Gumpert Apollo S Video

A lot of exotic-car companies have appeared in the past few years. Now that some kind of millionaire is created every second, lots of companies have been created to sell the things that millionaires can’t seem to do without, like $562,000 sports cars. And yet Gumpert’s team of hardened engineers seems to have resisted the hype, myth and vanity that normally define most supercar enterprises.

Since the first prototype of this no-frills race replica first came into our hands in 2005, Roland Gumpert has been working quietly and diligently to refine the car and also strengthen his little company’s bond with Audi. During his time at Audi, Gumpert helped develop the modified Volkswagen Iltis that led to the first 1980 Audi Quattro coupe. Uwe Bleck, the company’s technical director, formerly specialized in driving dynamics and simulations at Audi.

Gumpert Sportwagenmanufaktur is even located in Saxony, the province in eastern Germany where four small companies combined in 1932 to form Auto Union, Audi’s corporate ancestor. The village of Altenburg where the little factory lies is not far from Zwickau, where the Auto Union grand prix cars were built in the 1930s.

Using a twin-turbocharged version of Audi’s 4.2-liter 90-degree V8 — complete with lightweight internals — and mated to a six-speed sequential transmission, the Apollo is available in three versions: Apollo, Apollo S (for Sport) and Apollo R (for Race).

We’re testing the 690-hp S-type, as opposed to the 641-hp entry-level Apollo or the lighter, track-dedicated 789-hp R-type. More compact than expected, the Apollo S’s muscular Marco Vanetta-styled shape has a raw, no-nonsense menace. While it’s true there are a few areas that look a bit clunky — notably the side windows and mesh engine cover — there’s no mistaking the Apollo’s crackling aura of potency and purpose.

If you’re a driver rather than a poseur, the Apollo’s promise of speed has a magnetic beauty of its own. You swing up the Apollo’s surprisingly heavy door, then drop yourself into the seat, grabbing the cutout in the roof to help you across the high sill that obstructs the doorway. Just like a racing car, the Apollo has a detachable steering wheel to simplify the whole process.

The seat (or what passes for a seat) is in fact a padded racing shell. It’s fixed directly to the carbon-fiber safety cell that surrounds the cockpit, which itself is at the heart of a tubular space frame that forms the Apollo’s chassis. Fortunately the pedals and the steering wheel are easily adjusted, so you can get surprisingly comfortable surprisingly quickly. If you’re tall or broad, though, you’ll realize that the Apollo is a purebred performance car and not some luxury coupe in disguise like a Pagani Zonda or Porsche Carrera GT.

A mix of clean, simple ergonomics and familiar Audi switchgear, the Apollo’s cabin trades flamboyance for function. There’s a lot to pack into such a compact dashboard, yet everything from the display panel for the Racelogic stability control to the pop-out Pioneer satellite navigation system is well integrated and easy to operate. Some of the rough detailing is typical of hand-built one-off cars, as you’d expect in a thinly disguised racing car.

Fitted with the quietest of three exhaust options, the Apollo S’s twin-turbo Audi V8 starts with a muted rumble, with an assortment of whirrs and chatters that provides a suitably businesslike accompaniment of mechanical noise. There’s a simple sequential manual transmission with a sturdy shift lever at your side and a conventional clutch pedal, which makes it clear again that this is a racing car and not an arcade game with shift paddles on the steering wheel. It focuses the mind perfectly.

The clutch pedal is heavy but not ridiculously so, while the lever requires a firm, positive shove fore or aft to deliver crisp shifts from the synchromesh transaxle. We’ve become so used to sequential gearboxes with automated clutch action that it takes some thinking to properly coordinate lever and clutch.

As soon as the road begins rushing past underneath us, the Apollo’s pin-sharp focus and uncompromising nature is apparent. The suspension isn’t supple like a Zonda’s but it yields just enough to round the sharpest edges off road imperfections for it to work. While this makes for a busy and, at times, uncomfortable ride on the nasty surfaces of secondary roads, it doesn’t seem to deflect the Apollo from its course. In fact the Gumpert Apollo conveys a sense of total, iron-fisted control unlike any other supercar we’ve ever driven.

