visions of dream machines

Vector W2

This is the “Vector W2” prototype of my teenage days in full flight. From certain angles it looks way more interesting than its contemporary successor, the “WX8”—both cars were briefly mentioned in reventón, there also is a picture of the latter. Back in the 1980s the “W2” caused quite some talk, because it not only featured stunning looks—which made it appear in TV commercials and at least one movie—, but also was conceptualized as a supercar, and beyond that thrived for the throne of the fastest production car on the globe—a top speed of 320 km/h was claimed.

Its design obviously owes a lot to the original Lamborghini Countach—designed by the artistical genius of Marcello Gandini—, which went into production six years earlier, in 1974, and was produced in several versions until 1990. When looking on the car from different angles I also sense some elements of the Lancia Stratos (designed by Gandini, too, and produced from 1972 to ’73) in it, and—forgive me—elements reminiscent of a pick-up truck. But that may well be my European arrogant prejudice against yank-cars, wonderfully summarized in this James-Bond quote—not from a movie, but from somewhere in the novels by Ian Fleming: “American cars have no character.” But enough of musings on æsthetics based on cultural socialization, because, as it is always the case with the modern anthropological gaze on material culture, what happens around the artefacts is of central interest.

The story of the “Vector” and its many manifestations is an astounding tale of tremendously courageous and ambitious projects, and at the same time of a series of successive failures and depressing desasters. In the wake of that it also is a story of a man who, when knocked down, is reluctant to stay on his knees, who never ceases to stand up again, starting over to mend his broken dreams. At Wikipedia bits and pieces of the picture are collected in the entries Vector Motors and Gerald Wiegert (I especially dig the André-Agassi anecdote)—although poorly backed-up with references. What I have read there, all over the Web, on Wiegert’s own sites (Vector Motors Corporation, Vector Supercars, and Aquajet), and in old automotive magazines I dug up from the cupboard, renders the picture of a very controversial personality, pursuing his dreams, bragging about achievements which are very much doubted by others, entangled in a mess of technology and economy. Without knowing the man in person it is very hard to form a clear opinion. It may well be impossible—thus are the complexities of human lifes in general, and individual biographies in particular.

Wiegert has a central idea in common with the late Ferruccio Lamborghini: to build his own supercar. Everything else is not so much analogous. When Ferruccio decided to found Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A., he not only was a trained and prolific engineer, but already a rich man, running a prospering company manufacturing tractors, Lamborghini Trattori S.p.A.. This succesful self-made man was very fond of sportscars and owned Alfa Romeos, Jaguars, OSCAs, Maseratis and Ferraris. Word has it, the story is supposedly related by his son, that Ferruccio was not content with the performance of certain parts of his Ferraris, the clutches in particular. So he drove to Maranello in order to meet Enzo Ferrari himself and make proposals for improvements. The latter duped Ferruccio by remarking that a manufacturer of tractors is hardly competent to judge the technology of sportscars. Another version goes, that Ferruccio not even came to see Enzo, but already was sent away by a secretary who commented that it was not house convention to let visitors directly step up to Mr Ferrari. The result would have been the same: Feruccio driving home enraged, deciding to create his own brand of sportscars, destined to jostle all others into the second league.

In contrast to Ferruccio Lamborghini, who was a professional, successful engineer and businessman when he started creating supercars, Gerald Wiegert was neither. When he founded his first company, Vehicle Design Force, in 1972. He obviously lacked resources in every dimension, but was driven by the powerful vision to beat the European supercars. It may appear somewhat far-fetched, but to a certain degree Wiegert from start on was in a similar situation like the lorry blacksmiths of the Sudan are. Both are set to create vehicles which are absolutely cutting-edge in their respective peculiar contexts. Both are extremely budgeted and ultimately depending on infrastructures and markets way out of the reach of the own influence and control. Ferruccio was in the position to build engines and chassis’ from scratch, to hire the best men around, to have made the bodywork by Bertone, and so on. Wiegert had none of that. In a way Lamborghini and Wiegert represent the Lévi-Straussian archetypes of the engineer and the bricoleur. In respect to the economical dimension Wiegert aspired to accomplish an american dream, Lamborghini already had come from rags to riches.

The “Vector” has not yet reached its end point, Wiegert again is planning to reach for the crown with his “WX8”. By the projected top speed of 275 mph, equaling 442 km/h, it would beat the SSC Ultimate Aero TT, which verifiedly reached 256.15 mph (411.76 km/h) on 13 September 2007.

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