Geneva’s March Of The Supercars: The Speed Club

The Geneva Motor Show wasn’t just about Italian supercars by any means. Covering seven halls, Geneva is as much about the mainstream as the exotics and tuners, with standard city cars, electro-wagons and commute-mobiles with their green credentials vying for people’s attention. Which I will get to. But then you come across something like a Gumpert Apollo S, and trying to be sensible kind of gets thrown out of the window. So. Back to launches and supercars…

Launch fever had set in on day one of the show, with a rapid fire round of releases kicking off at 8am and not stopping until the show came to a close that evening.

With each brand allocated just 15 minutes for their session, there was constant tension in the air as PRs busied around stands, preparing seating, headsets for translators and the huge quantity of AV equipment which had been shipped in.

Most of the major set-ups wouldn’t have looked out of place at a mainstream TV channel. Teams were forced to wait for previous sessions to finish – the schedule was already running late within the first hour – and frustrated looks appeared on faces as music and clapping echoed from round the corner, aural evidence of continued delays…

Lighting rigs were similarly enormous, with the ceiling creaking under the weight of both thousands of lights. Looking up, you were dazzled by the starship-level lighting.

Not that many people were looking up. With debutants like the new LaFerrari on show, most eyes were most definitely trained at car-level. That Ferrari stand was utterly impenetrable from morning till dusk – as I’m sure it will be for all two weeks of the show.

Looking at cars has its drawbacks from a safety level. Motor shows can be lethal places for the unwary (or like me, over-excitable and easily distracted) – steps abound everywhere, and I saw several people slip on shining ramps – like those of the McLaren stand, where one person almost went down onto the bonnet of the F1 GTR.

As if it didn’t already require patience to try to get clear views of cars in between all the press and PRs, elegant cleaners diligently nipped between cars, polishing, waxing and dusting on a constant basis. If only they could wax out the spotlight reflections…

The P1, Veneno and LaFerrari… With all these new kids on the block, it could be easy to forget the one of the granddaddies of the hypercar.

But then you see a Veyron and quickly remember what all the fuss was about. They are brutes, with seemingly little care for minimising bulk in the face of wind. That’s what the obscenely big W16 is there for: to face off against nature.

So seeing two is a rare treat.

And then you get a third thrown in, kept in its own gladiator-style pen, awaiting a real challenge from one of the new hypercar generation. The chance to see cars like this (and the following examples) is rare, and it’s a pleasure both to see the cars and people’s reaction to them. Hypercars generate an absurd joy, despite their almost complete lack of relation to reality.

These aren’t called Grand Vitesse for nothing. The eight-litre (and quad-turbocharged) W16 pushes out volcanic power and torque: 1,200hp and 1,500nm. The deployable rear wing looks industrial-strength for a very good reason.

Unlike the new breed pushing their hybrid and alternative fuel capabilities, the Veyron unashamedly turns everything up to 11, no matter what… It’s not just the tach that goes into the red.

I wonder what it would be like to smell like a Bugatti? For most of us, it’s the glass cabinet on the edge of the stand that will provide any kind of ownership link to a Veyron. Still crazy after all these years. And getting crazier, it would seem.

It’s the specialists that now tend to get the adulation – and rightly so. These companies can’t afford vanity projects, as teams like Gumpert know only too well. The cars have to pay for themselves. Gumpert were forced to file for insolvency last year, but have bounced back to restart production of the Apollo. These two stunning Apollo S looked utterly sublime.

Shorn of stickers and superfluous stripes, the satin finishes and clean lighting meant this was the first time I can say I’ve truly seen an Apollo: sometimes you need some space and context to really appreciate a supercar. Welcome back, Gumpert.

Like many of you, I appreciate the hilarious arms race between these supercar artisans, all focussed on quite specific targets: the lap records at the Nürburgring or even the Top Gear test track; the fastest 0-60mph; the highest terminal velocity. Inordinate amounts of R&D are poured in by Koenigsegg and their competition in a constant game of high-speed chequers.

The Huayra is another car that happily sits in the speed club: one man’s vision of what a supercar should be (a technical marvel) and how fast it should go (faster than the others).

