July 07, 2006 By Kevin C. Limjoco

Gumpert Apollo Racecar

 

Behind the greatest cars are greater people. In order fully appreciate the product you must first understand the visionary and then the vision. To break from tradition we will first present to you the man himself, the driving force behind Gumpert Sportwagenmanufaktur: Ronald G

pages in EVO issue 004, we too were honestly unaware of the aspiring company. The name Gumpert itself vaguely rang a bell, we knew the Audi engineer but we didn’t fathom the depth of who he was and what his accomplishments were precise to merit contention for supercar supremacy. EVO UK Motoring editor John Barker shed considerable light on the man, the company and the car but hadn’t actually driven the Apollo. So when we did see the porcelain white Apollo racecar on the flatbed on the way to Monaco from their new facility in Münich we made it our goal to be the first to drive the car and also get to know the man (we had a lot of questions!).

It was our third time to the Top Marques Autoshow, but Gumpert’s first time to present the car to the grand public. So if you can imagine, the Gumpert booth was a frenzy of activity with prospective customers eager to find out what this standout car was, what it could do. At a starting base price of just over €190,000.00, it was the supreme high performance “bargain” at the show. And that was started the conversation which eventually led to our over 2-hour exclusive interview with the soft-spoken Roland Gumpert. Roland insists on satisfying his costumer by realizing their dreams as economically and technically feasible as possible for both the road and track requirements. In fact, Apollo can do both with mild modification!

In such a highly competitive market with scarce room to secure and while also being extremely unforgiving Roland and his partners have a very tough challenge ahead. However as we now understand it, Roland is used to almost insurmountable demands and risks. Only real intensely intimate insiders and automotive chroniclers would know the finer details behind the corporate curtain. As in any large corporation, usually, only the top guns and decision-makers are known. Worse, many take the credit for efforts accomplished by others, such as the early history of Roland Gumpert. Though born to an affluent East German printing family before World War II, the Gumpert famil like so many others in the era suffered from losing their wealth and was forced to scatter to survive.

 

 

After the war, Roland persevered, fresh out of university with an engineering degree in hand sought jobs in the automotive industry. Over a dozen companies accepted his application for employment but he chose to work for only one: Audi, and never looked back until he retired just last January 2006. Roland rose through the ranks because of his penchant for effective innovations in the crunch. As a rising star in Audi, he had his share of adversity primarily from his superiors and parallel fellow engineers. But Thankfully the most important man in Audi was in his corner from the very beginning, Dr. Ferdinand Piëch.

Piëch owns a significant share of Porsche, roughly 13%. In order to prevent conflict among the many family members, a policy was established in early 1972 that no Porsche family member allowed to be involved in the management of the company. Even company founder Ferry Porsche, Piëch’s uncle, only held a seat on the supervisory board of Porsche after the company’s legal reform, a changed form a limited partnership to a private legal company. This made Piëch move to Audi after the foundation of his engineering bureau. So from 1972 to 1992, Roland worked tirelessly for Piëch, eventually developing a keen friendship. It was in 1975 while Piëch was the lead manager of technological engineering for Audi that Roland was tasked to develop the Iltis, a car designed especially for the German military. It was then that the foundation of the Quatrro system was born.

 

A LITTLE HISTORY LESSON

The newly formed German Bundeswehr ( Federal Army) invited the German car industry to submit pilot models for the new Army’s Light Support Vehicle back in 1954. Auto Union’s DKW Munga was selected and it was in production from 1956 to 1968. It was then going to be replaced by the Europa-Jeep, a product of a joint venture between France, West Germany, and Italy by the end of 1968; however, the Bundeswehr was getting anxious for the delayed delivery so they decided to procure a stop-gap vehicle to replace the DKW Munga. That vehicle was the 1969 Volkswagen type 181 multi-purpose vehicle called the “Thing”. The Thing was meant to be a temporary substitute largely based on commercial VW vehicles to keep development and production economical. It had rear-wheel drive only with an optional self-locking differential so it had limited off-road capability.