You need your wits about you, for the twin-turbocharged Audi V8 has a devastating punch. There’s plenty going on with 675 pound-feet of torque available at 4,000 rpm. Even at 2,500 rpm on part throttle, once you do finally summon the cojones to explore the farthest reaches of the throttle pedal’s travel, the Apollo explodes forward with sufficient force to send a momentary jolt of fear through your buzzing nervous system.

It’s an otherworldly sensation — harder and more violent than the immaculately linear lunge of the Pagani Zonda’s Mercedes-built 6.0-liter V12, yet smoother and more controlled than the supercharged punch of the Koenigsegg CCX’s psychotic Ford-built 4.7-liter V8. Those who relish the high-octane operatics of Italian supercars will probably criticize the Gumpert’s less than musical cry, but this steely, deep-chested barrage of noise represents the closest thing you can get to the sound of Audi’s legendary R8 LMP1, which won the 24 Hours of Le Mans no fewer than five times. It’s a weapon, pure and simple.

With such enormous reserves of power and torque, the Apollo requires a measured right foot. A superb stability control system, developed specifically for Gumpert by Racelogic, provides an almost infinitely adjustable safety net. Set to 100 percent (the rain mode) on a dry road, the system cuts in abruptly when the rear tires lose the tiniest bit of traction, even in a straight line. But once you wind back the intervention threshold 10 or 15 percent to let the rear tires slip just sufficiently to get some of that 690 hp to the road, you’ll feel genuinely alarmed by the rate at which the Apollo S is accelerating. A speed of 100 km/h (62 mph) comes up in 3.0 seconds and 220 mph lies within the realm of possibility.

Getting Talkative at 160 mph
Whatever you’ve stepped out of, the Apollo will feel insanely rapid. It’s not all whizbang acceleration, though, for the Apollo is an easy and undemanding car to guide at sane speeds.

The steering is both light and linear, and the front end responds quickly and directly but with a reassuring feel that encourages you to drive faster. The car has massive reserves of grip through its tires, 255/35ZR19s in front and 345/35ZR19s in the rear, yet the Apollo’s chassis is talkative, reacting alertly to your inputs. It’s reassuring to note that the front tires are the first to find the limit, and the tail of the car feels firmly planted on the road, even at elevated road speeds.

It’s a mark of the Apollo’s potential that a circuit is essential to truly discover what it’s all about. Without reference points such as trees, lampposts, white lines and other blurry road furniture, circuits have a habit of neutering many very fast cars of their visceral, heart-pounding sensation of speed. Not so the Apollo, which feels fast enough to fry your synapses, even at the flat, featureless Bedford Autodrome.

On the GT circuit’s main straight we repeatedly pull 160 mph without really trying before the corner comes up and we work the hugely effective brakes — durable 14.9-inch cast-iron rotors gripped by stout six-piston calipers from AP Racing.

The 2,646-pound Gumpert Apollo S feels utterly stable into the corners, thanks in no small part to the combination of a shape that develops ground-effect downforce with the underbody of the bodywork plus plenty of aero load from the big rear wing. This isn’t the kind of car where you want to rush up to the limits of adhesion, so you gradually nudge the Apollo toward the edge until you feel it begin to move beneath you.

Through the daunting, chassis-testing Palmer Curves the Apollo S is awesome, making the fast direction changes in 4th gear so easily that a Ferrari Enzo or Porsche Carrera GT seems like an accident waiting to happen in comparison. The tighter corners are defined by smudges of understeer, but given more time and familiarity there’s no doubt that a little fine-tuning with the traction control settings would allow the rear to come into play a little more.

There seems to be no limit to the number of exotic sports cars these days. A niche formerly occupied by wildly innovative entrepreneurs has now been invaded by the major manufacturers.

The 2007 Gumpert Apollo remains unique because it is the highly personal expression of Roland Gumpert, and this gives it a lasting charm.

More important, the Gumpert Apollo is capable of truly terrifying performance, and it’s the closest thing to a Le Mans-ready sports car that you’ll find with a license plate. It’s amazing that even one of these cars is already on the public roads, much less 15 of them.

Scribbled on February 11th 2009 in Miscellaneous
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