In August 2013, German car manufacturer Gumpert filed for bankruptcy. It was the final chapter in a drawn-out saga that spelt the end of the Gumpert Apollo, one of the most uncompromising performance cars ever made.
The Gumpert Apollo stormed out of the blocks and quickly gained a cult following within the car community. Its unusual appearance was deeply polarizing and was a significant factor in its eventual demise. However, there were no doubts about the car’s incredible performance attributes. The car took the fight to established heavyweights and left a mark during a production run that lasted all of seven years, from 2005 to 2012.
The Gumpert Apollo was the brainchild of Roland Gumpert. He was a German engineer who cut his teeth at Audi, working in various roles around vehicle development and testing. Gumpert joined the automobile powerhouse in 1969 and eventually became the Head of Sport and Special Development at Audi Sport in 1981. As race director, he led Audi to an impressive 25 Rallye titles and four World Rally Championship titles.
In 2004, Roland Gumpert left Audi and set up Gumpert Sportwagenmaufaktur GmbH, his own automobile company. It was the first concrete step as he set about realizing his dream of building a track-focused supercar that would still be road-legal. Gumpert worked with partners that included the Technical University of Munich and the Ingolstadt University of Applied Sciences. They helped the engineer with construction work, computer simulations, and wind tunnel tests as a blueprint for the Apollo supercar emerged. Two Apollo prototypes were built in less than a year, and before the end of 2005, the company was ready to commence production.
Gumpert’s vision was to build cars that could deliver groundbreaking feats on the racetrack. So, it was only fitting then that one of the car’s first public appearances was at the 2005 Divinol Cup. The Gumpert Apollo, piloted by Belgian race car driver Ruben Maes, eventually finished an impressive third at the Hockenheimring racetrack.
It is impossible to talk about the Gumpert Apollo without mentioning its outrageous design. These days, one can argue that the aesthetic appeal of a supercar is almost as important as its performance. That apparently mattered very little to Roland Gumpert. He approached the design of his Apollo supercar with a one-track focus on performance, leaving any semblance of elegance in the gray background. It is why the Apollo often features (and maybe unfairly so) on the list of the ugliest supercars ever made.
The Apollo is wrapped in a carbon fibre body custom-designed to optimize the airflow around the car. Most of the air passes over the exaggerated front splitters and over the vehicle, disturbed only by the side mirrors, roof air intake and rear spoiler. The rest is channelled through interior air channels to cool radiators flanking the front wheels, in front of the rear wheels and the brakes. Any airflow that does make it underneath the car is mostly collected by vents near the leading edge of the flat floor and funnelled to the rear.
Every groove, angle and flick on the car was tailored towards aerodynamic efficiency and generating as much downforce as possible. Gumpert claims the two-seater Apollo creates so much downforce it can theoretically be driven upside down at speeds exceeding 190 mph (though this was never attempted in the real world).
At the heart of the Apollo is an Audi-sourced 4.2-litre V8 to which Gumpert then bolted on twin-turbochargers. Depending on the Apollo variant, the engine can be tuned to crank out anything from 650 hp to 850 hp. The power output, even in base form, was nothing to sneeze at back then in the 2000s. It certainly supplied the arsenal for the Apollo to achieve some mind-boggling numbers.
The Gumpert Apollo had a production run of seven years, an average lifespan in the car world. However, in that time, the carmaker impressively managed to churn out quite a few variants of the race-bred supercar. There was the base version with 650 hp on tap. The GumpertApollo Sport was a step above that with – believe it or not – more aggressive bodywork and about 750 hp. Another variant was the Gumpert Apollo Speed, first shown at the 2009 Geneva Auto Show. The Apollo Speed was all about minimizing drag and improving on the car’s already insane top speed. The wing was sheared off, the roof-mounted air intake had shrunk, and there were fixed covers over the wheels.
Further up the ladder was an even more extreme creation, the track-only Apollo R with a staggering 850 hp. The Apollo R was unveiled alongside the limited-edition Apollo Enraged at the 2012 Geneva Auto Show. Only three units of the limited-edition Apollo Enraged were planned for production, each with roughly 780 hp and 678 lb-ft of torque.
That’s not all. Gumpert developed an Apollo hybrid race car that paired a 100 kW electric motor with the twin-turbo V8 engine for a total of 650 hp. The electric motor could be recharged from the energy generated when the car brakes.
The Gumpert Apollo performance and the Nürburgring record
The Gumpert Apollo feeds the power from the engine to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual sequential transmission (an optional F1-style paddle-shifter was available). With experienced hands working the gear shifts, the Gumpert Apollo Sport could rocket to 60 mph in just 3 seconds, 124 mph in 8.9 seconds and continue on to a 224 mph top speed. It is a performance that placed the Gumpert Apollo ahead of cars like the Porsche Carrera GT, Pagani Zonda F and the mighty Ferrari Enzo.
In July 2008, Top Gear journalists took the Gumpert Apollo for a run around the famous Top Gear race track. The Gumpert Apollo stormed to the top of the leaderboard with a lap time of 1:17.1, beating cars like the Pagani Zonda and Bugatti Veyron.
The Gumpert Apollo was not quite done. In August 2009, The Gumpert Apollo Sport took on the infamous 13-mile Nürburgring circuit and completed the lap in 7 minutes 11.57 seconds. Today, there are cars that can go much quicker around the circuit but back then, it was enough to make the Gumpert Apollo the fastest production car to conquer the Green Hell.
With such blistering performance capabilities and several model variants, the Gumpert Apollo seemed like the perfect platform on which the company could build. That never happened. Yes, the German supercar was a very popular car that had proven its worth, but popularity is nothing if it does not translate to sales.
Gumpert had banked on the Apollo to woo buyers, especially in the Chinese market, a major focus for the company. Unfortunately, potential buyers stayed away from the Apollo, put off in part by the car’s extreme styling. The company floundered for a few years but eventually declared insolvency in 2012. An interested buyer approached the company, and reportedly, a purchase price was agreed upon before the investor suddenly pulled out of the deal.
Gumpert had no choice but to file for bankruptcy in August 2013 and go into administration. It was a move that spelled the end of the Gumpert Apollo. It was an unfortunate situation, really. The German supercar was the interpretation of an idea that packaged race track capabilities into a street-legal frame. Measured strictly against that criteria, the Gumpert Apollo can even be considered a success. Sadly, it was undone by its questionable styling and heavy emphasis on prioritizing ‘function over form.’. Today, people are more likely to remember the car for its oddball appearance rather than what it was truly capable of, which should not be the case.