When the Europa-Jeep was finally canceled in 1976, the Bundeswehr issued a new requirement for 8,800 4×4 vehicles with a cargo capacity of 500 kg payload cross country and climb grades of up to 60.9 degrees. The amphibious requirement was dropped. Both Daimler-Benz and Volkswagen were approached to build prototypes for trials. Volkswagen, meanwhile, had acquired Auto Union in Ingolstadt in 1965, dropped the DKW marque and resurrected Audi. Audi, being the successor of the original Munga manufacturer, was interested in producing field cars for the Bundeswehr. Volkswagen really only furnished its name and the capital needed. During the fall of 1975, the first talks took place, and on May 1976 a contract was closed.

With the experience from the Munga, the Iltis had the natural progression of technology. The vehicle featured a variation of the Munga, platform with newly modified suspension components, the drivetrain had independent suspension with transversal leaf springs and wishbones, interchangeable suspension components, drive shafts for the front and rear, and the front differential incorporated in the gearbox, a four-wheel-drive system based around components from the Audi 100 and a 1.7 liter four-cylinder Audi engine producing a modest 75 bhp. Roland engineered this four-wheel-drive system by forging two Audi 100 differentials linked bu his own center Torsen differential design which provided the basis for Audi’s Quattro system, debuting four years later in 1980 on the original Audi Quattro Coupé. The board decided to badge the product as a VW rather than as an Audi in the hopes that this would help promote positive linking to the existing VW military design and give them a boost over the competition.

Although the Iltis was first produced for the German Army starting in 1978 and limited quantities for the civilian market soon after, in 1983 the Canadian Government bought the rights and the tooling to manufacture the Iltis from Volkswagen while Bombardier produced 6000 units for the Canadian Army in 1984 and 1985. Production moved back to Europe in 1987 where a final run was made for the German and Belgium armies. Production of the Iltis stopped in 1988. The Bundeswehr later replaced the VW Iltis with its former contender, the Mercedes G-class.

 

BACK TO THE MAN

The military Iltis was just the beginning. Roland Gumpert and Dr. Ferdinand Piëch in 1977 began the development of a car for the World Rally Championship; the final result was the legendary all-wheel-drive Audi Quattro. However before the final Quattro race cars were built, more research and development was necessary. Roland was one of the pioneers of extensive R&D testing under extreme conditions for world market feasibility. Before him, rarely were European production cars ever tested outside of their primary markets. Yes, the now common fundamental testing in African deserts, barren freezing tundras, multi-race circuit testing, and the like across the globe was structurally pioneered by Audi under the leadership of Piëch with the groundbreaking logistics and strategies of Gumpert. You can thank him profusely as we did at these efforts were paramount into producing the quality of cars found today and the future. Thus, Audi with Roland as manager fielded a team to compete at the Paris-Dakar Rally in 1979 using specially configured Iltis vehicles, and you guessed it, they achieved victory even if their own Audi colleagues had previously antagonized their efforts!

After that tremendous rally success, Roland was rewarded with Audi’s Sport’s motorsport management. Under his helm, Audi earned 25 World Rally Championships with a 4-year sweep at its peak. Combine that with the achievements at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and you have a man with tremendous experience and the foundation to create his own cars with a highly skilled team of professionals.

Back in 1981, Audi stunned the world with the introduction of the first all-conquering Quattro, a car that introduced the supercar world to the merits of all-time four-wheel drive. It won its second rally and development was swift – four years later the company arrived at the 600bhp S1. This car, and the rivals it inspired proved to be so rapid that it was banned a year later. It had the capability to go from 0-100 km/h in 2.4 seconds! Racing legends Stig Blomqvist, Hannu Mikkola, our personal favorite Walter Rӧhrl and the female driver, Michéle Mouton all had their triumphs as well as tribulations in this beast that started the “S-Line” for special Audi variants.

Roland Gumpert though principally an innovator and engineer was continually rewarded for his continued successes and eventually given the task to lead a leadership role in the immerging china market. It was Roland who was instrumental in Audi’s marketing and manufacturing success in China for the A4 and A6.

