Italde­sign Zer­ouno

Italde­sign has re­vived am­bi­tion a half-cen­tury on from its birth. Richard Brem­ner drives its ex­trav­a­gantly priced hy­per­car and dis­cov­ers a grow­ing in­tent to in­flu­ence – just as it used to

Autocar - - THIS WEEK - PHOTOGR APHY JED LE­ICES­TER

Ex­clu­sive new hy­per­car driven

This is a scene that has played out many times over the past 70 years. An other-worldly wheeled ma­chine, as low as a din­ing ta­ble and much the same size, ric­o­chets yelp­ing bul­lets of sound through the scenery as it darts along a thread of road. Of­ten bright-coloured and gashed with odd-shaped aper­tures, it fre­quently leaves a wake of the open-mouthed and cu­ri­ous be­hind it. They may not know who its cre­ators are, but they’ll know that it’s out­ra­geously fast, out­ra­geously ex­pen­sive and out­ra­geous to be­hold.

That scene has just re­peated among the vine-ribbed hills around Alba, Asti and Cu­neo in Italy, the Italde­sign Zer­ouno gath­er­ing clus­ters of cy­clists, smart­phonewield­ing truck­ers and gaw­ping hik­ers as it bounds be­tween vil­lages.

The Zer­ouno is the lat­est su­per­car born out of the Italde­sign stu­dios in Mon­calieri on the edge of Turin, one of lit­er­ally dozens of ex­treme sports cars to have emerged from this tem­ple of cre­ation over the past 50 years. What’s dif­fer­ent about the Zer­ouno, apart from it be­ing ex­treme enough of con­struc­tion, speed and price to be clas­si­fied as a hy­per­car, is the na­ture of its in­dus­trial-sized mis­sion. All five of th­ese ¤1.5 mil­lion ma­chines (yes, you read that right, and that’s with­out taxes) are al­ready sold, as are two of the fi­nal five of the targa-roofed Zer­ouno Duer­tas.

That mis­sion is to be a high-speed call­ing card for Italde­sign, whose re­mit has changed. You may re­call that this achieve­ment-rich Ital­ian ve­hi­cle de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing busi­ness, founded in 1968 by de­signer Gior­getto Gi­u­giaro and en­gi­neer Aldo Man­to­vani, was in 2010 bought by the Volk­swa­gen Group, thus end­ing its in­de­pen­dence while also en­sur­ing that it ben­e­fited from a reg­u­lar sup­ply of work.

True, it was Italde­sign that cre­ated, in the orig­i­nal Golf, the car that saved VW, but this pro­lific com­pany has also pro­duced any num­ber of land­mark Fi­ats in­clud­ing the Panda, Uno and Punto, as well as beau­ti­ful Alfa Romeos, Maser­atis, the BMW M1, the Lo­tus Esprit and count­less con­cept cars, many of them highly in­flu­en­tial. So the har­ness­ing of Italde­sign to one car-mak­ing group was in some ways a sad out­come, even if the fu­ture of ve­hi­cle car­rozze­ria has turned pre­car­i­ous over the past two decades, the cli­mate threat­en­ing Pin­in­fa­rina and snuff­ing out Ber­tone.

Hap­pily, Italde­sign’s fresh re­mit is to chase for busi­ness not only with the VW Group but also ev­ery other car maker, just as it used to. The rea­son for that change of di­rec­tion is rather un­ex­pect­edly linked to a scan­dal, namely the 2015 rev­e­la­tion of VW’S diesel emis­sion mis­de­meanour(s), the af­ter­math of which saw a de­cline in Italde­sign’s or­ders. At the end of the same year, it started look­ing for work be­yond the VW Group. “In 2015, only 1% of our busi­ness was for ex­ter­nal clients,” says CEO Jörg Astalosch. “Now it’s 25%, and the aim is to get to 50%.”

You might won­der why a car maker would en­trust a ri­val with de­vel­op­ing its se­cret project but, as Astalosch ex­plains, “ev­ery cus­tomer is kept sep­a­rate and se­cret. They can au­dit us at any time, and con­fi­den­tial­ity can be con­trac­tu­ally guar­an­teed. We stay fit, be­cause they can visit at any time. Even our chair­man, Volk­swa­gen’s head of pur­chas­ing Bernd Martens, doesn’t know who we work for. That’s only re­vealed if the client wants to buy VW Group parts.”

