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Friday, November 14, 2008

Veritas RS III is the real Speed Racer

Though times are tough, there appears to be a new supercar lurking around every corner. All of them have more horsepower than a medieval army, most look like Darth Vader's personal transport and all but a few disappear without a trace after a token showing in the motoring press, quickly followed by a bankruptcy hearing.

But perhaps things will turn out differently for the 2008 Veritas RS III.

The Veritas RS3 was first shown as a concept in 2001 that featured some design cues from the boating world. Now tiny Vermot AG has finally been able to build a working prototype, and testing was completed last spring. Now this intriguing front-engine supercar with a carbon-fiber body and a choice between two BMW engines appears to be ready for the road.

As long as you can find a road where you can go 200 mph.

Face Value
The only working prototype of the 2008 Veritas RS III greeted our arrival at a nondescript industrial facility just a stone's throw from the Nürburgring, and even the pictures we've seen didn't prepare us for its visual impact.

Veritas has some authentic credentials, as it can be traced to a line of sports cars built in Germany just after World War II. Based on BMW 328 mechanicals, the first Veritas was driven to a German sports car championship in 1947 by Karl Kling, who subsequently drove for Mercedes-Benz racing in the early 1950s. Later, a line of Veritas sports cars with Heinkel engines were built and eventually the Veritas Meteor became the first German-manufactured car in modern Formula 1 when it was entered in the 1951 Swiss Grand Prix.

The wide, gaping grille of the RS III recalls the original Veritas sports cars, although its wicked, slanting eyes and bulging hood add up to a close approximation of something you might have seen in one of Pixar's animated adventures. Were it to transform into a robot before our eyes, it would not be a surprise.

It's impossibly low, hugging those beautifully ornate wheels. And then there's that stunning rear with the exhaust standing high and proud, the aero diffuser tucked away, monstrous rear tires and finally the slotlike lights. The passenger seat can be covered over to re-create the full-on effect of an old-school sports-racing car that has been slammed at a million miles per hour into the modern world.

There are nostalgic design touches, including the rivets that hold the wraparound windscreen and wood slats on the floor that resemble boat decking. Inside the cabin, Konig carbon-fiber seats are stitched in leather to perfection and the instrument bezels are beautifully ornate.

Modern, yet Built by Hand
The 2008 Veritas RS III is built around a spine of tubular steel, although the carbon-fiber bodywork also contributes substantial torsional rigidity. The car measures a lengthy 196.5 inches overall and it's also extremely wide at 77.7 inches, both of which are accentuated by its low, 38.3-inch overall height.

This prototype features the 4.9-liter V8 from the last-generation BMW M5, which replaced the BMW V12 used for the concept car. Production cars will feature either the 4.0-liter V8 from the new BMW M3 or the 5.0-liter V10 from the new M5. And both will be tuned for performance, with the M3 V8 extended to 475 horsepower from 400 hp thanks to a remapped ECU and stainless-steel intake and exhaust plumbing, while the modified M5 V10 will reach an almighty 600 hp from its stock 500 hp.

Veritas doesn't do stability control, so BMW's clever gadgetry will all be stripped away, even the antilock brakes. There's also talk of bringing on a manual gearbox to replace the M5's automated manual transmission. This car still has a pretty good grip on the pavement, as the 20-inch Brabham RS wheels carry 285/30R20 tires in front and 335/25R20 tires in the back.

Push and Shove
Everything here is focused on the driver, a fact that becomes abundantly clear as we vault over the sliver of carbon-fiber that passes for a door and fire up the beast by flicking on the fuel pumps and thumbing the starter button. Strapped tightly into the hot seat, our sunglasses firmly in place to protect against disaster, the sense of occasion is overwhelming as the vibration from the angry V8 feels like it's running right up our backbone.

It's easy enough to drive around town, this being a BMW-based creation right down to the easy BMW clutch. The Veritas handles the village roads with just the odd dull thud as the fully adjustable pushrod suspension reaches the end of the travel of the Öhlins dampers. Of course, the gearbox is notchy and the shift lever is too far away from the driving seat, but we can cope.

Once we get the gas on, the 2008 Veritas RS III is a laugh riot. Even with a relatively modest 473-hp power plant installed, this lightweight, 2,381-pound monster bursts through the 60-mph mark in just 3.6 seconds and will keep going all the way to 204 mph.

It's the sheer violence of the engine note and the wind blasting into one's face that sets this car apart. That and the way the rear wheels spin in 1st, 2nd, 3rd and even 4th gear when you give a serious stab at the long-travel throttle pedal. If you get in trouble, there are serious brakes from TRW Racing to save you, with 15-inch steel rotors in front and 14-inch items in the rear, plus six-piston calipers doing the work.

The Veritas isn't as go-kart sharp as we expected while turning into a corner, but it cuts to the apex and powers out without a hint of body roll. The RS III's handling balance is absolutely neutral and the power steering is perfectly weighted, so it begs to slide through the corners, but since the car had just been rebuilt following a testing crash, we had strict instructions not to bury it once again. Even so, we understand it's quicker around the racing circuit at Hockenheim than a Ferrari 430 Scuderia.

The Challenge of the New
For a car that could cost as much as $425,500 for all the bells and whistles, the chrome-moly space frame doesn't seem to project an appropriate high-tech image, though it's immensely strong. Veritas tells us that the retro-style front-engine layout turns out to be far more complicated to engineer and build than a midengine car, however, so a carbon-fiber monocoque just wasn't within reach.

Veritas just needs to sell 30 cars a year, the engineers tell us. They have plans to build a coupe version and then they would like to build an 800-hp supercar to rival the Koenigsegg.

Well, it's nice to have plans. But it's not easy to find 30 people willing to spend upward of $350,000 on a wild supercar in the best of times, and it might be even harder now. We'll see if Veritas finds a more deserving fate than it did a half century ago.