For Geneva, the Huayra updates were focussed around sounds – and not even the exhaust but the sound system. Pagani have introduced Sonus Faber carbon-coned speakers, though how they cope with the rasping V12 just behind it I don’t know. And despite being a huge music fan, I’d be quite happy with the song of the engine…

I’m not sure if I’m getting used to it or if the cockpit of the Huaya seemed less extreme this time round. Hardly conservative or subtle, the carbon helped calm the chrome shine down. But with all these cars I have similar emotions – and positive ones at that.

To an extent they’re not real cars: they’re abstract concepts, posters to most of us, automotive art if we are that way inclined. As was discussed in the comments of my initial post, time helps frame these kind of uber-autos, a bit of distance from the initial shock. Supercars rarely follow the mould, requiring some adjustment of approach. The rocket-ship tail and body festooned with fighter-jet auto-deploying wings jarred at first, but already the Huayra seems ready to take its place in the pantheon of iconic supercars.

Without actively retreading ground from my first story, I think the reality is that I’m as much trying to work out the Alfa 4C for myself as convince you all that it is the second (eighth? 10th?) coming of Alfa. Compared to the hypercars above, the 4C represent a very different and more realistic premise. Although hardly mainstream, with just a couple of thousand due to be build each year, the 4C is still pitched at a surprising price level – Cayman territory really.

The 4C is a hugely important car for this prestigious brand: it represents not only a return to the US market, but a rear-wheel drive platform, a tie-up with Maserati and a carbon-tubbed mass production car.

Of the quartet of 4Cs on show, the porcelain white car looked best from low-down at the front, but also it helped give a more toned, organic feel to the shape in general. Surprisingly (but perhaps due to the lighting) it looked least good in traditional Alfa red…

The 4C is not without flaws, for sure. It has some angles that are better than others, and I really can’t stand those insectoid carbon headlight mountings; I’ve never seen a more anti-Alfa aesthetic used.

But, this car is about shocking Alfa back into life. Most manufacturers list a premium sportscar on their roster, and the 4C must be seen to represent positive aspiration for the future on the part of Alfa’s management. It’s also a brave move with the engine, with that mid-mounted unit being in the right place but perhaps the wrong size from a powertrain aficionado’s point of view.

But the size is relevant in todays’ environment, in all senses of the word. And 240hp in such a light car is not to be sniffed at, with the emphasis on handling rather than speed. A far more relevant goal…

So, back to the Veneno. As I promised myself, I returned to the car on the second day and got that little bit closer. Very carefully. (Also, I promise you no more supercars in the next post: tuners and concepts will follow, but the chance to see these cars are rare).

There is an absolute riot of detail, all cut in slashes and straight edges – a complete contrast to the other cars in its class. Carbon is everywhere, from the aerodynamic formers to the rims and interior.

The cockpit is probably the most subtle thing about it, with what seem to be huge paddles mounted behind the wheel and a simple carbon switchgear panel to the driver’s right.

The Veneno in detail then: subtlety was most definitely left in another country. It’s nothing like a normal hypercar, in that it doesn’t seem to either try to be an extreme road car (such as the Veyron) or a barely disguised racing car (like a Zonda R). It’s a new class of hypertech, computer-generated extremity.

Geometry runs through the car: there are curves, but they are smashed into line by the rigid angles that surround them. Even the lights have no organic feel to them: they are computer death.

It’s like Tron – you can impinge the Veneno leaving an impenetrable light trail behind it.

The lack of curvaceous anything is startling. Every aspect of the car challenges you to a fight. That the Veneno knows it will win.

Amongst all the carbon-laden brutality, one thing I did find amusing was the completely unnecessary marking on the adjustable rear wing – no automatic movement on this, it would seem. Just in case it was confusing, it tells you what is high, medium and low. It just needed an arrow pointing in the direction of travel, to be sure…

And finally a return to the P1. Yellow isn’t a natural colour for many shapes of car, but here with the carbon contrast I think it looked fabulous. As with the Huayra but at a faster pace, I already feel that the P1 sits naturally at the top table of the hypercar hierarchy.

Although the exterior shape is so all-enveloping and organic, in close-up you get to see a lot more of the mechanical animal beneath.

The rear is a case in point. Previously blanked off or obscured, the mesh actually barely disguises what goes on underneath, which are the rear wing rams of battleship construction. I’m not sure what else I was expecting, but I was quite surprised by the exposed industrial engineering used. It’s almost like the designers wanted to shock with the emergence of these kinds of contrasting materials.