Op­er­at­ing Chi­nese walls like this is how in­de­pen­dent con­sul­tan­cies must work re­gard­less of owner, and work it ap­par­ently does for Italde­sign. Astalosch men­tions Viet­namese start-up Vin­fast, for which the com­pany is de­vel­op­ing an SUV, a sa­loon and a city car, and China’s First Au­to­mo­bile Works as cus­tomers, as well as au­to­mo­tive clients in Amer­ica, north­ern Europe, Ja­pan and Korea.

“Italde­sign is do­ing work for only one of the VW brands cur­rently,” says Astalosch, “and it isn’t Audi,” the group brand with di­rect re­spon­si­bil­ity for the com­pany. An­other au­to­mo­tive cus­tomer Astalosch can talk about is Nis­san, which is very much not a part of VW. But the shar­ing of a 50-year an­niver­sary be­tween Italde­sign and Nis­san’s fa­mous GT-R, and the cre­ation of the skill-flaunt­ing Zer­ouno, has led to a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the pair through the Ja­panese maker’s Bob Laish­ley, who is pro­gramme direc­tor for the GT-R. An­other trig­ger, says Astalosch, “was Italde­sign em­ployee An­drea Porta, who speaks Ja­panese and is a GT-R nut. We did a show car to­gether and we’re hop­ing to get ap­proval. Nis­san will de­cide.” The show car is the 710bhp GT-R50 by Italde­sign, the credit in the name sug­gested by Laish­ley, Astalosch tells us with pride. If it gets the go-ahead, there will be “a small se­ries of 50 cars at ¤900,000 (plus taxes), al­though we’re not get­ting rich on it”.

Nor is Italde­sign get­ting rich on the Zer­ouno, adds Astalosch, de­spite the price of the five cars cus­tomers have paid to con­trib­ute to the project, which is about demon­strat­ing three key com­pany ser­vices. Th­ese in­clude: “turnkey ve­hi­cle de­vel­op­ment in ev­ery form, ul­tra low vol­ume se­ries pro­duc­tion (like the Zer­ouno and

The Zer­ouno’s mis­sion is to be a high-speed call­ing card for Italde­sign

the GT-R50, if it hap­pens) and the de­vel­op­ment of mo­bil­ity sys­tems”. In­deed, Italde­sign is work­ing on a Turin sub­way project as well as the ex­tra­or­di­nary Pop.up Next con­cept with Air­bus and Audi, a ve­hi­cle whose de­tach­able pas­sen­ger pod can be lifted and carried by a four-ro­tor drone on de­mand. That’s a long way from Gi­u­giaro’s 1980 Fiat Panda, which Astalosch also con­sid­ers to be a form of mo­bil­ity sys­tem – his en­thu­si­asm for the de­sign prompt­ing him to show your re­porter lowmileage 4x4 ver­sions for sale on­line, a pur­chase he’s con­sid­er­ing. On the sub­ject of to­tal mo­bil­ity sys­tems, Astalosch reck­ons the car in­dus­try “has to look at this, oth­er­wise there won’t be cars in the fu­ture”.

Drive the Zer­ouno, and you’re force­fully re­minded what an ex­pe­ri­en­tial hu­man loss this could be. It’s erup­tively fast, of course, dra­mat­i­cally noisy, un­hesi­tat­ingly re­spon­sive and rich with phys­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion. It also feels ter­rif­i­cally well de­vel­oped – its han­dling, ride, grip, driv­abil­ity and aura of rigid­ity con­firm­ing the re­sults of ex­ten­sive test­ing that in­cluded the nec­es­sary ho­molo­ga­tion with the su­per-strict Ger­man TUV. The car we’re driv­ing is a pro­to­type that ob­vi­ously pre­dates the five cus­tomer cars, but de­spite some un­fin­ished ar­eas in­clud­ing a crudely rigged gear se­lec­tor and a pro­to­type’s elec­tri­cal cut-out, it feels con­fi­dently all of a piece. The fin­ish of the Zer­ouno Duerta pro­to­type, in­ci­den­tally, is as ac­cu­rate and

ro­bust as you’d hope of a de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing com­pany demon­strat­ing the tal­ents of its 1000-odd em­ploy­ees.

