THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO
7 Series is not a car many of us would think of modding but this owner clearly thinks differently… or should that be Thunderbirds Are Low? We’ve tracked down Thunderbird 7, and it’s skimming the Romanian asphalt like a VIP stealth missile.
Readers of a certain chronological advancement will be familiar with Thunderbirds. Not the iffy #2004
movie, but the original #1965
TV series; filmed using Supermarionation (which sounds like a Nintendo game, but is a real thing), it showcased the adventures of International Rescue, a philanthropic sub-superhero outfit run by the Tracy family – dad Jeff, and his five sons Scott, John, Virgil, Gordon and Alan. Their secret identities were presumably anchored in the fact that if you were to meet someone called Alan Tracy in the pub, you probably wouldn’t assume he was planning to take down an international terrorist ring that wanted to extinguish the sun.
The five sons had access to a fleet of outlandish vehicles – the imaginatively-titled Thunderbird 1, along with 2, 3, 4 and 5. One of them was a rocket plane, another was a space station, yet another was a weaponised submersible… But why are we discussing Thunderbirds in a mag about modified BMWs? Aha, the answer is simple: we’ve found one of the Thunderbirds, and he’s driving something you might be interested in.
As you may be aware, ITV is bringing back Thunderbirds for #2015
, so it was inevitable that the original cast would gradually seep from the woodwork at some point, and we’ve tracked down Virgil Tracy to the architecturally fabulous city of Oradea in western Romania. For reasons of stealth, he’s been going under the name of Virgil Halacu for the last half-century or so, and presenting himself to the world as a 21-yearold human being rather than some kind of sophisticated marionette. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly him – and while Virgil’s original craft, Thunderbird 2, was a shiny green supersonic transporter aircraft, today’s vehicle of choice is an F01-generation #BMW
7 Series. Thunderbird 7, if you will.
The parallels, when you consider the details, are manifold and obvious. Most noticeably, the way they both air themselves out: if you search YouTube for ‘Thunderbird 2 launch sequence’, you’ll see the retro-futurist ship lowering down on to its central body pod; in much the same way, Virgil’s custom suspension sees him planting the #730d
on to the Tarmac at the flick of a switch.
“I’d been thinking about getting a new stance project for a while,” he explains. “I bought this car from a friend in #2012
, and for about a year I just used it as it was while I figured out what I wanted to do. Then, at the end of #2013
, another friend told me about a guy he knew in Budapest who’d be able to build me a custom air-ride system, so that was the decision made there and then.”
The details and specs of the setup are a closely guarded secret, as you might expect – after all, why would Virgil want to be sharing Brains’ blueprints around? The last thing he’d want to do would be to give any enemies of the state a strategic advantage. The path to ownership of this 7 Series had been a long and convoluted one as well, with Virgil flitting from one project to another and seemingly wanting to try a little of everything from the global motoring buffet, like some greedy magpie. Since swapping from fictional 5000mph aircraft to real-world motors, he’s seen and done a lot of things that most of us could only dream of. He does have an eye for the high-end fare, you see. “My first car was a #Hummer
H3,” he explains, “and I’ve had various projects including an #Audi
A6, a #VW #Touareg
V8, and a #Mercedes-Benz
S550. But I love the shape of the #F01
7 Series, and I really wanted one as it’s got a full-on mafia look.” Hold up. Did he just say…? Has one of the original Thunderbirds abandoned the core principles of International Rescue in order to follow the shady path of Sicilian organised crime? Crikey. That new TV series is going to be pretty dark.
You can see where he’s coming from though, there’s a tangible ooze of mafioso chic from the chunky, solid lines of the 730d, gleaming menacingly in evil black like Hotblack Desiato’s spaceship (to throw another obscure sci-fi reference into the mix). Virgil saw fit to beef up this luxurious outline with a sprinkling of upgrades from the #760i
’s M Performance package – check out the chunkier bumpers and the rakishly angled quad exhausts – while much of the chrome trim has been blacked out for reasons of menace. The headlights have been darkened too, with the simmering devilishness of red angel eyes offering a ‘get out of my way’ motorway presence.
And if you’re going to the effort of plumbing air-ride into your jam jar, you’ve got to give some thought to the wheels. Virgil’s channelling the cunning brainpower of the Thunderbirds workshop here by choosing a special set of rims for his imposing ride – namely 20” Vossen CVTs. “I might think about another brand one day, but right now I love the Vossen life!” he grins (his current Audi project, for reference, rolls on a set of CV3s). The CVT is a pretty sci-fi design, in that it’s a directional wheel; whereas most sets of wheels require one mould, or perhaps two, these rollers require a different mould for each unique wheel, given that the spokes point different ways on either side. They’re angled to create an illusion of motion even when stationary, which is a classier technique than bolting a load of spinners on.
“I’m proud of how the car’s come out,” Virgil says, and he’s right to be. “It ended up being in Budapest for quite a while, as parts had to be ordered specially from the US, and then there was lots of trial-and-error with mounting, notching, modifying, remounting, all to get the car sitting as low as it could physically go. The chassis genuinely does sit on the floor when it’s aired out. But most of all, I’m proud because this is a proper Romanian build (with a little help from Hungary) – I wanted to show the worldwide stance scene that we can do it too!” Admirable sentiments indeed. But isn’t all of this civic pride distracting Virgil from his duties – what if someone tries to nuke Antarctica, or steal all of the copper ore from the bowels of the Earth in order to build a massive, hideous interstellar weapon? Fear not, he’s got more than enough power on his side to get the job done with quiet panache. The running gear may be stock, but the phrase ‘stock running gear’ belies an element of surprise when you’re talking about an F01 – even a 730d. That 3.0-litre straight-six eagerly harnesses the swirling might of forced induction to unleash a galloping 242hp, which is more than enough to spirit him into the heart of a terror’s way if so required. He gets to travel in swish leather-lined luxury, too – go on, check out the big-screened splendour of the cabin and tell us you don’t think it’s better than the bridge of Thunderbird 2.
So, does all of this rumbling Romanian menace suggest a new direction for International Rescue? A fleet of modified BMWs, ready to take on the evils of the world with a can-do attitude and a ready disdain for miscreant lawbreakers? Well, we can only hope. But if this is what Virgil’s been up to, imagine what other tweaked Bavarian fare we’re likely to see emerging from Tracy Island in the near future. If it’s anywhere near as badass as this low-slung 730d, we can all be thoroughly grateful for his mischievous streak. Look out, bad guys – Thunderbirds are go!
DATA FILE #BMW #F01 #730d
ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: 3.0-litre straight-six turbodiesel #N57
D3000 , eightspeed automatic gearbox.
CHASSIS: 9x20” (front) and 10.5x20” (rear) monoblock directional #Vossen
CVTs with 235/30 (front) and 295/30 (rear) Pirelli P Zero tyres, custom air-ride setup.
-spec M Sport all-black additions, carbon fibre bootlid spoiler, tinted headlights with multi-coloured LED angel eyes.
INTERIOR: Stock cream leather interior.