Again, the carbon aero parts are now a lot more clearly defined, with some very complex shapes evident all along the car.

Compared to the 12Cs on the stand, the wheels of the display P1 were far less ornate and ‘designed’ – but then, as we’ve seen with the released performance figures, the P1 is about driving experience. Although the car hasn’t yet had any official track testing, McLaren’s personnel on the stand all seemed very confident about just what the P1 will be able to achieve.

The driving position looks like it will provide an appropriately racing feel: you sink right down into the bucket seat, and distracting switchgear is again kept to a minimum. Dials are large and pleasingly chunky – you don’t feel like you’d be desperately fumbling around trying to find a switch to control some obscure part of the car. One interesting thing is the car has a full zero-emissions e-mode: it would barely get you from, for instance, the edge of London to the centre, but it is capable of making a Prius look like a polluter for that 10km it can make…

With the doors open, you get even more of a feel of the single-seater and LMP influences – look how out-board the front wheels are, with the line of the mono-cage (the P1 has the roof section built into the monocoque, unlike the mono-cell 12C) accentuating the tapering nose section. So, enough of these supercars! What about all the tuners? The coach-builders? What have they been up to? We’ll find out in the next article…

Jonathan Moore

2013 Geneva Motor Show


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16 comments
BrockHarvison
BrockHarvison

Hey Guys, with the new website layout, the Destops in this article no longer link to the 1920x1200 pictures instead you only get 800x500
@RobBullough

Madebo
Madebo

Speedhunters definitely has the most talented photographers in the business. Stunning pics on every occasion.

hanablemoore
hanablemoore

The Apollo is still a great looking car and yes dude you are getting used to the Pagani's interior because that is the most extreme interior of any car made. It looks like it cost half of the asking price

Nikhil_P
Nikhil_P

its happened! ive finally been won over by the P1, looks incredible in that yellow!

Zeus
Zeus

I'm sorry, but the interior on that Mclaren P1 is hideous for a million dollar car. The Apollos and Zondas are looking good as always, but damn that Lamborghini is ugly. The tail pipes stacked in that square shape look horrible. For the price people are paying for these cars I would expect some better design concepts in terms of interior layout on the P1 and theres just way too much going on in terms of shapes and lines with the Lambo. 

MatsNorway
MatsNorway

The lamborghini is basically a concept car that a few very rich people can buy. There is many cool details on the Lambo. And its in total a very cool car.

Frozzy
Frozzy

What's up with Lamborghini producing these ridiculous looking and super limited concept cars? They're definitely trying way too hard. The Huayra looks completely different with that front splitter, looks so much better. 

koko san
koko san

I like the Pagani and the Gumpert the most, the Alfa also looks good except for the headlights, then we could put the computer death Veneno and the over organic P1 in to a car generating computer program and see what comes out.

ComJive
ComJive

i like the splitter the huayras all seem to have now

maxproof
maxproof

"Even the lights have no organic feel to them: they are computer death." ... this is just one example of how you spoke out everything i felt about this aweful Lamborghini ;)Anyone remember the Mazda Furai? THAT was an awesome concept. It's like the organic counterpart to the Veneno. 

zz
zz

I think the P1 is pefect. Its strikes a fine balance. Not too extreme, and not to dull either. All that and it still tops out high HP figures. 

Bram
Bram

Wow they really screwed up the headlights on the 4C  :S

Pancakes
Pancakes

 @maxproof Furai! Still would look modern after how long and was taken out and used by Mazda a heap of times. You're right, it's like it's in the same family but is the most distant relative at the same time.

Pancakes
Pancakes

Not even the HP that impresses me, peak torque from 1800 RPM to over 6000(ish, can't emember exactly). There's no wrong gear with that action!

zz
zz

 @Pancakes Indeed HP numbers aren't everything, but I think the P1 is doing something right. Its making comparable HP numbers to the Ferrari, and many other hypercars with a small V8. Keyword here is small. And at the same time its utilizing the electric motor which in part is how its getting all that torque at such a broad RPM range. Thats what I love about the P1 the most. The thought and engineering behind it in numbers.


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