Dropped Out Of A Wormhole: </br>The Sbarro Grand Prix

War is a strange human invention. It often slices such a strong dividing line in the timeline, that more often than not the time predating the war is so much different than that following it.


Its consequences effectively force a hard reset that spans nearly all realms of life, including car culture.


Cars from the pre-war days were different. They were built in an era when the automotive state of mind didn’t resemble much of what we have in place now, not to mention the technology available at the time.


These were the glory days of the designers and coach builders – true artists of their time. As we all know, timeless shapes of the bygone past will remain there, their current reincarnation prevented by the modern regulations on health and safety.


There is no denying that there are still people around today bursting with imagination and ambition to design something truly special; cars that are free of real-world strings. When I visited Montbéliard ESPERA Sbarro a few weeks ago, I got to meet some of these individuals.


And this is what they – a group of just 27 students – created. It’s called the Sbarro Grand Prix, and it pays homage to the Formula One cars of the yesteryear while featuring design cues that make it look like it just popped out of a wormhole from the future.


The Grand Prix is essentially a full tube-frame chassis that has been wrapped with fibreglass and carbon fibre body panels. It was created solely as a design study, providing no thought to the modern rules and regulations that govern automotive design.


These days the beauty in F1 comes from engineering and mathematics, but the inspiration for the Grand Prix comes from a time when cars were without wings, a time when design was art and a time when bodies were formed from beaten and hand-rolled sheets of metal. This car isn’t based on one particular pre-war F1 car, but the entire Grand Prix of the period.


One of the first things I noticed about the Grand Prix is just how low it sits. Considering the size of the wheels, the suspension arms are ridiculously low down.


It’s partly down to the suspension witchcraft by the students at ESPERA Sbarro. One of the teachers at Sbarro, Anthony, who was at hand to give me a demo with the car, told me that there were just a couple of centimeters of freedom of movement for the suspension in any direction.


I don’t know if it’s just me, but from this angle it looks like the wheel cannot possibly be joined to that axle.


The Grand Prix is fitted with 20-inch Vossen CV7 wheels in matte graphite at all four corners. They don’t look that massive because of the sheer proportions of the car.


Wrapping the wheels are sticky Michelins that measure 295/30R20 at the front and a crazy 305/35R20 at the rear.


Fibreglass panels channel air towards the brakes on each of the front wheels. Each of these panels are also laden with powerful LEDs that act as the headlamps.


The Grand Prix was created in collaboration with the telecommunications provider Orange France, so aptly there are two iPads on the dashboard. One provides navigation services and the other is used for in-car entertainment.


Students were more or less allowed to let their imaginations run free. These tiny wing mirrors are closer in size to those found on a modern F1 car than to any road car.


The front of the car is covered in a light mesh providing an inlet for air to be sucked into the engine.


The entire front of the car is one massive cowl which needs unscrewing to gain access to the engine. There are are two nostrils atop the engine which give a sneaky glimpse of the beating heart beneath.


That’s a massive BMW M70B50 5.0-litre V12, pulled from between the front struts of an E32 750i, putting out 300 horsepower. The engine is so big, it seems like the rest of the Grand Prix was attached to it as an afterthought.


The engine fills nearly the entire front half of the car under the endless bonnet. Despite the heavy V12 lump, the Grand Prix weighs in at 1,050kg wet.


The exhausts exit right by the side of the engine via a custom system that brandishes a vintage Grand Prix insignia. The proximity to the driver cabin combined with how rich the engine was running when I had my chance behind the wheel, meant that I spent most that time crying my eyes out from the fumes.


The driver’s seating position is pretty much directly on the rear axle in the open cockpit, with a tiny and extremely raked windscreen up front. A thin taillight stretches vertically along the rear extremities of the creation, much like the racecars that inspired it.


The Grand Prix has an automatic 4-speed gearbox, with a milled shifter with carbon fibre accents.


The gas tank sits right behind the driver’s compartment. One thing I noticed after spending a day with the car, is that it loves gasoline, and most of the fuel put in here is dumped back out though the exhaust.


