Peter Dignan puts on his flying goggles to try out the new super car that can drive upside down.
Roland Gumpert may not be a name many recognise, but the legendary car created while at the helm of Audi Sport in the 80s will be. The Audi Quattro. So when a man who has directed four World Rally Championship titles for Audi starts a company, naturally their first car would bias towards racing, built with Audi components, and a new name to remember. The Gumpert Apollo.
Left hand drive fun
The Apollo, luckily a shorter name than the company's full one, Gumpert Sportswagenmanufaktur GmbH, is built on Roland's dream. "To have a car that has so much downforce, such aerodynamic efficiency, that you can drive upside down on the roof of a tunnel at high speed." Without a tunnel available PistonHeads was invited to Brands Hatch, by the UK and Ireland distributors Racetech UK, to try this new anti-gravitational car out.
Looking at the stats sheet this car boasts some impressive figures. From standstill to 62mph takes 3 seconds, 124mph in 8.9 seconds and accelerating all the way to a max speed of 224mph. The Apollo is light on its feet too, weighing in at 1200kg, and with the optional power upgrades this car has a better power to weight ratio than the McLaren F1 supercar. This performance doesn't come cheap, £215,000 for the base model and up to £325,000 for the 800bhp Apollo Race version.
Wide arches hiding the 19 inch wheels
First glance at the car in the flesh the looks mix emotions; it doesn't share the beauty or form of its Italian rivals, but the big arches and broad shoulders forces anyone to take a second glance, a pointer to the performance underlying its objective style. The gull wing doors emphasise the aerodynamic preference in the design, hours in the wind tunnel perfecting the shape of the car from the underneath diffuser, up to the air intake above your head. I personally love it, but like the car, my heart is one of racing.
The marmite syndrome does not cross to the engine. The Audi 4.2l Bi-turbo V8 produces 650bhp in the base car, with 850Nm of torque, plus a roar from the exhaust with a deep throaty feel that would worry Thor. If added to the GT series as it - and Gumpert - so desire, it would certainly sit harmoniously between the Italian and Aston screams to the Vettes low rumbles.
Quick release steering wheel!
Getting into the car is a challenge in itself, the side pods have to be negotiated without too many hand holds to help, definitely not a graceful entrance or exit for Kensington high street, but not too much hassle if at a track. Though I expect to see yoga classes added to the optional extras soon.
Once inside, the cockpit feels spacious mainly down to the instruments practicality than design, leaving empty aluminium, graphite and leather between dials and TT like air vents across the dash. The seating position places the eye line across the top of the rather large steering wheel, but like most of the car this can be customised for each customer, along with pedal distance, cushions and steering wheel height.
The massive rear deffuser
With the car started and four point harness connected it is time to drive. The first thing that hits you on exiting the pit lane is the pure torque of the car, this thing just pulls. Be it 2k revs or 6k, the constant kick in the back acceleration leaves you smiling, and not just through g-force. The only strange thing is the deceptive speed of the car, it does a good job at making you not feel overwhelmed by the acceleration, but when you fly pass an SLK 55 AMG with ease you realise the velocity you are going at.
Unlike it's defiance of one of Newton's discoveries, gravity, this cars handling is the epitome of his third law of motion. Everything you do is reacted equally by the car, treat it mean and it will react in a mean way back, be smooth and the car will reward you with gliding smoothness. But regardless of the driving style the car talks in fluent ease through the steering wheel and seat so you can react perfectly to anything it does. It's rare to jump into a car and feel at ease to floor it out of Druids and hold the back end without fear of the chassis snapping back on you, or switch effortlessly through the left of Surtees into the right of Maclaren without a sign of twitching.
This smoothness is not mirrored by the clever gearbox. The car comes with a fully synchronised sequential six-speed gearbox with a manually operated twin-disc clutch which in driving language means you still have a clutch pedal but a touring car style shift stick, push up to go up the gearbox, pull back for down. The system is similar to the DSG from Audi with the addition of a clutch pedal. The gear change requires brute force or else you will end up in neutral, not a real problem, but with the delicately rewarded driving style does make you feel like you are rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time.
The car does come with driving aids to help the driver, but they don't feel restrictive to the experience. The big six piston callipers slow the car down quickly without the ABS kicking in, and then back on the acceleration without the traction control interrupting the fun. All fully unnoticeable, the way they should be.
No room for the golf clubs
Great handling and huge power are hard ingredients to combine, but Gumpert have managed it. I have no doubt that this car can drive upside down, and on the road you will be slowing on roundabouts due to catching your tail up than lack of grip. It's hard to gain a true impression of a car with limited laps on a race track, but with the ease in which the chassis felt familiar it is an awesome handling car. My only worry is where its identity lies in the super car market; with the ease of entry and exit and the space to store anything it isn't as user friendly as most super cars. In essence the Gumpert Apollo is just a race car with a boot.