Carbon Not Dated: The Secret Zakspeed Calibra

Imagine if you could control time, the consequences of your actions or change the way events played out. You’d have to think pretty carefully about what you messed with, but all things considered think of all the fun you could have. Looking at this incredible Opel Calibra that’s all I can think about, because right now I want to mess with time and mix it up a bit.

Zakspeed’s pedigree is proven: during the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s they turned out some of the most outrageous race cars I can think of. Now consider that roughly half an hour from their front door is the Nürburgring. What better place would you want to test race cars? Put those two famous names together and you know that the machine I’m here to see today is going to be special.

Although I didn’t realise just how special until I started looking at the technical specification of the raw carbon creation that is the stillborn 1997 ITC Calibra.

International Touring Cars was created by the FIA in 1996, with some mad DTM style machinery from Alfa Romeo, Mercedes and Opel. It lasted for one season, which was won by a Calibra.

This one was going to be the 1997 car, but when the championship was canned, the project was shelved. Not unusual as often manufacturers will try something and then push it to one side, but what we have here is a mind-blowing Calibra that was entirely finished and ready to race aside from a sponsor’s livery.

But it wasn’t sold on, it wasn’t put out to dealers for demonstration; for some unfathomable reason it was parked in Zakspeed’s private museum and left.

Barring a few building changes this is where it’s stayed. But just look at it. How could you not want to see what it will do? Details are sparse, stories have probably shifted since Zakspeed built the Opel and all we’re told is that the manufacturer doesn’t want the car to be raced. And this is where that initial question comes back in: just imagine what would happen if it came out and could face the potential rivals. Run a series for ghost racers, just for kicks – how cool would that be? Would it have affected road car sales? Would the sums and technology do their job and win the race? It’s purely hypothetical and will always remain so, but hey I can dream.

The figures really pull you in as they get reeled off. This might be normal around Zakspeed but for starters what about the Cosworth built 2.5 liter V6 that revs to 12,000rpm? When I ask if there’s any chance the engine could be fired up, there is mild smile and a polite “No”. That would take a lot of preparation that there’s no time for now, so when did it fire up last I wonder?

The all up weight of 1040kg actually seems pretty heavy when you consider how much carbon there is on show. Which I’ll say right now is my favourite part. It looks so good up close.

Take a look at the cross web bracing on the bonnet…

… and the style seat moulding on the inside – just two things that scream race car. Closer inspection shows the panels are just thick enough to not warp when air flows over them at speed, but thin enough to be as light as possible.

Curved cutaways behind the 10x18in, slick-shod BBS Magnesium wheels aid airflow as it would cut through atmosphere.

It’s amazing what a difference the lack of a livery can make. It looks so mean in bare carbon, the plain black cage inside and chassis emerging through the bulkhead like polished robotic fingers, clutching at the carbon throttle bodied V-motor.

If Batman was to have a ‘subtle’ road car, you’d be looking at it.

With an engine like that, the transmission is suitably special too. Again details are limited as I’m not even sure anybody directly involved with the build originally is still at Zakspeed so research has been patchy and often wildly differing in results. Although it would seem that the semi-automatic six speed gearbox came from X Trac and was developed in part using Williams F1 shifter tech, hence the steering wheel-mounted paddle shift.

The low engine and transmission height is possible thanks to some clever packaging. If you’re looking at the engine from directly above, the gearbox obviously sits behind, but then there are two short, alloy-encased stubby arms running forwards either side of the engine connected to the box delivering drive to the front driveshafts. This means the engine can be mounted further back, unlike rivals at the time like the Alfa Romeo.

Considering the Zakspeed bespoke in board suspension is mounted around there as well, with silly things like exhausts getting in the way it really is amazing to see it all packed in together. Especially when you remember that everything has to be accessible in a pit for inspection or replacement.

It’s another sobering thought to think that this was all done seventeen years ago. Look at BTCC nowadays and they seem so tame. WTCC too – yes all race cars are limited by regulations and it does keep it all on a level playing field.

But what happened to building badass race cars?

I ask one of the small Zakspeed team who are in the background as I’m left alone to shoot the Calibra if it will race one day. Once again he smiles and neither confirms nor denies it. This is all old, irrelevant technology for Opel – why would they want it wheeled out? To be honest I’m not even sure who completely owns the Calibra. It’s here but does that mean Zakspeed can do what they want with it? Obviously not.

There are a few photos on the internet where you can see the mechanical layout of the 1996 ITC Calibra and it soon becomes apparent just how different, how much more advanced this build is. Sitting in the driver’s seat (well you would, wouldn’t you?), once again it’s rammed home what an incredible build this is.

