Giant road test #1989
- Giancarlo Perini and Jose Rosinski compare the four fastest cars in the world of 1989.
They gathered, three wedge-shaped Italian monsters, the most visually stunning supercars in the world, all bark and bite and scoops and slats, absurdly yet wonderfully impractical. And, at the new Lambardore racing circuit north of Turin, they met the little German dumpling.
959 looks so out of place, lined up next to the extravert Latins. Short and high, rounded not sharp, and with an exhaust note that whimpers not barks. It looks like a 911, except it's not as nice. As though one of Germany's less skilful tart-up experts was given a free hand to ruin the styling.
But Porsche didn't give a fig for the looks or the presence of the car, when it designed the 959. Ditto the engine note. It was a technological statement. Look what we can do: that was the message to the world's motor industry. Try, if you dare, to come up with a computer-controlled four-wheel-drive twin-turbocharged 200mph road car that has electronically controlled suspension and every other high-tech bit that Porsche could lay its hands on. Nobody has responded to the challenge, quite possibly because Porsche will now reluctantly admit that its technological 'statement' ended up costing a bomb to develop and build: it lost a fortune on the 959, just as surely as those who bought the car new and then sold it secondhand made a packet. Who says the punter can never win?
The three Italians do not try to match the Porsche: they couldn't, even if they tried. The #Ferrari
, the #Lamborghini
and the #Cizeta
(Italy's newest supercar maker, founded by a former Lamborghini employee, and staffed by many of the men who created the original Countach) are all comparatively low-tech. They are traditional supercars: lots of muscle, eye- grabbing styling, two-seaters, plenty of cylinders, beautiful engine presentation, a shaken-and-stirred ride, and not much in the way of creature comforts. Yet, even among the Italians, the characters of the three cars - the V16-powered #Cizeta-Moroder
, the Ferrari F40, and the 25th anniversary Countach - are quite diverse. On paper they are similar, and they have similar styling priorities. Yet, during the testing, they were to prove subtly (and in some cases, not so subtly) different.
Together with the Porsche, the three Italians are the world’s fastest production road cars.
The slowest - the Countach - is good for 190mph, while the Ferrari and the Cizeta will nip just beyond the 200mph mark.
These are the four most valuable modern supercars in the world, as well. Used Ferrari F40s are now changing hands for up to £1 million, more than six times their cost new. Although you can no longer buy a new one - the order book is full - #Ferrari
is still building F40s. to satisfy the 900-plus orders it accepted. The rarer Porsche 959 (only 200 production examples were manufactured) is now worth about half a million: just over three times its cost new. You can't buy a new Countach, cither: the run-out 25th anniversary model (tested here) has buyers for all 400 examples to be produced. New, the Countach 25 costs £98.957. But if you wish to prise one from an owner, you'll need to offer about double that. The Cizeta, then, is the only one in this group that can still be procured new. Production of this V16-powered Italian supercar hasn't started, nor has a price been set. A £250,000 tag seems likely, though, and deliveries to those who got in early are expected to start next year.
Here are the four most powerful road cars ever built, if you exclude the odd turbocharged conversion undertaken by aftermarket specialists. The puniest car of the quartet is the 959 (450bhp), the meatiest the Cizeta (540bnp). The comparison sees a twin- turbocharged six-cylinder vehicle (the 959) battling a twin- turbo V8 (F40) and two normally aspirated multi-cylinder monsters (the V12 Countach and the Cizeta).
Getting them together, in northern Italy, did not prove easy, although matters were helped greatly by Alberto Garnerone, one of the sponsors of the Osclla formula one team, who owns a 959 and an F40. He has ordered a Cizeta as well, and is likely to take delivery next year. For this test, we used the one and only Cizeta running - the white prototype exclusively driven by Steve Cropley at the end of last year (see CAR. January 1989). It was supplied by Claudio Zampolli, who, along with Hollywood conductor Giorgio Moroder, is the car's guiding hand. The Countach 25 came from the Lamborghini factory in Sant'Agata: Garnerone has a Countach 25 on order, too (he currently owns a 'normal' Countach). As well as hard driving on the Lamb8rdore racing circuit, the test included hard driving on the winding public roads north of Turin.
