Some cars are more significant than others. Homologation specials, limited-production models, an early air-cooled Porsche, the newest Ferrari F8, a Shelby Mustang, hard-to-find Japanese sedans; whatever your thing is, I think we can all agree that any car will take on new meaning once you pour your blood and sweat into it to make it your own.
Spending hours in the garage or on the road with your car, bike, or truck always results in a relationship like no other. There are always ups and downs, but if you persevere you get through them together. And both of you come out of it better than before. So, when Will built his 2017 Ultima Evolution from the ground up at home, you can understand the bond that he might have made with the car.
Even on paper, the 700hp LS7-powered machine at hand is a force to be reckoned with. Zero to 60mph in 2.6-seconds, and on to 150mph in a total of 10.4 seconds. Zero to 100mph and back again in just 9.4. A top speed of over 200mph; gearing-limited to 227 says Will, but I won’t ask how he knows that.
Then there is the dollars-to-performance ratio to consider. When released the kit was around £38,000 (US$57,000 at the time), and you were looking close to six figures USD for an assembled car. This might seem like a lot, but you have to look at the cars it stacks up against. Models this quick include the likes of a Porsche 918 Spyder, a Lamborghini Huracán, the McLaren P1, the Bugatti Chiron, the Ford GT, and so on… In similar vein, the Ariel Atom 500 hits in the same ballpark as the Evolution and won’t set you back like a 488 Pista, which is slower to 60mph than both of these cars. Very remarkable.
The Evolution coupe isn’t a car that’s just fast in a straight line, either. It has a properly fascinating and well-sorted tube-frame chassis that has received critical acclaim from numerous outlets over the years. This should come as no surprise, as Ultima got its start on the racetrack, not the road. The Mk2 and Mk3 were ultimately pushed out of race series after a dominant run through the ’80s and into the early ’90s, after which the chassis was adapted for road use.The Blunicorn Is Born
In the early 2000s, Will pined for the car that came as a result of that tinkering: the Ultima GTR. “I was using the library computer to surf the web at the time, and I spent every available minute reading everything I could find,” he says. Ah yes, the before-times, when information wasn’t just a click away, let alone in the palm of your hand.
Likewise, Will’s journey to Ultima ownership wasn’t as simple as smashing the Prime button – as Mark Riccioni puts it – when browsing for any matter of items in the digital marketplace today. Sixteen years later the landscape of Will’s life and global markets had changed, and he realized that the new Ultima Evolution was “suddenly within reach.”
He continues… “The Blunicorn was the first, and so far only, Ultima ordered with the Heritage Blue gelcoat, thus the portmanteau of blue unicorn. It was the first updated 2017 chassis, built with the new factory chassis jig and updated integrated roll cage. It was the first Ultima to ship with the new AiM MXS logging dash and updated AP Racing CP9200 forged calipers.”
The car was painstakingly built in Will’s two-car garage in San Francisco, California over the next four months. Beer, pizza, and friends fueled the long nights and weekends, and Will assembled the engine himself.
Nestled in the middle of the car is a fuel injected and dry sump-equipped 7.0-liter LS7 V8 that began life as a GMPP crate engine. The harness was re-loomed for a mid-engine application, and a bunch of go-fast parts were added along the way. An MSD Airforce intake is fed through a roof scoop, and a heat-shielded plenum, a 103mm drive-by-wire throttle body, and Texas Speed camshafts have been fitted. Finally, 1.75-inch primary header pipes feed a 3-inch exhaust with 5-inch tips.
The engine produces 589hp and 529lb-ft of torque at the wheels, delivered via a lightweight flywheel and a Porsche G96/50 transaxle from a 996, which features a limited-slip differential. Very nice.
Unsurprisingly, it sounds pretty fantastic.
Packaging is tight all around, and an array of sensors have been deployed. This is a car that Will tracks, and tracks hard, so any extra information that can be gleaned concerning the performance is useful. More on that shortly.
Inside the cockpit it’s a function-first environment, but it doesn’t feel like a home-built car. What you feel instead are soft suede fabrics, the 6-point Willans harnesses, the snug leather-covered fixed-back bucket seats, and the aluminum of the CAE shifter. And, every last bump in the road.
This is good, though, because it makes the car an absolute blast in the canyons. You can really feel the chassis working, even from the passenger seat, and this is exactly what makes the car so potent at the track as well. Not to mention the hypercar performance specs I quoted before, which again should help put things in perspective.
It has the power, it has the aero, it has the brakes; in short, it has every ingredient to be an absolutely amazing machine. But things don’t always work out the way we want them to.A Thermal Event
In fact, sometimes quite the opposite. Will drove and tracked the car hard for a solid year, before what one could call a catastrophic failure.
Thankfully Will escaped unscathed, and the fire was put out by the marshals at Thunderhill Raceway with quickness. Will had been talking to me about future plans to remove the factory mirrors in favor of the prototype-style carbon-covered units that are far more useful (did you notice the double mirrors?) and I was hoping to run into him at a track day eventually to grab some shots of the final product.
Life may be a cruel mistress, but these things happen, especially when racking up the miles almost exclusively at the track. Will isn’t one to hold back behind the wheel, nor is he one to be held back. When I reached out to him, he simply proclaimed: “Hoo boy, have I got a spicy update for you!”
Essentially, a worn crankshaft thrust bearing had left debris in the rod journals, and after rods three and four abruptly exited the block, an oil fire caused what Will described as a “thermal event.” Thankfully, a proper fuel cell ultimately saved the car from becoming a total loss.
While some may have thrown in the towel, Will’s just not that way. He explains: “Fast forward through several months, insurance, a new Ultima product release, a parts order and a long wait later, I finally have the parts to rebuild her.” So this is certainly not the end, and instead is perhaps just the beginning.
Over the course of disassembling the Blunicorn and acquiring a new shell – this time a Pacific Blue RS body – Will has also found time to build a GBS Zero from scratch and also brought back a different Ultima, a GTR, from the dead. Its seems to me he’s just winding up, so I’ll end with some simple words from my new friend, Will. I think they apply to each of us, not just to our cars; but to 2020, to our work, and to everything we do:
“Dealing with adversity shows your true character. Will you give up, or will you bounce back?”