The seat itself is part of the overall cockpit moulding, so presumably it was made to fit a generic driver size, with padding added where needed and the pedal box adjustable for leg length. It feels like a proper cockpit too.

Once again no logos to keep in-car TV cameras happy and my mind can drift to what it would feel like to roll out onto some mirror smooth tarmac, warm the engine up and flick the wafer thin shifter paddles up and down like tapping out a favourite tune.

I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon though – as I pack up my cameras, the Calibra is wheeled in the air back down to the museum at the back of the workshop. Like the facts of this story, it was brief but very enjoyable.

You may have noticed one of the radiators is missing from the front of the Opel, but that aside I don’t see anything apart from a change to new rubber that would stop it from being exercised.

It might seem criminal to keep the Calibra hidden away, but then if it had been let out into the open what would have become of it? Where would it be now?

Probably not here and here is a good place, because we can all see just how awesome it is. Thank you Zakspeed… it’s been a privilege.

Bryn Musselwhite
Instagram: Speedhunters_Bryn
bryn@speedhunters.com 

Zakspeed 1996 Opel Calibra ITC

Numbers
Max power – 500hp @ 11,650rpm, max torque – 310Nm @ 9000rpm, max revs – 12,000rpm

Engine
Cosworth built, 75 degree V6, 2498cc, alloy block from Monterey SUV, Bosch Motronic MS 1.9, 12.5:1 compression ratio, 94mm bore, 60mm stroke, individual throttle body injection

Driveline
Semi-automatic six speed X Trac transmission with paddle shifters, all wheel drive

Suspension/Brakes
Double wishbone suspension, pushrod dampers, cockpit adjustable, 380mm front discs, 313mm rear discs, dual circuit system, ABS

Wheels/Tyres
18×10 BBS Magnesium wheels, Michelin Pilot slicks

Interior/Exterior
Tube chassis with carbon fibre monocoque and panels

More Zakspeed stories on Speedhunters
More Opel stories on Speedhunters


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92 comments
Chris
Chris

We can see at the Picture 19x10 (not 18x10) BBS Wheels!

Nikhil_P
Nikhil_P

wow! been waiting for this car since the first time it was shown on here!

AlanPeterson1
AlanPeterson1

The last photo reminds me of Raiders of the Lost Ark. 

zz
zz

Engineering and Art blended into one.

kanadanmajava
kanadanmajava

That went well. I hope the car can go full out on some track sometime in the future.

majys
majys

I am not a fan of opel, but this one is really an insane build. 500hp out of 2.5 N/A litre @ 12000 rpms is absolutely unbelievable.

It is sad that it just sits in museum.

TimmyT
TimmyT

i never really cared for the Opel i was way more interested in the Alfa 155 during this time, but 12,000 RPMs?!, this article mad me appricate it a whole lot more, such a bad ass machine

zephoto
zephoto

Yeah that is quite the race car right there... it is a shame that it was never released into the wild but we can at least rest knowing that it has a good home.

Fede
Fede

Been waiting a while for this but it has been well worth the wait, amazing car, great write-up and pictures.

That seat is indeed perfection.

Chris
Chris

Can we get some technical details instead of simply an "Uhhhh and Aweeee" type of article??

TimothyCorbin
TimothyCorbin

amazing piece of machinery , such a shame its sitting in a musuem

Han_Theman
Han_Theman

No amount of pictures will be enough to highlight this thing....the detail is stunning and pushes the level of what we can do to a car to a another level...

Pim
Pim

Very cool feature! But Im not sure if you should compare this car with todays WTCC or BTCC. The latter are supposed to resemble the cars on the street, which they do! ITC was closer to DTM right? Nowadays DTM cars are still pretty badass!

SWR
SWR

In 2 hours someone has bought it and brings it to Gatebil in turbo form with 1000 bhp.

cobrawesome
cobrawesome

The story I've heard about this car is that Zakspeed built the car on their own dime and without an order from Opel... Opel wasn't really happy about it and so that was the end of the Zak-Opel relationship.

Delta_s4
Delta_s4

The purity of this machine is awesome, no livery, no lights, no compromises. possibly my favourite feature car, thanks man!

 

And I'm totally with you on "what happened to just building bad ass race cars" and you cited the BTCC where cost cutting measures killed off the series for years. In a similar vein Its possible to forsee a Speedhunters feature of a 2013 Super GT in maybe another ten years sparking similar feelings of nostalgia and what-might-have-been-isms' ! 

