The Three that Never Were: Three of the Greatest Supercars that Never Made it to the Road
Despite appearances, designing a car is an extremely challenging proposition. Companies like Ford, Honda, and the behemoth that is the VW Group quite literally spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year in their design departments alone. Taking that to the next level, since they are a much lower volume product, supercars are even more difficult to design and produce. In fact, some of the greatest supercars and hypercars that have made it to the road are, despite prices ranging from the hundreds of thousands to several million dollars, selling at a loss.
Sometimes, however, reading the market and the signs about their cars have led some manufacturers to abandon a project simply because it wouldn’t sell or could be a fiscal disaster for the company in some other way. These cars are often shuffled into the vault, at whatever stage they are at, and locked away, out sight, out of mind.
There are some, however, that read the market right but wouldn’t be able to be sold as a profit, and which influenced later cars that did succeed. Today, we are going to look at three supercars that were shelved during design but started the ideas rolling for supercars that were later made.
The Ford GT90: An Exercise in Mismanagement
In the 1960s, the Ford Motor Company, after being rebuffed by Enzo Ferrari when they were trying to buy the company, produced one of the best supercars that the world had seen up until that point: the original Ford GT40. It was both a gigantic middle finger to Ferrari and an exercise in what happens when you put the right people in charge of the right departments to make an unbelievably fast and gorgeous car.
Fast-forward a bit to the mid-1990s, when Ford subsidiary Jaguar had spent millions of dollars developing and then producing the XJ220. This was a jewel in Ford’s crown, as they wanted to remain the friendly and affordable family car and truck manufacturer while also producing supercars that were “Ford” in all but name. Around the middle of 1994, a secret project group was formed, looking at making the first Ford supercar in decades.
Looking through their history, the GT moniker kept coming to the forefront, with both the original GT40 and the extremely limited Ford UK GT70 showing that there was a consumer market, however small, for a Ford-branded supercar. One of the reasons that the project group was put together was that a new design language was going to be launched in 1996—Ford’s New Edge. This was most famously displayed by the original Ford Focus, but Ford wanted a halo car to lead the way.
As such, the team decided to go for a new iteration of the GT, the GT90. Despite being given an incredibly short time frame of only 6 months to design and prototype the car, the team somehow managed to pull it off. The only GT90 to ever exist was unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show in January of 1995, and it grabbed everyone’s attention.
What most people didn’t see, however, was the turmoil that had erupted behind the scenes at Ford. The marketing department wanted to have pictures of the car everywhere, and even licensed it out to video game companies so they could have “The Ford of the Future” in their games.
Meanwhile, the production department was complaining that an entirely new production line would need to be built, with specific tools for handling aluminum honeycomb and carbon fiber. The sales department was looking at the development costs already and setting the GT90 up to be one of the most expensive cars ever made by Ford.
In short, it was a car that needed the same smooth-flowing operation that the original GT40 had, where the head of design reported directly to Henry Ford II himself, and could bypass the committees and other departments. Ford, by the 1990s, had grown to be so big and so spread out that while the GT90—with its 720 HP 5.9L quad-turbo V12, exotic body and chassis, and exhaust so hot it could melt the resin in the carbon fiber panels around it—could realistically have been made, it was choked to death by committee.
When it was eventually canceled in the middle of 1995, the only concept was sent to the Hajek Motorsports Museum in Oklahoma, and all the plans, drawings, ideas, and the like were put into Ford’s vault. This disappointed a lot of people, especially those who were wealthy enough that they were going to buy one when build slots opened. What the GT90 did manage to do, despite the mismanagement that killed it off, was reintroduce the thought of Ford making powerful, sleek, all-American supercars.
That same secret project team was kept together, and this time was given a much more reasonable timeframe (measured in years) to design a supercar worthy of being called a Ford. Just 7 years after the GT90 sputtered and died, the 2002 Detroit International Auto Show bore witness to the unveiling of the Ford GT.
Instead of trying to be the Ford of the Future, with exotic materials, a hugely complex engine, and white-hot exhaust, the team had this time looked back.
It was because of the mismanagement of the GT90—the fact that they were trying to create a halo car on a timeframe barely long enough for most manufacturers to even finish their concept drafts—that the car never made it to the road. But, because of its wild look, excessive marketing, and with Ford actually investing in building a high-performance vehicle production line, the Ford GT was eventually able to be made, and was wildly successful.
The Volkswagen W12: The Car that Started the Veyron Project
Sometimes, a car is only ever designed to be a concept car and never seriously intended for production. This is how the VW W12 project began, but it soon morphed into a project that had a serious chance of being made, especially with the industrial might of the VW Group behind it.
In 1997, Ferdinand Piech, grandson of one Ferdinand Porsche and CEO of the VW Group, tasked Italdesign and their head designer, Giorgetto Guigiaro, with drafting up a VW supercar. Being the exacting and very German man he was, he set out the rules that the car must be made to accommodate an engine of 12 cylinders in a W layout, be mid-engined, and incorporate VW’s Syncro AWD system. It also had to be a car that people would want to buy, and it had to be able to cool its engine without creating an excessive amount of cabin noise.
The car that resulted was the 1997 Volkswagen W12 Syncro, which is often called the VW Nardo W12 because of the Nardo test track in Italy that it was demonstrated on. The car was a masterpiece of Italian lines combined with German engineering, and that W12 engine that Piech wanted to fit into the car was slotted in perfectly. The engine itself was a 5.6L naturally aspirated W12, producing just about 420 HP, and through a series of transfer cases it powered all four wheels, just as requested.