The cues don’t just end with the structure – the paintjob is an obvious nod to Lotus racecars of the ’60s.


Instead of opting for an off-the-shelf bucket seat, the students at Sbarro designed a custom leather padded seat that’s mounted right onto the body of the car.


The starter switch is a milled aluminum wheel installed on the centre console alongside the necessary fuses and power switches for the engine. Paying homage to the old racecars, the Grand Prix is a single seater, with the prop-shaft running from the engine to the rear axle through a tunnel between the legs of the driver.


When I first saw images of the Grand Prix prior to my visit to Montbeéliard ESPERA Sbarro, I was very critical about the thoroughness of the execution that was happening at the school.


Once I visited the school though, it flipped my opinion on its head.


We live in an age where we are spoiled by cars that are mass-produced by machines with perfect shut lines and impeccably fault-free parts.


But judging a design study alongside any production car for build quality is like comparing low-rent fast food to a home cooked meal.


It still amazes me that a fully functioning V12 car that looks as stunning as this was built in just 45 days. And not by industry professionals, but by students who are still learning their craft of auto design.


Sure, the build is a bit wonky and some of the welds are not up to the standards to what we are used to seeing in mass-produced cars, but downplaying the value of the Grand Prix would be missing the point altogether.


It is not a car built to clock perfect lap times or pull consistent slides corner after corner. In reality, it’s the embodiment of the vision of a handful of students who at one point believed that they could learn to create a car from scratch in just 10 months.

It is, quite literally, a fruit of pure design.

Alok Paleri
Instagram: rennworksmedia



Comments are closed.


by Oldest
by Best by Newest by Oldest



I think about how it takes billions of dollars and years of time to design, build and release JUST ONE new mass-production car, and I can't help but conclude that those astronomical costs are the result of trying to make a vehicle that's all things to all people, and satisfy all regulatory regimes throughout the world.

There's got to be a better way, and I think that way is to step backward from globalization. Keep making vehicles for each country, or at least each region. Yes, I know that there are economies of scale, but focusing on such large-scale considerations to the exclusion of all other concerns is myopic at best.

I like the idea of regional differentiation - America has big V8 trucks, Europe has cutting-edge luxury sedans, Japan has kei cars, Australia somehow combines these characteristics effectively - and how it serves to reduce both financial costs and time-to-market for individual vehicle types. 

Such an approach accommodates the peculiarities of each national market and satisfies customers more effectively, making a company more profitable.

I like a market with room for sedans, econoboxes, minivans, kei cars, diesel pickups and sports cars instead of one where manufacturers seem to be moving toward some sort of global jack-of-all-trades transportation module. 

I don't see why a car has to do everything, or be all things to all people - shoot for that, and you get a car that does nothing well, and that no one wants. I don't need a Mazda5 to pull 1.5g, or a Miata to haul a 4x8 sheet of plywood and two soaking-wet Labrador Retrievers.

Besides, it makes sense to acknowledge the fact that each major region or country has its own requirements, based on cultural, economic and regulatory factors. America has room, fuel and money for BIG. Japan and Britain need nimble, quick, fuel-sipping cars. Italy likes stylish. Germany needs FAST.

One size does not fit all.

I'm reminded of the joke about how fighter planes are getting so expensive that sooner or later, the entire US military will have to share ONE plane. The Air Force gets it on odd days during the week, the Navy gets it on even days and the Marines get it on February 29. 

Just look at how Toyota and Subaru teamed up to develop the current 86. 

Really? A company with Toyota's resources couldn't swing that project on its own? How much of that decision to form a partnership with Subaru was based on the economics of developing a fairly dedicated sports car for the modern market, and how much was based on acknowledgement of the regulatory environment? 

I'm sure somebody ran the numbers ten times, though.

I know I'm not alone in preferring the world of the Australian ute, the Japanese kei, the American dually and the German luxobarge to the one where all you can buy, the world over, is the "clean, practical, sensible, convenient and safe" amorphous transportation module.


