbochargers, for an output of at least 750 horsepower and 660 lb-ft of torque—well above the standard car’s 428 horsepower. By 1991, the car had similar lines overall but a tweaked design that more realistically wrapped itself around the car’s mechanicals. Was it quick? Absolutely—the Testa d’Oro broke the record in its class, hitting 218 mph (351 km/h) in 1991.
Zender Fact 4
The Zender Fact 4 is one of those cars that looks like it’d be a lot of fun, sort of like the missing link between, say, a Ferrari F40 and Audi R8. Like the F40, it was powered by a mid-mounted twin-turbocharged V8, albeit from Audi. With about 450 horsepower, it’d hit 190 mph (305 km/h) and do the zero-to-you-know-what in 4.3 seconds. The rest of its spec sheet is pretty easy: 1107 kg (2044), it has a 5-speed manual transmission
An independent firm creating its very own supercar? Pretty cool. At least two were made (Coupé and Spyder, the latter was fitted with Delta Integrale tail lights). That said, apparently the car was more show than go—the engineering solution for its immense Audi V8, twin turbos, and sleek mid-engined packaging called for a complex system of belts to move the car.
When I run down the specs on the MCA Centenaire, it’s hard to believe it eventually became a failure as a race car. In the late 1980s, race driver Fulvio Ballabio was inspired by the Horacio Pagani-designed Lamborghini Countach Evoluzione. As you may recall, it was the first prototype road car chassis made entirely from carbon fibre.
Ballabio moved into the region of Monte Carlo called Fontvieille, one of the newest—and totally reclaimed from the sea—areas of the small principality. MCA stands for Monte Carlo Automobile, and the Ballabio knew that to get support for his project among the country’s elite, it needed to be cutting-edge, and it was: a carbon fibre chassis, a Lamborghini V12 engine with 455 horsepower, and a top speed of 217 mph (350 km/h).
Only five were made, and just last year, one sold for more than $200,000—a pretty strong figure for a nearly mythical car. After orders dried up, Ballabio sold the rights for the design to a Georgian businessman who slightly modified the car and renamed it the MIG (Migrelia & Georgia) M100. It was entered into the 1993 24 Hours of Le Mans, but circulated at roughly 2 minutes slower per lap than the class leaders.
Giocattolo Group B
In 1986, in the era of red-coloured wiper blades and zig-zag antenna, Australian millionaire and daredevil Paul Halstead decided that his idea of quick meant a bit of all three. The Alfa Romeo Sprint was, in a classic sense, a car in the same class as the modern Scion FR-S. Light weight, good handling, and small four-cylinder engines meant it was prized by those who sought a car that gave simple, relatively inexpensive fun.
For the power hungry, the very best engines available anywhere in 1988—if you’d already deemed an Alfa Romeo V6 to be too expensive and still too slow—would probably boil down to a few exotic European V12s or a tuned American V8.
Australia knows V8s, too, and in 1988, Holden’s 5.0-litre Group A V8 was a special engine. It was even more special after the legendary Tom Walkinshaw race team seriously modified them.
The Giocattolo—or “toy” in Italian—was beginning to take shape. Keep the weight low, power high, and size it like a short-wheelbase Audi Quattro. Even with rear-wheel-drive, the mid-engined design still allowed for great handling. It weighed only 2,400 lbs. (1085 kg) Mechanically, the engine cradle, suspension, brakes, and bodywork were heavily modified to match the engine. Kevlar and carbon fibre featured as well—the hood, bulkhead, and other parts were made in this then-exotic material. You probably haven’t heard of this beast for very good reason: 15 were made, and just twelve survive to this day.
Venturi 400 GT
Based on the Atlantique (itself based on the company’s first car, the APC 260), the 400 GT was a homologation special built in order for Venturi to compete at Le Mans. The company decided to take more established competitors head-on…and it didn’t do all that well on-track.
But whereas, say, Ferrari built the F40 road car and never really got around to using it all that much in competition, Venturi took their Atlantique design, modified it heavily for racing—and then converted the specifications back for road use. If you consider the Bugatti Veyron more of a German car than French, the Venturi 400 GT remains just about the fastest French car ever made.
Behind the seats was a PRV V6—Peugeot Renault Volvo V6—built for the automakers by a company called Française de Méchanique. The beauty of this arrangement meant that other manufacturers, particularly smaller ones, could buy a stout motor and name it as their own. At the top end, Renault-Alpine put it in their GTA V6 Turbo—a direct competitor to Venturi—and it ended up in cars as diverse as the DeLorean, Eagle Premier, Talbot Tagora, Volvo 264, and Citroën XM. It was even used in Jean-Louis Schlesser’s Dakar rally buggies and in the WM Peugeot, recognized as the record holder of the fastest top speed ever attained at Le Mans: 407 km/h (253 mph).
Anyway, in the 400 GT it was a DOHC 3.0-litre with twin turbos and an output of 408 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque. Weight was just 1150 kg (2538 lbs). Zero to 100 km/h (62 mph) came in 4.7 seconds, with a top speed of “fast enough” at 291 km/h (181 mph)—for the specs nerds, that’s a full 20 mph shy of the Ferrari F40.
The first car fitted as standard with carbon brakes, in my estimation the 400 GT was just about the most raw car you could buy at the time, along with the Maserati Barchetta—even though Venturi at least fitted a full leather interior.