The Germans were out in force at Frankfurt, but reborn TVR also made its presence felt with the help of Gordon Murray
The Frankfurt Motor Show was not so much stolen by the unveiling of the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE hypercar as ram-raided and taken hostage. For lovers of interesting cars it could have been mistaken for the only show in town – which is why we have done a technical deep dive into its complexities, starting on page 118. But while this was a quieter Frankfurt than most, the mad Merc was far from the only point of interest.
Bentley, for instance, chose Frankfurt to reveal its most important car of the last 14 years. Or, perhaps without the usual avalanche of important product at its home show, the VW board decided as much for its subsidiary. In any event, the new Continental GT appeared to strike the right chord with showgoers, who welcomed its more attractive shape, slight (80kg) weight drop and spectacular interior.
I still don’t buy into the brand’s insistence on having large inner headlights and smaller outer units (a nod to the way it was done on Bentleys of the 1920s, as if anyone cares), but the rest is very fluently executed. And the way the cabin marries state-of-the-art digital technology and huge high-definition screens with traditional wood and leather materials is something I have yet to see done better elsewhere.
It has a 6-litre, twin-turbo W12 engine and permanent four-wheel drive, which makes it seem remarkably similar to the last car when it was launched in 2003. It is anything but: the engine is descended from the old unit but actually entirely new and the new four-wheel-drive system has an infinitely variable front to rear split. It also runs through an eight-speed double-clutch gearbox, the first Bentley not to use a torque converter automatic since the 1950s. In its ‘Dynamic’ driving mode it limits front axle torque to just 17 per cent and, I am assured, drifts beautifully as a result. The last one only ever understeered.
The new engine develops 626bhp and pushes the car to 207mph – and remember this is just the start: with ‘Speed’ and other more sporting versions to come, power outputs far above 700bhp can be expected and, thanks to the size and modernity of the engine, easily achieved. However the next Continental GT we’ll see will likely be the V8-powered GT3 racer that should make its debut with the works team early next year.
The other luxury VW brands were conspicuously quiet at Frankfurt. Audi broke the habit of a decade, however, and unveiled a new R8 that directs power to its rear wheels alone. The deletion of the front driveshafts saves 50kg and should result in a more focused, better balanced car, albeit at the cost of on-paper performance – traction issues means the 0-62mph time increases from 3.2 to 3.6sec.
Just 999 cars will be made in coupé and convertible formats, the closed car retailing for £110,000 when deliveries begin early next year, representing a saving of £13,350 over the most affordable all-wheel-drive R8.
Porsche of course had the new Cayenne at the show, but as regulars may already have seen I’ve driven and reviewed the car, so we can hardly call that news. However, the unveiling of a new ‘Touring’ specification for the GT3 undoubtedly is.
Fans of old 911s will remember the fabled 1973 2.7 Carrera RS was sold in ‘Lightweight’ and ‘Touring’ specifications and this appears to be a return to that philosophy. The new car is mechanically identical to a standard GT3 with a manual gearbox, but trades the vast rear wing for something far more subtle. Inside, the Alcantara cabin has been replaced by leather. Customers unlikely to be knocked out by this news will be those who paid wildly over the odds for last year’s limited-edition 911R, because the Touring appears to be a production version of this car in all but name. Whether it will have any effect on the hitherto extraordinary residual values of the 911R remains to be seen.
Ferrari took the chance to show its all-new Portofino – a hard-top convertible replacement for the successful California T. There is, of course, a further development of its 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8, which means the cheapest, least powerful Ferrari now has no fewer than 592bhp and a top speed a single mile per hour short of 200mph. It is also a much better looking car with a cleaner shape adding both prettiness and presence.
But the real news lies unseen in the car’s brand-new structure which, while still all aluminium, has been rationalised and simplified. The total number of components in the chassis has fallen from 200 to about 120 and in the A-pillars from 21 to just two. The result is a car that’s 80kg lighter yet 35 per cent torsionally more rigid than before. The Portofino also follows the recent adoption of electric power steering by the 812 Superfast flagship and finally gets the electronically controlled differential other Ferraris have enjoyed for years. UK deliveries of the car are not expected until next summer.
TVR RIDES AGAIN
For those who missed the Goodwood Revival, TVR is back in business. It was at the West Sussex event that the company decided to unveil its all-new Griffith, a two-door, rear-drive, manual transmission 5-litre V8 powered coupé engineered and designed for TVR by Gordon Murray’s company. Deliveries are expected to take place from 2019, with cars being built in a factory in the Welsh valleys (TVR hopes to have the keys in the second quarter of next year).
The motor, based on that of a Ford Mustang but breathed on by Cosworth, develops 500bhp, enough says TVR to push the Griffith to more than 200mph while light weight comes courtesy of Murray’s innovative iStream production process, featuring a spaceframe chassis to which structural carbon fibre panels are attached before the body – also made from carbon – is added. One result is that the car is said to weigh just 1250kg, making it far lighter than the likes of the Porsche 911 GT3 or McLaren 570S.
Initial production will extend to 500 cars priced at £90,000. Thereafter cheaper and more expensive versions will become available. The hope is that annual production will in time stabilise at about 2000 units.
Away from the Frankfurt Show, Bugatti staged its own publicity stunt by inviting Juan Pablo Montoya to climb into its 1500bhp Chiron hypercar and see how long it took to accelerate from rest to 400kph (249mph) and back to a halt again.
The answer is 42 seconds, with just over half a minute required to reach 249mph and 10sec flat to lose it.
Next up is an attempt on its own homologated road car top-speed record, held by the 1200bhp Veyron Supersport at 268mph. With a further 300bhp under the driver’s foot, something over 280mph could be possible.