And on the road, there's little doubt that the 959 is the best car. It is the smallest, the most manoeuvrable, the quietest, has easily the best ride, the best grip in the wet (helped by its computer-controlled four-wheel-drive system that automatically distributes power to the axle that most requires it), and is the least intimidating to get in and drive. Porsche 959s feel normal - until you explore the limits of the power. The cockpit is very similar to that of a standard 911, both in terms of instrumentation and space. You sit quite upright, enjoy good all-round visibility, and rest on very ordinary chairs borrowed from the #Porsche-911
. The clutch, brake and throttle pedals are firm, but not heavy, and the steering is power-assisted. Carpet and good-quality plastic line the cabin. The stumpy little leather-bound gear-knob selects the six forward ratios without fuss.
Ferrari F40's twin-turbo V8 pumps out 478bhp, and has most torque.
The dumpy Porsche may cleave the air with the sharpest blade (Cd: 0.31) but it is not the most stable at speed; not by a long shot. At very high speeds - over 160mph - the nose starts to wander, and you find yourself making minute corrections to keep this German missile pointing at the target ahead. Even over 150mph, the 959 has muscle aplenty to spare. Tickle the throttle at that speed, and the nose lifts, the twin-turbo quad-cam flat-six changes note, and Germans fastest car will accelerate. Only the F40 is faster when accelerating over 150mph. Both the Countach and the Cizeta have the muscle, but they are both saddled with too much weight, and, just as important, inferior aerodynamics. The F40 has easily the best power-to-weight ratio: 5.1lb per bhp, compared with the Cizeta (6.9), the 959 (7.0) and the Countach - the most flaccid car in the group - at 7.3lb per bhp.
The engines of all four cars are magnificent, but the 959's wins the prize for most high-tech, and the lemon for worst visual presentation. It is not merely a twin-turbo version of the usual 911 flat-six; far from it. It's a different motor. Of 2.85-litres capacity (a legacy of the 959’s group B racing heritage), using goodly quantities of titanium, breathing through four-valve, water-cooled heads and quad cams and further empowered by twin blowers, the 959’s mighty mouse engine is easily the quietest at low speeds. And, although its deep-throated growl will start to arouse the passions at high speeds, it is the most restrained when you want action - partly because the turbos help silence it, and partly because it’s stuck out over the tail, well away from the cockpit. It's torquey, too. Despite its diminutive size, it pumps out as much torque as the 5.2-litre Countach. The F40's motor is the torquiest, followed by the Cizeta’s V16.
Spartan, race-like F40 cabin. No carpets, lack of ventilation.
Although all four cars nave different characters, the difference is most acute between the 959 and the F40. The performance figures are similar (959: 197mph, F40: 201 mph; both do 0-60mph in just under 4.0sec), and the cars develop broadly similar power outputs (F40: 478bhp, 959: 450bhp). And the power is delivered in a similar manner: both cars are tractable and docile around town or when cantering on A- or B-roads. But when you want to gallop, the twin turbos on both cars give you their all at about 4500rpm, and continue to energise the motors right up to the electronic cut-outs (7300 on the 959,7750 on the F40). But in every other way, the Ferrari and the Porsche are poles apart.
The Porsche co-operates during a drive, the Ferrari taxes you, tests you. The Porsche is quite luxurious, the Ferrari is back-to-basics spartan: there is no carpet, no interior door handles (just bits of cord), no window winders (old Mini-style sliding windows are offered), and precious little in the way either of heat or noise insulation. Long journeys are almost unbearable in the F40. The engine is noisy, even at quite low engine speeds, the huge rubber (Pirelli PZero 245/40VR17S at the front, 335/35VR17s at the rear) drum up so much noise it's almost as though you're riding inside them, and the rock solid dampers and springs make occupants wince on slightly broken roads. The seats are straight out of a group C racer: vast, hard chairs with tall backs and sides that partly envelop the occupant. Racing harnesses, a la Le Mans racer, are used.
