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Auto Exotica

Marco R. Della Cava

There was a time when just about any vehicle cobbled together in Italy had a reasonable shot at exotic-car status, especially if it hailed from Maranello or Modena. Today, it takes a significantly greater amount of work, engineering prowess, and creative vision to build a four-wheeled machine that truly stands out as a unique example of automotive craftsmanship, especially considering that outlandish design and cutting-edge technology have permeated all facets of the industry. What’s more, with Ferraris and other such exotica now trolling the streets of many cities, exclusivity looks much different than it did only a short time ago. No one would ever scoff at a 599 Fiorano, but now that Ferrari is building around 250 of them each year, suddenly a vehicle produced in the mere dozens takes on a redefined cachet.

The quartet of highly exotic machines described over the following pages meets these exacting standards of exclusivity. Each in its own way pushes the boundaries of the modern sports car, but at the same time, each packs a wow factor that hinges on the ability to boast a rarity that borders on invisibility. One of these four is literally unattainable; Lamborghini’s Sesto Elemento show car is foremost a high-speed carbon fiber showcase, but its technological features will trickle down to the brand’s production cars. The other three have the proud distinction of being labors of small-staff love in a largely corporate automotive age. Pagani, Leblanc, and HTT are not household names, and each of these small auto ateliers—located in Italy, Switzerland, and Canada, respectively—prefer to keep it that way, producing bespoke cars that hark back to the days when craftsmen hunched over English wheels and hammered out chariots for the titans of their time.

Made In Modena

Argentine car wizard Horacio Pagani comes from a family of bakers. And in the new Pagani Huayra, previously known as the Zonda C9 (www.paganiautomobili.it), he has cooked up an auto glutton’s dream. As the latest iteration of the potent Zonda—the sole product of the 18-year-old Modena, Italy–based bespoke manufacturer—the Huayra promises to set new benchmarks for speed, handling, and sheer outrageousness.

The heart of this particular Pagani model is another engineering masterpiece: a 6-liter Mercedes-Benz AMG V-12 engine—the same power plant that propels the SL65 Black Series—that is capable of producing 700 hp. But considering that Pagani earned his racing stripes as a youth by making a range of iconic Lamborghinis go even faster, it seems a foregone conclusion that the Argentine automaker somehow will manage to tease even more power out of Mercedes’ twin-turbo beast.

What little else is known about the hushed project, which is expected to debut at the Geneva auto show later this month, is that it boasts a chassis hewed from carbon titanium, electronics prepared by Bosch, and tires custom-made by Pirelli. In terms of styling, various online spy photos show a sports car that follows in the Zonda’s rakish jet-fighter-for-the-street tradition, though with larger front scoops and slightly less busy body panels.

If past Zondas are any indication, the Huayra will feature a spartan interior befitting the car’s racing intentions and likely will include bespoke seats that are sculpted to the contours of the owner’s body. In previous Zonda models, the instrument panels were small, handcrafted jewels meant mainly to afford drivers the opportunity to track the machine’s wicked progress from zero to 60 mph in a scant 3.5 seconds. This new Huayra could well best that mark, which would put it beyond Ferrari realm and into Bugatti Veyron territory, a car that costs nearly twice as much (the Huayra is expected to run around $1.2 million) and is a third heavier (Pagani’s newest confection should weigh in at an impressive 2,700 pounds).

But for many well-heeled auto collectors, exclusivity often outshines any metrics produced by the car’s engineering. And in that arena, Huayra buyers will be sated. Fewer than 40 of these special cars are expected to be produced annually, which, for the lucky few who get their hands on one, guarantees plenty of bragging rights at the neighborhood country club.

The Showstopper

While Lamborghini’s recent Paris show car, the Sesto Elemento, is by no means a take-off of French director Luc Besson’s sci-fi romp The Fifth Element, the vehicle does overlap with the film’s dedication to futuristic themes. While readying its Murciélago replacement—the so-called Aventador allegedly due sometime this month—the folks at Volkswagen’s exotic-car headquarters (www.lamborghini.com) decided to use this one-off beast as a showcase for the company’s near obsession with carbon fiber.