Two more W12’s were made, one being a roadster version of the W12 Syncro in 1998, and the last being the only “production” W12, known as the W12 Nardo, which was used to obtain a world record for all speed classes in a 24 hour run on the Nardo Ring. This “production” car is quoted as such as it was a bespoke race car, and was not technically road legal.
However, it did cover 7,740.576 KM (4,809.8 miles) at an average speed of 322.891 KPH (200.6 MPH) in those 24 hours. The W12 Nardo was also the most powerful of the bunch, with its W12 engine producing 591 HP and a whopping 458 lb-ft of torque, all naturally aspirated.
The car was all but ready to start production—however, Ferdinand Piech was the one who shut down the project himself. This was because, with the proof that a car could be made with a W12 engine, be sporty, and achieve high speeds, he laid out the Phaeton project instead.
The VW Phaeton did make it to production, and it met all ten of his “impossible criteria,” with the most famous example being that the car should be able to be driven all day at 300 KPH (186 MPH), with an exterior temperature of 50 C (122 F), while the interior could never rise above 22 C (72 F). As well, the top-of-the-line Phaeton carried a 6.0L W12 engine that produced nearly 450 HP.
It was through the shelving of the W12 Syncro, and the realization of the Phaeton, that Piech’s final order, before he retired as CEO of VW, was using the Bugatti brand that had been acquired by VW Group in 1998 to make a supercar like none that had ever been seen before. Again, it was his list of impossible criteria that drove the project, such as the engine producing 1,000 HP, brakes that could stop the car from 250 MPH to 0 MPH at full force, without locking up or fading, and that the car would be powered by a W16.
The Bugatti Veyron 16/4 met all of those criteria, and then some. Considered by some to be the first true example of a hypercar, it had a maximum top speed, in velocity max mode, of 254 MPH, using an 8.0L W16 quad-turbocharged engine that produced 1,001 HP. Never mind that the car had 10 radiators to prevent the engine, transmission, differentials, and intercoolers from melting!
The Apollo Arrow: A Valiant Effort that Revived an Entire Company
Those of us that have been around for a while remember a ridiculously-ugly-but-ultimately-extremely-capable supercar called the Gumpert Apollo. This was because the man behind Gumpert Sportwagenmanufaktur GmbH, Roland Gumpert, had the design criteria that the Apollo be road legal but made for the track. Audi actually helped out with the design of the car, as Roland had headed up their big push into the Chinese market from 1997 to 2000 and had earned the respect of the bigwigs.
As such, the biggest contribution that Audi provided was a version of their eponymous 4.2L V8 TDI engine, except with another turbo added to make it bi-turbo. This roaring beast was pushing out 641 HP, but with switching out the ECU for the Sport or Race versions, it could instantly be boosted to 690 and 789 HP respectively. This was important because the Apollo also weighed just under 2,600 lbs if you added in all the options, and all the gaps, holes, wings, and such on the car were there so that it produced as much downforce as a LeMans Prototype race car.
The Gumpert Apollo did find its way into some very wealthy garages, with an MSRP of €620,000 in 2005 (equivalent to €845,100 or $888,500 USD in 2022), but after a few failed concepts and with a major investor backing out, Gumpert filed for bankruptcy in 2013 and was liquidated. Surprisingly, 3 years later in January 2016, the rights to the company, the name, and all previous models from the bankruptcy filing were bought up by the Hong Kong-based Ideal Team Venture, the same company that bought the DeTomaso brand in 2014.
The company was renamed Apollo Automobil GmbH soon afterward, Roland Gumpert was brought back in as CEO, and work began immediately on a car that would respect the history of the brand but also be ultra-modern and powerful. In just three months, the Apollo Arrow was unveiled in March 2016 at the Geneva Motor Show. This was possible because a metric ton of money had been shoveled into the coffers of Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus, who did most of the design work while the Apollo Arrow was assembled in its prototype form in Germany.
The SCG collaboration went deeper, as the Italian company MAT, who builds the SCG 003S and the 007S, and is currently producing their FIA WEC Hypercar, was tentatively brought in to manufacture the Arrow. It had the looks to entice, and it had the power that was promised, with an Audi 4.0L twin-turbocharged V8 producing 986 HP.
There was, however, a disagreement between Roland Gumpert and the new owners as to what the company should focus on, which eventually led to Roland resigning from Apollo Automobil at the end of 2016. With his departure, his new car, the Apollo Arrow, was also shelved.
Thankfully, the ownership didn’t let a couple of wasted years get them down. They had gained a lot of knowledge, experienced the ups and downs of car manufacturing, and had formed a strong bond with SCG out of America. They also had an ace up their sleeve, and once Gumpert had resigned, they played it.
That ace was a project called Titan. You don’t call a potential car Titan unless you are damned sure that it’s going to be a smash hit. To say the least, Apollo got a grand slam with what Titan turned out to be.
The blinds were pulled back in on October 24, 2017, with the unveiling of the Apollo Intensa Emozione, a hypercar meant to evoke feelings of speed and intensity even when standing still. Breaking from Audi history, the car is instead powered by a Ferrari 6.3L F140FE V12 pushing out 780 HP.
If that engine code sounds a touch familiar, it’s the same engine that is the internal combustion engine part of the Ferrari LaFerrari hypercar—except in the Intensa Emozione, they have turned the wick up a little, took out some of the exhaust baffles, and let it loose to make its signature incredible howl.
Only 10 Apollo Intensa Emoziones are to be made, and they are all sold. Half haven’t been built yet because of the global pandemic, but production has restarted, and Apollo is teasing that another car is in the works already!