August 26, 2020 By Kevin C. Limjoco Photos by James H. Deakin

2005 Gumpert Apollo

The Storied Supercar

The amazing Gumpert Apollo, designed by Marco Vanetta and manufactured out of Denkendorf, Bavaria, Germany, tore tarmac from 2005-2012. A month after we tested the Apollo in Monte Carlo, it made its racing debut driven by Belgian race driver Ruben Maes in the 2005 German Divinol Cup (now called DMV Gran Turismo and Touring Car Cup) and placed third on the Hockenheimring race track. In January 2016, the company was purchased by Hong Kong consortium Ideal Team Venture which also owns the De Tomaso marque. In November 2016, the company announced that former owner and founder Roland Gumpert was no longer associated with the company or its current or future projects. The company was renamed Apollo Automobil GmbH after the acquisition by its new owner.

Behind the greatest cars are greater people. To 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 Gumpert. Yes, we too were honestly unaware of the aspiring company or the man. The name Gumpert itself vaguely rang a bell. We knew of the former Audi engineer but we didn’t fathom the depth of who he was and what his accomplishments were to merit his contention for supercar supremacy. So, when we did see the porcelain white Apollo racecar on a 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!). Serendipitously, we were on the way to the French Riviera on a BMW M6 (E63) with M-driver’s package, BMW Z4 M Roadster (E85), and Audi S4 (8EC) when we passed the truck.

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 and 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 how we began our 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 road and track requirements. The Apollo can do both with mild modifications!

In such a highly competitive market with scarce room to secure while also being extremely uncompromising, 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. Commonly 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 family like so many others in the era suffered greatly.

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 employment application but he chose to work for only one: Audi, and never looked back until he retired. 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 owned a significant share of Porsche, roughly 13%. To prevent conflict among the many family members, a policy was established in early 1972 that no Porsche family member was allowed to be involved in the management of the company. Even company founder Ferry Porsche (Ferdinand Anton Ernst Porsche), Piëch’s uncle, only held a seat on the supervisory board of Porsche after the company’s legal reform that changed from 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 Quattro system was born.

 

A LITTLE HISTORY LESSON

The newly formed German Bundeswehr (Federal Defense Forces) 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 units of 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 only furnished its name and the capital needed. During the fall of 1975, the first talks took place, and in 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, the front differential incorporated in the gearbox, a four-wheel-drive system based around components from the Audi 100 and a 1.7-liter 4-cylinder Audi engine producing a modest 75 bhp. Roland engineered this four-wheel-drive system by forging two Audi 100 differentials linked by his bespoke 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 were 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 tundra’s, 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 as these efforts were paramount to 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 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 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 600 bhp S1. This car, and the rivals it inspired proved to be so rapid that it was banned a year later. It could go from 0-100 km/h in 2.4 seconds! Racing legends Stig Blomqvist, Hannu Mikkola, my 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 was given the task to have 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 racecar is the brainchild of Roland Gumpert and Roland Mayer, owner of famous German tuner MTM. The central interface and the coordinator of the project is 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 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 theoretically be driven on the roof of the wind tunnel at high speed. Roland claims that “the design of the Apollo is optimized so that the car could drive upside-down in a tunnel if driven at sufficiently high speeds of over 306 km/h.” He can’t emphasize enough that his car has achieved the almost impossible with the Apollo while maintaining its unique aesthetics.

Being a motorsport man, Roland designed the 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 basepoint of 650 bhp up to 800 bhp. Sounds ridiculous but for the very discerning customers at this level, it makes plenty sense.

Roland strongly feels the Apollo 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 952 bhp EVOMS Porsche 911 Turbo I tested in Tempe, Arizona has the crown for the most unmanageable power. The fully sequential gearbox does need some getting used to but its real handicap is its ground clearance which is perfect on the Nürburgring but not on slippery wet narrow country roads in the South of France. The Apollo was insanely low to the ground, practically unusable on public roads until the engineers dialed in a little more height into the test car to ensure 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 265/35ZR19 front and 345/35ZR 20 rear Pirelli tires, the grip should have been delirious however I got sabotaged in Monaco with the street cleaners soaking the roads in the early morning with visible soap suds. With 650 bhp driving only the rear wheels in a car lighter than a standard Honda Civic, acceleration was like a sledgehammer had been slammed on your chest on every gear. Even on 3rd-gear I would break the tail ever so 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 eventually tailed us “under observation” which effectively threw me off my game.

Every scoop and duct on the Apollo are 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 made 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, it can be driven to any Audi dealership for regular maintenance through the OBD (onboard diagnostic system), and it’s still one of the fastest and entertaining cars available.

Gumpert has an official supply contract with Audi (hence the 5-valve 4.2-liter dohc 90° V8). 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 extra weight on the car. The company aims to build 30 Apollo’s a year, with production rising to 150 cars within three years.

Specifications

Engine

Engine V8
Displacement 4163 cc
Cylinder Head dohc 40V
Fuel Injector Sequential Multi-Port Injection, VVT, Intercooled Twin-Turbo
Max Power (bhp @ rpm) 650 bhp @ 6000 rpm
Max Torque (lb/ft @ rpm) 627 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
Transmission 6-speed Sequential Manual

Performance

Top Speed 360 km/h (225 mph)
0-100 km/h | 0-62 mph 2.9 sec.

Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions

Fuel Milage (km/l) 13.5 mpg (5.8 km/l) overall

Ratings

Price as Tested (PHP) (2005) €192,000.00
What's Great Ludicrous speed, devastating performance, out-of-this-world looks, unique, and characterful.
What's Not So Difficult to acquire, severely compromised on public roads, short-lived.
C! Editors Rating 10/10
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