The F40 is a racer for the road, simple as that, its engine is more powerful than formula one motors in the pre-turbo days, it rides around on racing-style wishbone suspension (In fact, so do all these cars), and Kevlar and other composite materials are used for the body. Low-tech touches include a space-frame chassis, rather than a monocoque, and the composite materials used - on closer inspection - certainly wouldn't get many racing engineers excited. Things have moved on a bit since the F40 was conceived.
More impressive is the engine, traditionally Ferrari’s for to (although try telling that to Mansell, every time Senna’s Honda-powered car whizzes by on the straights). The F40’s V8 is based on the GTO’s, using the same Japanese IHI blowers and the same large Behr intercoolers. Capacity is increased, though, from the GTO’s 2855cc, to 2936cc, and the turbo boost pressure and compression ratio are increased, too. The F40 is much faster than the GTO, and much more brutal, too. Like the GTO, it’s a #Pininfarina
design. Like the GTO, it’s mid-engined, and the gearbox sticks out behind, racing car-style.
The F40 is comprehensively the quickest car of the bunch, and feels it, too. When the blowers are working hard, the performance is almost frightening. The car simply erupts, like no road car ever built. Corners race towards you, slower cars flash by, crazy speeds are easy. But you must be precise; you must concentrate hard, mistakes are not forgiven. Not only is the F40 physically tiring, by dint of its bone-jarring ride, appalling ventilation and heat-soak into the cockpit from the engine bay; it is mentally exhausting, so taxing is it to drive. That said, no car can travel down a well-surfaced A-road as fast, in the right hands. The rewards, when you have conquered this beast, are rich indeed.
The Cizeta and the Countach occupy the middle ground, lying between the pampered luxury and sure-footedness of the 959, and the frenzied rawness of the F40. Neither is as sensationally fast as the F40, nor as seamlessly brisk as the 959.
Porsche understeers when pushed hard, like all four-wheel-drive cars. Lacks track car fool of F40 or Countach, but Is very safe, secure and good in wet.
Ferrari has best developed chassis, feels like a Le Mans racer. Little body roll, wonderful sharpness. Engine is amazingly tractable and F40 is the quickest.
Counlach feels big, heavy, quite intimidating to drive hard. Yet it’s a sharp handler, with little roll and wonderful grip. Eye catching styling has aged well.
Porsche 959 gels twin-turbo flat-six, water-cooled heads, good for 450bhp.
They are big, wide cars, and feel like big, wide cars. Not only are the cockpits vastly different from any normal road car, so also are the views from them.
The Countach's interior was the main beneficiary of the 25th anniversary model tweaks, introduced last year. New, electronically controlled seats offer a little more room for the driver but, as before. Countach cabins remain claustrophobic, offering little headroom. The feeling of claustrophobia is exacerbated by the lack of glass behind the driver: instead of a rear screen, there is a great big thumping 5.2-litre V12, with 48 valves chattering away in its twin heads, and a huge air box atop the engine cover, restricting what little view would otherwise be offered.
The ventilation of the 25th anniversary model (built to celebrate the quarter-century of Lamborghini production, from 1963-88) has also been altered, and is a vast improvement compared with the stifling old set-up of its predecessor. Alas, the external modifications on this latest Countach do the car no favours. The plastic sill extensions reek of second-division aftermarket conversion, and the bulky body- colour bumpers look more like weals than carefully integrated design. The Countach still looks stunning but, alas, the Gandini styling purity of the original is now more sullied than ever.
Mind you. the revised body style and suspension recalibrations have certainly given the Countach greater directional stability.
Lamborghini supercars - from the Miura to the early Countachs - have always wandered at high speed, but not anymore.