 

THE APOLLO

The car is the brainchild of Roland Gumpert and Roland Mayer, owner of famous German tuner MTM. The central interface and the coordinator of the project are Uwe Bleck who is also from Audi. Gumpert’s shield-shaped badge is imprinted with the sign of the mythological griffin – half lion and half eagle. Roland reasons that the symbol unites the courage of the lion with the speed and precision of the eagle. Roland then explains to as before anything else that the car was always a dream of his and that it had generated enough downforce from its aerodynamic efficiency that it could be theoretically by driving on the roof of the wind tunnel at high speed. He can’t emphasize enough that his car has achieved the almost impossible with the Apollo while maintaining its striking but good looks.

Being a motorsport mn, Roland designed Apollo to be race worthy with minimal modifications. A customer can not only individualize the appearance of the car inside and out but tailor the car’s performance envelope from a 650bhp up to 800bhp. Sounds ridiculous but for the very discerning customers at this level, it makes plenty sense.

Brushing up on my Greek mythology, Apollo is the son of the god of war Zeus and is responsible for victory in battle. Roland strongly feels the name emulates the car that he and his team have worked so hard on building. It does look striking in the flesh to be sure. The road car featured in the show is their luxury showcase. The tangerine show car has such luxuries as a navigational system, climate control, audio system, power mirrors, and windows, and a rearview camera for reversing since it’s almost impossible to get an accurate full view of what is behind or what you blew past. The color-coordinated combination of leather, body paint, and carbon fiber is attractive. Audi switchgear and TT air vents are a dead giveaway of the close ties between the newly formed company and Audi.

The white racecar I drove is a stark contrast having no luxuries at all nor did it have any sound insulation. It was raw but surprisingly quite unintimidating to drive. The 952bhp EVOMS Porsche 911 Turbo I tested in Arizona in EVO issue 001 has the crown for the most unmanageable power. The fully sequential gearbox does need some getting used to but its real handicap is its height which is perfect on the Nürburgring but not on slippery wet narrow country roads on the South of France. Both cars were insanely low to the ground, practically unusable on public roads until the engineers dialed in a little more height into the test car to insure some basic drivability but it was a major limiting factor.

The Apollo is the most scantily clothed barely disguised full-blown race car. Its execution is similar to that of a Noble M400. Though it is powerfully masculine while the Noble reminds me of a cartoon. I fit in the fixed racing bucket seats, well just. I did find it initially disheartening that I had to remove the steering wheel to get into the driver’s seat; James Deakin had his usual snide remarks about my girth but was swiftly silenced when he realized that it’s the only way to fit into the seat for everyone.

 

 

On semi-slick Pirelli tires the grip should have been delirious however I got sabotaged in Monte Carlo with the street cleaners soaking the roads in the early morning. With 650bhp driving only the rear wheels in a car lighter than a Honda Civic, acceleration was like a sledgehammer had been slammed on your chest, every gear until 3rd I would break the tail ever to gently like a lovely Hawaiian Hula thanks to the wet soapy road. The great news though was the entire Monaco F1 street course was completely empty until our repeated laps roaring about caught the attention of Prince Albert’s finest who held back and observed effectively throwing me off my game.

Every scoop and duct on the Apollo is functional. Roland and his team believe in a unique package but also don’t want to compromise the appeal with elements that would make it look like a poser. It looks and drives the part I assure you. With additional suspension tuning to accommodate public roads accordingly and high-performance summer tires, the Apollo would be very difficult to top. As a bonus Roland make sure that the car had functioning active safety measures, unlike many exotic supercars, the Apollo has both traction control as well as ABS, though the traction control may be getting too great a workout. The car isn’t for everyone mainly because of its looks, uncontested branding, and packaging. But that’s great, the car maintains its exclusivity, the car can be driven to any Audi dealership for regular maintenance through the OBD (onboard diagnostic system), and it’s still one of the fastest most fun vehicle available.

Gumpert has an official supply contract with Audi; Roland volunteers ‘we can use Audi’s know how to build our cars so long as we don’t build a direct rival to a model in their range’ Ironically, the father of Quattro did not install the system in his car as it would have deviated from his vision to build for the purists. He didn’t want any weight on the car. The company aims to build 30 Apollo’s a year, with production rising to 150 cars within three years.

 

 

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