The most exciting car to ever wear number plates

What is the opposite of onomatopoeia? Certainly not a misnomer or an oxymoron: they’re contradictions in names and terms. The opposite of onomatopoeia is a contradiction in sounds, and until now it wasn’t something I could easily define. But having your head a few inches from the fizz-chattering wastegates on a 641bhp V8 and yanking through another gear with the sequential ’box’s huge lever, only to discover that the rapidly accelerative rocket sled you’re trying to keep on the road is called Gumpert, has changed all that. What might just be the most exciting vehicle to ever wear number plates appears to have the wrong name.

Appearances can be deceptive. Not the styling of the Apollo, which I’m sure you’ll agree is right up there in the pantheon of terrifying sights to be seen through the wing mirrors of a Porsche Carrera GT. It might not zing off the tongue like an Italian, but the name Gumpert has credibility where it counts: motorsport. Roland Gumpert ran Audi’s world rally team in the early ’80s. Under him they won the championship and 25 rallies. He has form, then.

He also clearly has a decent relationship with Audi, because that 641bhp is produced by a heavily modified version of the previous-generation S8’s 4163cc V8. The engine has 40 valves (handy when you’re fuelling something producing 154bhp per litre), uprated rods, pistons and just about every other ancillary to cope with the added energy created by the addition of two enormous KKK turbochargers.

But here’s the amazing bit: it uses the same crank. Despite producing 281bhp more than intended, the main reciprocating component of this engine is up to the task. Peak power comes at 6800rpm and the full 597lb ft of torque at 5000rpm. Silly numbers all of them, but now consider that pre-production cars weigh 1200kg and do the mathematics. It gives a power-to-weight ratio of 534bhp per tonne. A Ferrari Enzo has 476bhp per tonne, a Porsche Carrera GT 410 and the daddy of them all, the McLaren F1, had 551bhp per tonne at its disposal. But that’s a little unrealistic, because the Apollo will weigh nearer 1100kg in production spec, turning 534 into 583bhp per tonne. As Herr Gumpert explains this in his slow, deliberate English I’m all ears, but matters become serene when he says the engine could easily run to 800bhp and that 1000PS, or 986bhp, was a definite possibility.

This is a racing car for the road. There are accurate sketches of how the finished interior will look, but peeking in through the gullwing door you’d have to say that, for the intended market, it might be a shame to alter what it already has. Two bucket seats perched in a carbon tub, which is itself tied into a tubular steel lattice. Being German and very much a motorsport product, the quality is top-notch, even on this early car.

You sit low with the pedal box off-centre (already sorted for the next running car) and a fair amount of intrusion from the wheelarch. The steering wheel is a dinky little Momo item and a Motec digital dash sits behind it. To the right there is the most gorgeous centre console of any supercar: a lump of carbonfibre with row upon row of fuses. People who pay the expected £190,000 for this car will be doing so because of its track focus, and I suspect that many of the interior’s rough edges in this early example might actually be of great appeal. It is currently an office space devised for the business of going very fast. And I like that.

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There was no way this car could be fitted with a conventional H-pattern gearbox, and road-optimised sequential gearboxes with a torque rating of 600lb ft are rarer than a short George Galloway insult. So what they’ve come up with is a sequentially operated version of that old supercar chestnut, the Ceema six-speeder. Already doing service in the Pagani Zonda and Lamborghini Murciélago, it’s a game old soldier, but not the slickest ’box. The clutch is heavy but positive and a healthy yank on the lever engages first.Getting a heavily turbocharged V8 off the line with a spikey clutch isn’t easy, but there’s so much torque at idle that you only need a brush of throttle to get it rolling. Today the car is running on slicks with a rear width equivalent to a 345-section tyre’s; road cars will use the excellent Pirelli P Zero Corsa System tyre developed for the Maserati MC12.Even with the benefit of warm, tacky slicks there’s no point in applying a bootful in first gear – the power and torque are just too strong. Half throttle in second and the Gumpert feels Porsche 911 Turbo fast. Make that 911 Turbo S fast.

Into third, and with the confidence to push the long-travel throttle a touch further, and it’s clear that Roland Gumpert’s dyno isn’t lying. The car possesses that rare brand of violent acceleration that makes strapping the timing gear on an exercise in confirmation, and an answer to the one question that matters on planet supercar: will it beat a McLaren F1 from rest to 100mph? It must be very close.

But I’m rubbish with the gearbox, missing downshifts and generally making a fool of myself where racer Andy Wallace had been having no difficulties earlier. I’d apportion the blame for this shambles as follows: 75 per cent me, 25 per cent to the ’box. First, you can’t just wang the lever about as you’d like in the Gumpert: it requires a sensitive touch and almost two movements. Nudge it forward until you can actually feel the beginning of an engagement and only then can you apply a firm strike with the butt of your hand to send the change through.

Get it right and the Gumpert’s ’box is rewarding and competent. But it is certainly the weak point of the package. The benefit of a sequential shift is rather sullied by the need to clutch on up- and downshifts, and even though the concentration required makes for an interesting experience it’s just too hard to be consistent.

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The chassis and steering are beyond reproach for the purpose, though. The Gumpert has double wishbones and pushrods front and rear, and wonderfully weighted unassisted steering. With just about everything being adjustable, assessing the handling is difficult. But at the Bruntingthorpe proving ground, with no set-up work carried out at all, two traits were obvious: despite the low front splitter and rear diffuser, there’s plenty of wheel travel – normally the biggest failing on road-going racers – and the combination of tight differential and savage power delivery mean it’s a car you drive smoothly. Long power slides are not on the menu because it’s almost impossible to balance the throttle once turbo one has spooled up and handed advanced warning for its partner in crime to add another 150bhp. And it has a modicum of ride compliance.

Braking performance is like nothing you’ve ever experienced. With so little weight, the Gumpert doesn’t need 380mm discs at each corner, but it has them at its disposal anyway. If anyone ever suffers brake fade in this car they’ve either inadvertently entered it into the Le Mans 24 Hours, where it would do rather well, or left the handbrake on. Your passenger will scream the first time you nail the middle pedal.

So, what we have in the Gumpert Apollo is very probably the supreme track-day car. Don’t see it as a conventional supercar – it’s a little too hardcore for that. Too cheap as well; and with an unfortunate name. But for those with a budget to match their appetite for track days, I can’t see anything coming close. A potential customer has managed a 9min 25sec lap of the combined Nürburgring circuits (GP track and Nordschleife) which would leave it at close to 7min 10sec over the Nordschleife alone. This would give the Apollo the production-car lap record if it were attempted.

What impresses most is just how polished this early car is. Redesigned doors will hinge from the middle of the roof and there’s an option to have the engine’s intake snorkel removed at some expense. But if you’re one of the few people who has bought a supercar and then been frustrated at the first track day when the tyres lost grip just as the brake pedal went to the floor, you need to speak to Hudsons of London (01753 648 064) about the Gumpert. In fact, let’s just call it the Apollo from now on.

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Chris Harris

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aceman 27 December 2008

Re: Gumpert Apollo

I think this car is a real piece of Engineering. Amazing power, speed and handling.

You'd think why have a Veyron because let's face it's too expensive! It's got 1000hp and yes 256MPH is fast but you can get all of that scary speed and thrill in the Gumpert for loads less money.