If only it had the F20C out of an S2000!  9K RPM would be fantastic in this!


Absolutely gorgeous car. I absolutely love a mesh of old and new styling with all the modern underpinnings. 

This car needed a V12, but I think the particular choice wasn't the best. 300hp and it guzzles gas when it only weighs a tonne?

nonetheless, very cool, very jealous of the students' opportunity!


Sick, this car is gnarly


This is so sick, honestly. The V12 is a great choice and they really, really killed it on the design. The way it looks from the side is perfect and the back is really nice. I'm really blown away this was done in 45 days. Amazing build. Really amazing.


How exactly do you get students to agree on what direction the styling of a car should take? And then maintain that idea over 10 months.


Wow, love to have a spin with that one! Love how the headlamps are placed as well as the cockpit. 
Good call on the Vossens.


Am I the only one a little disappointed in such an impressive, unique car with only 300 hp out of a V12 and a friggin' automatic?  Shame.


JohnCulbert  300 hp paired with a autotragic transmission doesn't even matter with a 0.25+ power ratio..


Ice Age It'll be the next ice age by the time I'm done reading this comment. Shoot.

It is awkward in some spots but very pretty in others, and I can definitely appreciate the build. Solid job


Could you provide more details or a pic of how that front suspension works?  Never seen anything like it!


JohnCulbert The engine used was released in 1988... it's nearly 30 years old. SOHC, and not the nicest flowing ports. This car likely featured the V12 for smoothness and prestige, rather than output. I'm guessing they kept the auto just because it was attached to the engine they chose.
I do agree though, a little more output would have been nice, although I don't think this car gets driven.


how in the F does that front suspension work? I'm zooming in to the photos and don't see any cantilevers. looks like just a fixed mount inboard and then the other mount on the control arm. which would lead to a total loss of mechanical advantage. 
splain it plz


I love and hate it.
The concept is fantastic. Stylistically they nailed it. The boat tail inspired rear end is really great. I love the front profile. 

I'm a fan of the BMW V12. Who cares that it's "only" 300hp. People get too wrapped up in the horsepower wars. 300 is plenty, especially in a small car like this. I of course want it to have a 5 speed box behind it, but this tranny was already attached to the engine and was already paired with the DME. 

The exhaust looks cool. That's it. If they'd done something more like a traditional F1 car it would make the car more drivable. 

The suspension... good grief charlie brown. The rear suspension geometry looks "interesting." The concept of the springs inside the front suspension is cool but not the best idea. It's adding unsprung weight for one thing. Also the arms are very close together which would increase the mechanical advantage against them during braking and turning. 

Sorry to armchair engineer a car. I'm really glad they do this sort of thing. Very cool project and it's amazing that it was done in only 45 days.


Me personally I like the little ride, but.....I don't get the second iPod for entertainment purposes?  I thought a car like this would be entertaining enough?  Obviously they even thought it was boring.  I like overall design though it is somewhat predictable really.  And to be honest it's more trendy than innovative.  Overall I give them an A.


Colors are more BRM than lotus...


I'm trying to understand push-rod suspension, but this vehicle is confusing me. How do they get the springs to sit horizontal like that?

Big Balls and Brains Too

buzzboy Horsepower wars are for idiots who read too many magazines or think peak hp = fast car. Horsepower isn't even real. It's derived from an equation based on torque which is a physical force. The more corners per mile (tighter the road) the less HP matters, the more downhill a road is the less hp matters. 

On a race track this isn't the case because race tracks are lengthy with few corners (even the Nurburgring is pretty wide open and fast when you look at the corners). 

It all depends on the road what makes a car fast. In an ideal world you would have a different car optimized for every single track / road on earth, because every road really is different. 

Oh wait...I'm starting to make sense, I better go away before the real experts come out and tell me I'm "trolling."