The Sesto Elemento’s angular-in-the-extreme black body (think a stealth fighter on four wheels) is made entirely of matte-finish carbon, which, rather than being melded together in long strands, is diced finely and mixed with a resin, which allegedly both reduces manufacturing cost and grants greater shaping freedom. Lamborghini has some brainy help in this arena; they’ve partnered with both the University of Washington and Boeing (see “Tools Of The Trade” on page 25 for more info). Drivers of a different sort already are enjoying the benefits of these new developments, as Callaway’s new $300 golf club, the Diablo Octane Black, has tacked on extra yardage for golfers looking to load up with high-tech carbon fiber off the tee.

While the forthcoming Aventador is still largely a camouflaged question mark, the Sesto Elemento offers up a clue about the Italian bull’s once and future intentions. The show car’s extreme angularity could presage even more daring styling cues for future production cars, while the all-encompassing use of carbon fiber—the Sesto Elemento boasts it everywhere from the passenger monocoque to the wheels—means significant weight reduction that helps both acceleration and the ever-increasing obsession with fuel efficiency.

In such a moribund economy, sales of any supercar are sluggish. But Lamborghini’s bold experimentation with strong-and-light carbon has the benefit of trickling down to the rest of the company’s ever-expanding brands. After all, are there any VW owners who wouldn’t want a slice of Lamborghini-bred exotica in their next GTI?

Alpine Racer

It doesn’t get more exclusive than buying a car from a company that remains a virtual unknown in most social circles. But for anyone with racing dreams dancing in their heads, Swiss manufacturer Leblanc (www.leblanc-cars.com) provides perhaps the ultimate fantasy. The company’s new Mirabeau—motorsports fans will recognize the name as synonymous with a famed corner on the Monaco Grand Prix circuit—is nothing less than an FIA/Le Mans–spec racer that just so happens to be street legal.

The car’s low-slung, open-topped carbon fiber bodywork hides a Swedish-made Koenigsegg supercharged V-8 producing 700 hp. With all that power in a car weighing a mere 1,790 pounds—a product of many titanium and magnesium parts—the element of blistering speed becomes a reality. In fact, white-knuckled grips on the steering wheel might be a common driving experience in this Mirabeau, as the car’s top speed has been estimated at 230 mph. A true glimpse of what this car is likely capable of is provided by the Mirabeau’s sister car, the Caroline. The closed-cockpit racing machine can blast to 100 kilometers per hour (about 62 mph) in a tick under three seconds. Drivers without extensive racing experience need not apply.

How much does it cost to join this exclusive club? Around $730,000, which as price tags go is somewhere between a Porsche Carrera GT and a babied Ferrari Enzo. Of course, if you want finery added to the mix (say, leather seats), that’ll cost you more, and moving from the 6-speed manual to a fully automatic box is a humbling $80,000 add-on. Then again, anyone buying a Leblanc is likely just adding on to an already impressive and pricey fleet. And no matter what’s in your garage, it doesn’t get much racier than a set of wheels that can move from Main Street to the Mirabeau with just a change of tires.

A Canadian Blend

Our neighbors to the north have earned kudos for their beer and hockey, but Canadian supercars have yet to make it to that compact list. With its new Pléthore LC-750, HTT Technologies (www.httsupercar.com) aims to change that.

The first offering of a 10-year-old company located just north of Montreal and founded by engineer and automotive tuner Luc Chartrand, the potent machine seems to rip pages from an assortment of exotic car books. There’s the three-seat configuration of the McLaren F1, the scissor doors of Lamborghini’s Countach, and the impossibly wide rear stance of Ronn Motor’s Scorpion. There’s also the usual array of high-tech components, including a carbon fiber frame and body, an electronically operated suspension, and a 750 hp proprietary V-8. And, bien sûr, a plump price tag to match, around $450,000. Speculative reports also indicate that a fire-breathing 1,300 hp variant may be available at a future date for a price that would flirt with seven figures.