At high speed, the Countach comes the closest to the F40 as the racer for the road. It has barely noticeable body roll, rides firmly (albeit with more suppleness than the rock-hard Ferrari), and is very noisy. Like the F40, it also has a pearl of an engine. The 455bhp V12 has guts down low, and extraordinary muscle up high and makes a quite wonderful noise to boot: it probably plays the nicest music of any car in this comparison and it delivers its urge with greater silkiness, more smoothness. On the race track, it uncersteers more than the Ferrari and doesn't turn into corners with the same obedience. It is a much heavier, older car, so its comparative sloppiness is not surprising. Vet it’s still sharper than the 959 which, like all four-wheel-drive road cars, has tardy high-speed turn-in. and understeers more doggedly than rear-drive rivals.
Despite its age - it was first shown in 1971, and production began in 1974 - the Countach is still the biggest head-turner of the group, the car that people gawk at. And it's the most Buck Rogers-like when you open the door to climb in. For starters, the door moves up, not out (which helps when getting out of the car in a tight parking space.
although low-roofed garages are best avoided). Inside, you get leather and carpet, and thus more luxury than the 959 serves up. never mind the spartan F40. Standard air-conditioning further improves the already improved ventilation. But the noise and the cramped seating position and the poor rear visibility mean Countach motoring is a taxing, not relaxing, experience. To boot, it has massively heavy steering and a balky, hard-to-master gearchange.
In outright performance, the Countach-for many years the world's fastest road car - can’t quite hack it in this company. It just doesn't have the ultimate muscle. Although, in time, it will pierce 184mph (114mpg faster than you can legally drive in Britain), its weight makes breaking the 5.0sec barrier for the 0-60mph sprint difficult, and it doesn’t have the 100mph-plus lung power, or nimbleness, to stay with the F40, or even the 959.
The Cizeta looks almost as outrageous as the Countach and, like the Lamborghini, has a luxurious interior, replete with top-quality leather and first-class carpet. Its similarity to the Countach is no surprise, given that a number of Countach engineers had a hand in its development. As with the Countach, the Cizeta engineers wanted to create a luxurious, quality car, complete with outrageous styling and massive performance. But they did not want the brutality of the F40.
The Cizeta's cabin is roomier than the Countach's, and access to it is much easier. The doors open wide, offering generous ingress, and the sill is low.
Ladies in high heels or men with creaky knee joints will not embarrass themselves by tripping up, before the driving starts. The cabin is much airier than the Lamborghini's, there is noticeably more headroom, and greater width. The vast windscreen, which seems to end not far short of the car’s nose, increases the lightness and airiness of the cabin. And there's much better rear visibility than that offered by the Countach.
The dash of the Cizeta is simpler and. therefore, more attractive than the Countach's kit-car-like set-up. A smallish binnacle contains two big black-on-white instruments - the tacho and the speedo - and a collection of warning lights. There are no other gauges. Cizeta founder Claudio Zampolli reckons other instruments are irrelevant. The warning lights can flash three different colours - green, yellow or red - depending on the seriousness of the problem. The seats of the car are not supportive enough, although they are likely to be changed when production begins.
The Cizeta is easier to drive than the Countach. The only problem is the extreme width: a corollary of that vast mid-engined V16, mounted transversely behind the driver's backbone. Navigating a V16T through a London width restrictor will take skill: a Cizeta measures 81 in across the beam. Bulk aside, there is little to intimidate. The steering is power-assisted, and surprisingly low-geared in this company, and the clutch - though firm - does not require a Charles Atlas course to engage it regularly (unlike the Countach's and F40's). The gearchange though is sticky, awkward. The driving position could be improved: the rake-and reach-adjustable steering wheel is always too close to your knees, the clutch pedal is at an unhelpful angle, and heel-and-toe gearchanging is difficult.
The V16-using quad cams, 64 valves, 10 main bearings and two complete Bosch K-Jetronlc V8 fuel injection systems - has a swept volume of 5995cc, end produces 540bhp. Despite its massive capacity, though, it is not the torquiest engine in the group, losing out narrowly to the twin-turbo F40: the Cizeta produces 400lb ft, the Ferrari 425. The V16 has easily the biggest rev band, though, running out of puff at a motorcycle-like 8500rpm. A blow-up at that speed could almost start a nuclear war.
