Sweden doesn't have a space program, per se. But it is building a rocket.
This time next year, if all goes well, the Koenigsegg CCV8 will have been enshrined in the record books as the fastest production car in the world. Should all the math modeling and aerodynamics work--and the car doesn't wing itself into the blue over Nardo, Italy's storied test track--it will attain a top speed of about 240 mph. The current record of 231 mph is held by the McLaren F1, now out of production.
The title "world's fastest" production car was for a period in the late 1980s and early 1990s hotly disputed by companies like Ferrari, Lamborghini and a briefly revivified Bugatti. But because of the peculiar aerodynamic nature of cars--being rounded on top and flat on the bottom like an airplane wing, cars tend to lift off the ground at very high speed--the costs in pursuing the title, both technical and mortal, were very steep. Meanshile, the market for million-dollar two-seaters was rather volatile.
This year, however--with the lucky 1 percent doing very nicely, thank you--a half-dozen limited-production supercars are in the final stages of testing, cars built by companies like Saleen and Mosler, which are boutique race operations. Even blow kingpin John Z. DeLorean is quietly putting together backing for a supercar effort. And let's not forget Porsche's recently unveiled Carrera GT and Ferrari's pending F60, both in the throes of testing. If you're a low-flying migratory Italian bird, it might be wise to detour around Nardo this spring.
But the most interesting story has to be Koenigsegg. Founded six years ago by a Christian von Koenigsegg, a beardless stripling of 21, the Koenigsegg company began with Christian's endless doodlings of cars over his school notebooks. As he got older, the doodlings firmed up, became more specific, more technical. When he graduated from engineering school, he set up shop in a small garage with the idea of building a high-performance car.
Needing capital, Christian went to Sweden's Industrial Development Agency, which--to Christian's sheer amazement--loaned him a half-million dollars in seed money. Suddenly, Christian's weekend hobby car had become a company.
And this is where it gets interesting. "The phone started ringing," said Christian, now a placid, pleasant man of 27, with a shaved head (and shaved eyebrows, too, but let's not go there). "From all over Sweden, scientists, engineers, universities, people who were experts in this thing, like composites or powertrains or whatever, started volunteering."
What Christian had tapped into, quite by accident, was a huge, pent-up reservoir of frustrated and highly nationalistic automotive expertise. Why frustrated? Because in the 1990s, the crown jewels of Swedish car-building, Saab and Volvo, were bought by funny-talking foreigners from the United States, GM and Ford, by name.
Even so, Saab's and Volvo's research and manufacturing facilities were still in Sweden and still manned by brilliant and stubborn Nordic types who, having learned of Christian's plan to build a homegrown world beater, threw in with him. For instance, aerodynamicists at Saab quietly donated hundreds of hours of wind-tunnel time to Koenigsegg in an expenditure that surely would have been vetoed had it been run past the overlords in Detroit.
Meanwhile, Swedish engineering schools--some of the finest in the world--created co-op programs with Koenigsegg so that their students might get real, grease-under-the-nails experience. In return, these schools supplied access to their supercomputing resources and tool-making facilities. Also, Sweden is second only to the British midlands in the number of small, highly specialized engineering suppliers to Formula 1 and endurance racing. Often, Christian says, a world-renowned expert in composites, fabrication, telemetry or powertrains would call, offering priceless help in exchange for shares in a company that had not earned a single krona.
It's been six years. Koenigsegg moved into new facilities in Angelholm and has conducted all the certification tests--emissions, crashworthiness--to be licensed in Europe and other parts of the world. The production infrastructure, tooling, suppliers and workforce are in place. And particularly noteworthy in this era of round-the-world, parts-bin construction, the Koenigsegg is almost 100 percent Swedish. Buried deep in the car is a Ford-sourced 4.6-liter alloy block, but it's been so thoroughly tuned Billy Ford himself wouldn't recognize it.
The numbers: The Koenigsegg CCV8 is a mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive carbon-fiber and kevlar monocoque/body car with a removable and stowable hardtop. The motor is an intercooled and supercharged, 32-valve, quadcam V8 producing 655 hp (yes, 6-5-5) at 6,500 rpm and about 545 pounds-feet or torque. The tranny is a sequential six-speed Quafe facing gearbox with push-button control, a la the Ferrari 360/F1. The Koenigsegg weighs 1,100 kg and costs $350,000.
Suspension comprises double wishbones at all four corners, with inboard rocker-arms coilovers and electronic ride height control. Brakes are four 14-inch discs, with six-pot calipers in front, four in rear. Wheels and tires: 18 inches in diameter, 9-inch wide in front and 11 in rear.
Unlike a lot of the recent class of supercars, the Koenigsegg is replete with lux amenities, including climate control, electric windows, doors, mirrors, CD/stereo/navigation, rear-view camera, satellite phone, mobile Internet access. Should anything go wrong, a mechanic will fly from Sweden to repair the car.
In the words of Jim Henson's Swedish chef: Yumpin' yimminy.