Vittorio Jano
Vittorio Jano

Amazing. This car is so mechanically beautiful. Everything is right. Btw one of my most prized posessions happens to be the front wing of JJ Lehto's Calibra that was used in Helsinki Thunder ITC-race. Lots of scrapes from the bumpy street circuit. Thanks for the feature Bryn

Johanderowan
Johanderowan

I have always been a fan of late 80's and early 90's racing, especially DTM and Rally, and it really enjoys me to see this car preserved for the future. It is a shame to know it probably will never run, but on the other hand it's comforting to know that our children and maybe their children also will be able to see pieces of art like this.And also, this article is really well written. Normally I mostly look at the photo's and read a few lines if a photo intrigues me, but I've read everything in this article. As I also noticed I did on the swedish-Volvo-on-Gröndal article. Keep up the excellent writing, Bryn!

regno
regno

1040 kg was the minimum weight for 4wd cars and 1020 to 2wd by the rules. With out extra weight this thing weight sub 1000kg

robzor
robzor

Crazy. I've been working with carbon fiber for a school project so I have a new appreciation for the work that goes into making such high quality carbon parts. Amazing write up. You have some of the best writing in the industry. Thanks for the story.

Chris H
Chris H

Darth Vader called and said he wants his car back, he also said one of these needs to be in my garage immediately. Please call Zakspeed and tell them we are starting a charity to get one of these in the hands of every man woman and child on earth. Badass. 

Speedhunters_Bryn
Speedhunters_Bryn

 @TimmyT I drive an Alfa and was a fan of them through the 80s and 90s, but this is something else. It's hard to call it an Opel really, Zakspeed yes...

regno
regno

Lots of electronic gatgets. Active suspension, racing ABS, traction control, semi/full auto transmission. -96 season they had active aeroparts. A gills system that opens and closed air canal to radiators for better straight speed. DTM/ ITC racers had all most every thing what was bannet and more, at F1.

Nice pictures, but lame writing. :(

Speedhunters_Bryn
Speedhunters_Bryn

 @TimothyCorbin It's a real internal battle, if it was out there it wouldn't have survived in the same condition. But it's that condition that now forms part of its appeal.

 

GregSampson
GregSampson

Very true. WTCC is based on a production unibody and shell from the factory. Granted, teams spend over 200 hours prepping the shell, but it is off a production line. Current BTCC cars run a specification chassis, front & rear clip and TOCA engine (in most cases) based on a Toyota. DTM cars all run a standard chassis built by Dallara.

 

The ITC was incredible, but could only be compared today to, maybe, a GTE chassis. They were, as someone else mentioned, Formula 1 cars with bodywork. All the wizardry of F1 that had been banned ended up in the ITC. And killed it.

Speedhunters_Bryn
Speedhunters_Bryn

 @SWR Haha, you know that.... And probably finds somewhere to bolt more carbon on.

Speedhunters_Bryn
Speedhunters_Bryn

 @cobrawesome Interesting stuff, there were no hard facts on this side of things. Just polite smiles and shrugs, I'd love to know the truth.

Speedhunters_Bryn
Speedhunters_Bryn

 @regno I was looking for ballast points but coudn't see any, thanks again for information. It's good to get a fuller picture.

Speedhunters_Bryn
Speedhunters_Bryn

 @regno "Like the facts of this story, it was brief but very enjoyable."... I too would have loved more facts about this incredible machine, but they were neither forthcoming nor available as 100% definitive from other sources. You have to be very careful what you write about a car like this, should that have stopped us bringing it to you? No, I don't think so.

regno
regno

 @Speedhunters_Bryn If i recall the rules correctly, they used success ballast system so somewhere it shoult have it.

Chris H
Chris H

 @Speedhunters_Bryn Ahaha thank you Bryn...women and children all across America will thank you for your civil service :P Thanks for covering this awesome machine. Great photos and write up. 

Speedhunters_Bryn
Speedhunters_Bryn

 @regno No need to apologise, it's hard to know all the reasons why an article has been written the way it has sometimes. It's frustrating that nobody seems to want to let on why it's still sat there, but hey, at least it is so we can see it!

regno
regno

 @Speedhunters_Bryn Im sorry for judging to hard. I really want to know more.

In fact, it can truely be that zakspeed havent left too many persons that really knows what was going on with that opel. Therefore they have lack of the facts what they have give to you?

Speedhunters_Bryn
Speedhunters_Bryn

 @regno Yup, I guess there would have been no need for ballast yet given it probably wasn't even tested!

 


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