After the Modern Hot Rod they done , this is another Sbarro I really like !


johnbezt Some of the specific detail is obscured by the lower grill however as best as I can figure the basics are as follows. 
1. The top suspension arm (pink in diagram) is loaded in bending which a typical A-arm is not. This gives an inboard point which is going to move up and down opposite to the wheel.
2. Inboard point is connected (via green link) to the bell crank (blue) which itself pivots down near the inboard point of the lower suspension arm.
3. As bell crank rotates spring/shock will travel as required.

Intuitively it looks like the motion ratio's would be very limiting, creating mechanical stiffens in the system would be difficult with such angles. I think there is something else going on in there too which can't be seen clearly, possibly some sort of anti-roll bar or heave spring arrangement. There are extra connections on the bell cranks which I can't immediately account for.

Best look at it as a functionally sound style statement rather than a performance solution.


@Big Balls and Brains Too  Stop being a troll! I'm kidding, of course.


Then you must see the Sbarro that is used on the WRC

Big Balls and Brains Too

andrewtaylor60 johnbezt This is a pretty horrible example of how push / pull rod suspension works for someone trying to understand it. 

Here is a video (not in english) that shows the action and how the bell cranks operate:


It's very similar to a how a pushrod engine actuates the rocker arms and valve spring assembly: 


If the camshaft was the wheel moving up and down, the push rod is what would connect the wheel to the shock. The "bell crank" would be the same thing as the rocker arm. The valve spring would be the springs on the suspension and the "shock" would be the valve.

Big Balls and Brains Too

andrewtaylor60 johnbezt Typo in that. Meant to say:

If the camshaft was the wheel moving up and down, the push rod is what would connect the wheel to the bell crank. The "bell crank" would be the same thing as the rocker arm. The valve spring would be the springs on the suspension and the valve would be the shock.


Floz JohnCulbert You are all in the same ballpark. Remember though, that this is a design study, so the actual power figures were more or less irrelevant.


@Big Balls and Brains Too johnbezt Sorry, yes I didn't read the original post carefully enough. I thought the line of questioning was about how this system was working. This vehicle is in no way representative of a typical push or pull rod suspension layout. In fact it doesn't realy have either.


ClaytonPayton Have a look at my theory in other comment if you haven't already.


where is the slot on this laptop for my credit card...?!!

Gianluca FairladyZ

Good work guys! Fruit of desing and Passion!


Very interested in how the wheels articulate in picture 3...


andrewtaylor60 johnbezt if the lower blue triangle is the pivot point, then as the wheel moved up (hitting a bump), the strut and spring will be pulled, not compressed.


andrewtaylor60 ClaytonPayton just saw your post


My God, now that's art on wheels!


Bima Leksono ,
This ?
I don't like it as much as the Hot Rod & this classic redone .


The comment below this picture doesn't make sense. That is a picture of a front wheel of what I'm sure is a rear wheel drive car. Therefore there would be no axle connecting that front wheel to any part of the car. Just a free wheeling bearing to allow the front wheels to spin in whatever direction the rear wheels propel the car and a brake caliper fix to the suspension with a brake disk/rotor sandwich between the hub and the alloy.


This is awesome. I dont know why people are disappointed in any of it, motor, box, suspension, etc.  It is a DESIGN exercise. I'm surprised it is as complete as it is. Most of these design studies are just empty shells. Unbelievable for 45 days, did they even sleep?!!


Very cool design exercise.

Not least because it's the first time I've seen Vossens look good on something! 



DavideLonardi SPEEDHUNTERS Santa ....changed my mind ....I want one of these now .....I would even be good!


Excellent article. More like this please.



Agreed, that's the steering rack with the boot sticking out, not an axle.

It can be easy to get caught up in what we expect to see sometimes... but yea, that impossible angle is a good indication of what is actually going on ;)

Great article and amazing car / design!


No shots from behind?


i found a mistake, this car was made in 10 weeks, not in 10 month. 
it is the training that lasts 10 months. We make 2 projects 1:1 and 1 personal project ^^


@Beany i like the v12, keeps with the tradidion. but i agree with a proper f20c with mid sleeves, the only issue is the 6 speed, maybe if it sat 2 people.