Chartrand is a former karting driver, and his racing roots have him pushing to get the Pléthore certified by the FIA so it can compete in the American Le Mans Series. To date, the car has been trotted around by its makers at HTT Technologies (the website unapologetically explains that the acronym stands for High Tech Toy) to far-flung auto press events, from Monte Carlo to Toronto to the sprawling SEMA show in Las Vegas. That said, anyone ordering one of these babies would be in rarefied company, given that HTT is still actively looking for both orders and strategic partners to execute its automotive vision.

No matter. The car certainly looks the part and is likely the fastest and nimblest Canuck export since Wayne Gretzky donned an L.A. Kings jersey and promptly tore up the NHL’s record book. Come to think of it, the Gretzky LC-750 has a nice ring to it.

Tools Of The Trade

Lamborghini’s unyielding work with carbon fiber has intensified, and the fruits of that labor could change everything.

Lamborghini’s iconoclastic Countach was a 1983 marvel that looked more at home in Batman’s lair than on the street. But beneath that sleek skin was something even more impressive: the auto world’s first experiment with carbon fiber, a material that has become a staple of modern high-end automaking because of its weight-saving and structural properties.

The Countach incorporated a modest amount of the then-exotic material in its chassis, but Lamborghini went on to use it in aspects of every production vehicle thereafter. That proclivity has reached its apex with the brand’s Sesto Elemento, a show car unveiled last fall in Paris. While very similar to the Italian marque’s fastest production coupe, the Superleggera, the Sesto nonetheless manages to shave almost a full second off that already fast car’s zero-to-60 mph time, thanks to its extensive use of carbon fiber. But this isn’t your Countach’s carbon fiber.

Dubbed “forged composite,” this new variant has big advantages over traditional carbon fiber, which consists of woven sheets impregnated with resin and baked at extreme temperatures. By contrast, the new manufacturing technique—developed jointly by Lamborghini and golf club manufacturer Callaway, whose Diablo Octane club makes use of the groundbreaking material—takes 500,000 malleable carbon fibers per square inch and mixes it all with a resin paste. The resulting substance can then be molded into complex and large shapes without sacrificing its extreme structural rigidity.

Specifically, the Sesto Elemento’s front and rear body shell were composed of one piece each, dubbed the cofango, the Italian conjunction for the words cofano (hood) and parafango (fender). The result is that the entire exterior is only five pieces of easily molded forged composite material: the two cofanghi, the roof, and the doors.

“This technology allowed us to make the monocoque and suspension arms of the Sesto Elemento with groundbreaking quality and cost levels,” says Maurizio Reggiani, director of research and development for Lamborghini. “Our next challenge is to make this technology a standard for low-volume production cars.”

Such high-tech innovation is the result of high-powered brains on two continents. Lamborghini maintains a state-of-the-art Advanced Composites Research Center at its headquarters in Sant’Agata Bolognese, Italy, where work focuses on the design and implementation of cutting-edge materials. The company also has an Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory at the University of Washington in Seattle. Run in cooperation with Boeing, this outfit specializes in the crash testing and analysis of forged composite carbon fiber.

In partnering with Callaway, Lamborghini brass clearly identified fellow corporate travelers on a quest for marketing gains through technological innovation.

“We see power-to-weight ratio and weight reduction as the keys for future sports cars, and carbon fiber as the material to achieve these goals,” says Stephan Winkelmann, president and CEO of Automobili Lamborghini. “Callaway’s expertise in specific technologies is strategic for our research projects, and therefore we welcome this partnership as an important milestone in our more than 30-year history of carbon fiber applications.”

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