Predictably, the car has a glorious engine note. It's more V8than V12, lacking the mellowness of the Lamborghini's dozen cylinders. Instead, the note has a bellowing snarl. And apart from running out of puff at 8500rpm, it is capable of pulling cleanly from as little as 1000rpm. The engine is a magnificent achievement.
Almost as unusual is the gearbox. Plainly, there is no room for an end-on box: the big engine has enough trouble fitting transversely as it is. And fitting the gearbox under the engine would have meant a high engine position, and a high centre of gravity. The solution was to mount the gearbox at right angles to the engine, in a T configuration (thus the name, V16T). The power is taken from the centre of the engine, where two crankshafts, one left and one right, are geared into a single output shaft, and fed into a longitudinally mounted #ZF
transaxle. As with the other Italian supercars in this comparison, the Cizeta uses a five-speed box. Zampolli is investigating a six-speeder, though, and entertains some hopes of being able to use the Corvette ZR-1's transmission.
Zampolli asked us not to exceed 140mph in this valuable prototype, largely because he is unhappy with the car's directional stability. The car wanders more than the Countach or F40, no doubt.
New Pirelli P Zero tyres, specially developed for the Cizeta, should cure the problem. Zampolli feels.
The Cizeta doesn't feel quite as sharp as a Countach - not surprising considering its early development stage, and its great mass. At more than 3700lb. the Cizeta needs to lose weight, and Zampolli knows it.
At present, it feels a little softer, a little less precise, but a great deal more civilised: quieter, easier to drive, more flexible. No-one has tested the ultimate performance yet, but Campolli's claims of 0-60mph in 4.0sec (a fraction tardier than the F40 and 959) and top speed of 204mph seem realistic.
Conclusions? The Porsche is the best road car, no doubt. It is the safest (the only one using #Bosch #ABS
), the most secure, the easiest to drive fast, the greatest engineering statement, and is probably the fastest on a narrow #Alpine
pass in the hands of anyone short of Nigel Mansell's ability and bravery.
But perhaps it is a little too antiseptic: almost too good. Driving the other cars in this group is more fun, more of a challenge, more of a special experience. Comparing the 959 with the F40. Gordon Murray, designer of the McLaren formula one car, said: 'The 959 is too boring, the F40 is too exhausting,' and there is some truth in that assessment.
The F40 is the fastest, the most exhilarating, the most demanding, the daftest, the most valuable, the least comfortable, the best handling, the most stable at speed, the least practical. It is the nearest thing there is to a no-compromise supercar. Ferrari set out to make just such a thing, and it has succeeded, spectacularly. But a car primarily designed for the road that is incapable of covering 100 miles comfortably is a fundamentally Hawed car, no matter how exciting it is to drive in short bursts.
Occupying the middle ground, the Countach and the Cizeta make some concession to pampering the driver and passenger, while also offering electrifying performance. They stimulate as only powerful mid-engined cars can. The Countach, though, is starting to age (not surprising, considering it's 15 years old - +26 years for 2015), and its latest clothes do it no favours. And the Cizeta, while potentially the winner of this contest (in that it is reasonably restful, as well as being very zestful), needs more development before we can award it victory in such esteemed company.
But the fact is that none of these Italian supercars is a good road tool. They are built primarily to entertain. And there's no doubt that the Ferrari offers the biggest thrills. It also has the best developed chassis, and is convincingly the quickest of the foursome.
If we had to choose just one car from this group, it would be the F40. The 959 may be a better road car, but if purchasing a good road car is your priority, you would still be wise to shop elsewhere. If you want a thrilling car, though, the Ferrari F40 stands supreme.
But it’s a difficult choice. Alberto Garnerone obviously thinks so, too. That's why he wants one of each.