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Maserati targets 911
Alfieri to go head to head with Porsche talisman | by Andrew Frankel

Maserati boss Harald Wester has confirmed than its stunning Alfieri concept, revealed at this year’s Geneva Motor Show, will be put into production as a direct rival for the Porsche 911. The two-plus-two coupé will go on sale in 2016, powered by a range of V6 twin-turbo engines. Like the 911, it will be available with both rear- and four-wheel drive and in open and closed configurations.

The car comes as the next stage in Maserati’s product onslaught intended to increase sales from fewer than 10,000 units in 2012 to some 75,000 cars by 2018. The new Ghibli is already helping turn the tide, but it is next year’s Levante SUV and then the Alfieri that Maserati hopes will turn the marque into a brand roughly the same size as Jaguar is now.

It is not known how much of the show-stopping Alfieri concept will survive the transition into production, but Italian brands have a long track record of putting on sale cars that look very little different to those first shown as concepts.

Interestingly, Maserati is saying the V8 powerplant used in the current GranTurismo and Quattroporte will not be used in the Alfieri, though it is likely the company is simply keeping it in reserve so it’ll not detract from the impact of the launch models and give them scope for expansion should it decide to produce a GT3 model or a super luxury version to compete with the Jaguar F-type R and Porsche 911 Turbo S. With no diesel rival and the vast majority of sales likely to come from diesel-averse markets like the US, China and Russia, the chances of a diesel-powered Alfieri are slight to non-existent.

Jag builds six more E-types

Half a century after the last one was delivered, Jaguar is to build six new lightweight E-types, each to be sold for a price rumoured to be in excess of a million pounds.

The cars will be identical in every way to the original dozen that were built and sold between 1963 and 1964 and will use the next six chassis numbers, bringing the total production run to the 18 cars originally envisaged.

These will be the first ‘continuation’ cars Jaguar has created and, unlike the famous ‘Sanction II’ Aston Martin Zagatos of the 1980s, will be built in-house by Jaguar staff. Just four Zagatos were created by Aston Martin expert R S Williams and today they still command seven-figure values.

The original lightweight E-types were built in response to the competition success of an E-type modified by John Coombs and raced by the likes of Graham Hill and Roy Salvadori. Unable to change the chassis for homologation reasons, Jaguar nevertheless rebodied the cars entirely in aluminium and deleted much of the interior trim to reduce kerb weight by more than 150kg. Under the skin the cars were fitted with the ultimate-specification wide-angle 3.8-litre motor, complete with Lucas fuel injection and an aluminium block. In this form the engine produced a competitive 300bhp, which it directed through the rear wheels via a five-speed close ratio transmission.

Sadly, however, the lightweights never lived up to their promise and were no match in period for the Ferrari 250GTO, which produced the same power from just three litres and was lighter, easier to drive and far more reliable. Despite being entered for races on both sides of the Atlantic by the likes of Coombs and Briggs Cunningham, the cars failed to score a single important victory and came just as the sports car world was embracing the mid-engined revolution. In more recent times and with far more power now available, cars built to lightweight specification have often proven the class of the field in historic racing, humbling cars they’d rarely have challenged in period.

Audi branches out with TT

Last month we reported Land Rover’s plan to turn both its Discovery and Defender models into sub-brands, each with their own product range, as Range Rover does already with the Evoque and Range Rover Sport. It seems it was not alone in thinking this way.

Audi has now decided that the TT’s currency is too strong to be wasted on a single model with coupé and convertible derivatives. At the Beijing Motor Show in April it showed what it described as the TT Offroad Concept.

When sales begin in two years it will be first of a new family of TT-branded cars that could encompass anything from an Evoque-rivalling crossover SUV, like the Offroad Concept, to an ultra-sporting open two-seater sports car that provides hardcore opposition to the likes of the Porsche Boxster.

Expect other companies with strong-performing individual models to follow suit soon.

Lotus gets a new boss

Lotus has a new Chief executive officer charged with turning the business around for its Malaysian owner, DRB-HICOM.

Jean-Marc Gales (below) is a well-respected figure in the industry; his greatest claim to fame was to be at the helm of the massive PSA organisation between 2009-2012. PSA owns both Citroën and Peugeot and his most visible success was the conception and launch of Citroën’s DS sub-brand. DS has done so well that in China, which is now Citroën’s largest market, it has been launched as a stand-alone marque.

The appointment of such a serious figure to the top seat at Lotus will do much to bolster confidence in a brand brought to the brink in recent years. The disastrous sales of the Evora, the age of the Elise and its Exige derivative and the widely ridiculed expansion plan of former CEO Dany Bahar have destroyed much of the credibility Lotus would once have taken for granted.

Sales have meanwhile been decimated, with fewer than 1000 new cars being built at the company’s low point in 2012. But £100 million of new investment is now going into Hethel with a further £10 million from the government. These are not vast numbers – VW spent more than €10 billion on R&D alone last year – but the company is recruiting engineers, sales are rising slowly and Gales at least must believe the company has a future.

As for DRB-HICOM, it is saying very little about its plans. Having suffered the scorn resulting from Bahar announcing a radical five-model portfolio few believed could be delivered, the approach now seems to be to let actions speak louder than words. Even so it is known that the new Esprit had been all but finished at the time of Bahar’s departure so it is likely it will lead the recovery plan as a low-volume, high-margin model, while a replacement for the Elise – now in its 20th year – is developed. DRB-HICOM has said it expects Lotus to be profitable again next year, which will be some achievement if managed. But it remains to be seen whether it is in for the long haul, or simply wants a return on its investment before shunting Lotus on to the next in a long line of proprietors.

Rivals watch the Leon king

A new squabble has broken out between manufacturers vying to be the fastest to lap the Nürburgring Nordschleife. But this new round of corporate one-upmanship is being played out not by the likes of Porsche, Ferrari and McLaren, but manufacturers of small, mass-produced hatchbacks.

For years Renault had always been the hottest of hot hatch manufacturers around the ’Ring and was closing on an 8min lap when Honda announced its new Civic Type-R would be the first to go under this mark. Seat had other ideas, however, and flung a Leon Cupra R (above) around in 7min 58.4sec. Renault’s response is the Mégane 275 Trophy, with some very trick equipment including an Akrapovic exhaust, a standard limited slip differential, optional fully adjustable Ohlins dampers and the stickiest set of Michelins the company could find. It is due to make its attempt this summer, by which stage Honda should have a representative Type R at the track too. And not to be outdone, after the glowing reception afforded the RCZ-R coupé, Peugeot is believed to be working on an ‘R’ version of the 308 hatchback. This could also join in the fun and games in the Eifel mountains. A lap time of 7min 58sec is a single second slower than the Group C Lancia LC2 of Piercarlo Ghinzani and Paulo Barilla managed in qualifying for the final 1000km race held on the old track, back in 1983.

In brief

Subaru will try to break its own outright lap record for a production car around the Isle of Man TT course. Driven by rally ace Mark Higgins, the WRX STi will attempt to beat the 19min 57.6sec lap he set in the car’s predecessor in 2011. The STi will be standard save for safety equipment and uprated dampers designed to reduce the risk of the car being damaged over the course’s many jumps. Higgins’ last attempt became an internet sensation, claimed by Subaru to have been seen by almost 10 million people, largely because of his lock to lock ‘save’ going down Bray Hill at 150mph, described by him as “the biggest moment of my life”.

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