Given Audi’s own­er­ship of Italde­sign, it won’t sur­prise you to hear that there are ma­jor el­e­ments of R8 in its make-up. Which doesn’t much di­min­ish the achieve­ment of tak­ing only 14 months to turn a June 2016 de­sign sketch into a run­ning car, thus demon­strat­ing the speed of Italde­sign’s de­vel­op­ment process.

The Zer­ouno is based around the alu­minium core of Audi’s su­per­car, it’s pro­pelled by an Audi Sport V10 en­gine and uses Audi’s qu­at­tro all-wheel-drive hard­ware. But it’s very much a ve­hi­cle in its own right, and one of con­sid­er­ably stronger flavour than an R8. The brief, says chief de­signer Filippo Perini, “was to de­sign a car not over­lap­ping with any­body else’s, with a look that was sexy and mean”.

The ‘sexy’ el­e­ment from his state­ment stems from a roof 50mm lower than an R8’s, “with a sen­su­ous up­per sec­tion. The lower part is driven by aero­dy­nam­ics.” As can be seen in the mas­sive dou­ble-decker ven­turi sys­tem at the rear, the sill ex­ten­sions and the bold ven­ti­la­tion slats in the wing tops, which ex­haust air from the brakes. Th­ese el­e­ments con­sti­tute what Perini al­ludes to as ‘mean’, as does the part-ex­po­sure of the mas­sive 305/30 ZR20 Pirellis at the rear.

The front end presents a racer’s thrust­ing ex­tended floor, above it a more sub­tle air in­take de­lib­er­ately redo­lent of sin­gle-seater race cars of the 1960s – the cool­ing air jet­ting from this slot via a pair of open­ings fur­ther up the bon­net. This Y-shaped chan­nelling presses the Zer­ouno into the ground at speed, as do the ti­ta­nium dif­fuser and car­bon sill ex­ten­sions.

You can feel the re­sults on the road too, the car feel­ing won­der­fully se­cure at speed, and not with­out del­i­cacy ei­ther. This man­i­fests it­self in the ride, which while firm re­mains sup­ple enough to pro­vide sat­is­fy­ing feed­back over rougher roads, and en­sures de­cent com­fort too.

Con­sider this as­pect, plus the Zer­ouno’s pleas­ingly pre­cise steer­ing and the mem­o­rable im­pul­sion de­liv­ered by 602bhp and 413lb ft of torque that be­stows the car with amaz­ing point-to-point speeds: the re­sult is a whole heap of ad­dic­tive en­ter­tain­ment.

Its 5.2-litre V10 is nor­mally as­pi­rated, al­low­ing pre­ci­sion re­ac­tions to the ac­cel­er­a­tor and some use­ful en­gine brak­ing when you throt­tle off. Car­bon­fi­bre body pan­els, a car­bon sec­tion of an R8 space­frame mod­i­fied to lower the roof and var­i­ous other weight-saving choices chop away around 100kg, to pro­duce a 3.2sec sprint to 62mph and a 205mph top speed.

De­spite such po­tency, this is a sur­pris­ingly easy car to drive – and to drive hard too. Its ter­rific grip, su­perb ceramic brakes, the ex­cel­lent seven-speed pad­dleshift trans­mis­sion and a great view out (for­wards, if not be­hind) pro­vide the Zer­ouno with an agility that be­lies its rather ex­ces­sive foot­print. It might be low but it’s also rather long and, like the R8 on which it’s based, too wide as well. Still, this crit­i­cism pales against the seem­ingly crazy price, un­til you re­mind your­self that the Zer­ouno has sold out. Still more vi­tally for Italde­sign is that this car is help­ing with its busi­ness­win­ning quest, not only through Nis­san but with other non-vw man­u­fac­tur­ers, per­haps never to be dis­closed. It’s great to see Italde­sign once again pro­vid­ing in­spi­ra­tion to the wider car in­dus­try.

The car feels won­der­fully se­cure at speed, and not with­out del­i­cacy ei­ther

Jörg Astalosch (l) is driv­ing client di­ver­sity

The Zer­ouno com­bines ex­treme hy­per­car style with sur­pris­ing prac­ti­cal­ity and com­fort. On the road, its poise and agility con­firm there’s more to Italde­sign than just good looks

De­sign de­tail is as crafted as you’d ex­pect, while the nat­u­rally as­pi­rated V10 is re­ac­tive

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