Sunday, February 8, 2009

Ten automotive wonders you'll probably never get to drive in the U.S. — no matter what.

The Unobtainables
Ten automotive wonders you'll probably never get to drive in the U.S. — no matter what.
By Marc Lachapelle of MSN autos

The U.S. car market is the biggest and most competitive on the planet. Still, there are several wild, exciting and unique vehicles that cannot be bought here, no matter how much money you are willing to lay down. Many of these rolling wonders are designed and built by tiny boutique automakers that cannot or simply will not shell out the millions of dollars needed to certify their creations for sale in the New World. Others are so radical in design and purpose that they just wouldn't conform to the various U.S. safety and regulatory standards. And a few more are so exclusive and built in such small numbers that they are all spoken for before even rumors of their possible existence reach American ears. Have we piqued your interest yet? Well, here are 10 of the coolest cars you can't get here in the States. As you'll see, they are sexy, powerful and very desirable. Welcome to the world of the unobtainable.

Ascari KZ1

This supercar is named after famed Italian race driver Alberto Ascari, the first two-time Formula 1 world champion (1952-53). It's built in the United Kingdom by a small company created by Dutch inventor and industrialist Klaas Zwart. The KZ1 first rolled off the assembly line back in 2003. Midmounted in a chassis made of ultralightweight carbon fiber is a 5.0-liter V8 engine that was first used in the BMW Z8 sports car. It has been retuned to produce 500 horsepower, and will propel the Ascari from zero to 60 mph in a scant 3.6 seconds and on to a top speed of 200 mph. The KZ1 sells for about 235,000 pounds (US$344,000), and owners can drive their KZ1s at the Ascari Race Resort in the south of Spain.
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Aston Martin One-77

Aston Martin was recently sold by the Ford Motor Co. to a consortium led by Prodrive owner and racing magnate David Richards. In addition to putting the final touches on its upcoming Rapide grand touring 4-door sedan, the slick British automaker is marketing an extremely exclusive sports car that will be built entirely to order and custom-fit and trimmed to the taste of each buyer. The cost: a mere 1.2 million pounds (US$1.75 million). Only 77 of these cars will be built, hence the One-77 moniker. The low-slung coupe, built on a carbon-fiber monocoque structure with hand-shaped aluminum body panels, will reportedly be powered by a front-mounted 7.3-liter V12 engine that should develop more than 700 horsepower. Even at such a price, the One-77 is already sold out.

Caparo T1

This is the closest you can get to a Formula 1 or GP2 car for the road. It even looks like a formula car, with skimpy fenders and a bubble cockpit over two staggered seats. The Caparo T1 was created by many of the people who designed the fabulous McLaren F1 road car, and they made even fewer compromises — a considerable accomplishment. Thanks to its carbon-fiber and aluminum chassis, composite body and many other parts made from exotic lightweight materials, the T1 weighs only 1,212 pounds. Not exactly exciting news. But when you consider that it's armed with a 575-horsepower, midmounted, all-aluminum, naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V8, you get a warp-level power-to-weight ratio of 1,000 horses per ton. Quick-shifting, the 6-speed sequential gearbox will take you from zero to 60 mph in about 2.5 seconds. Base price: 240,000 pounds (US$355,000).

Covini C6W

At first, the Covini C6W looks awkward and unreal, as if someone had digitally pasted a second pair of front wheels on a classic supercar. But the car with four front wheels and two rear wheels is for real. Italian entrepreneur Ferrucio Covini first worked on a car with four front wheels more than 30 years ago. The claimed benefits of having four smaller, 16-inch front wheels (the rear are 20 inches in diameter) are reduced aerodynamic drag from the smaller frontal area, better braking, a smoother ride and a drastic reduction of understeer and hydroplaning. The downsides are the added weight, bulk and complexity of the front suspension. Regardless, the C6W is powered by an Audi-designed 4.2-liter 435-horsepower V8 driving the rear wheels through a 6-speed manual gearbox. The engine is midmounted in a structure that combines steel tubing and carbon fiber. The Covini C6W is still considered a prototype, albeit one that will soon be production-bound, according to Covini Engineering. However, there's no projected price on the maker's Web site.

Discuss: If any of these cars could be brought to U.S. shores, which ones would you want to see — or drive — on a twisty canyon descent, and why?

Koenigsegg CCXR

This tiny Swedish company, founded by an intrepid young designer named Christian von Koenigsegg, has been designing and building world-caliber supercars since 1994, in very small numbers and with amazing results. Its latest creations are the CCX and CCXR. These low-slung, midengine missiles featuring carbon-fiber bodywork were introduced at the 2008 Geneva Auto Show. Both are powered by a supercharged 4.8-liter V8 engine designed by Koenigsegg himself, but the CCXR's can run on eco-friendlier E85 or E100 ethanol as well as regular gasoline. When fed with E85, the CCXR produces a stunning 1,018 horsepower and a monstrous 782 lb-ft of torque. The sticker for a Koenigsegg CCX is 1.3 million euros (US$1.75 million), and a CCXR goes for a paltry 1.5 million euros (US$2 million).

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