Chapter 1 - Back To School

At a major auto show like Geneva, it’s easy to get a little bit blasé after a while. A little bit tick-boxy. Have you seen the new Lamborghini? The McLaren? And all the other cars that are already plastered over the internet, ‘leaked’ ahead of their official launches to the extent that you kind of know them already. But then you come across what appears to be a red Batmobile, sitting innocently in the middle of the show like it’s supposed to be there, dwarfed by the corporate shine of VW, Seat, Subaru and the like that surround them. Ah, this is what I want. Something different.

Personally, I’m not bothered about the loading capacity of the latest saloon, or how a brand now has a model to cover off each and every possible price point to carry you from birth to death. I want to see the people who are pushing at the boundaries. Experimenting for the sake of experimentation, rather than satisfying demographics. I want excess. I want more. I want more things like this.

I even enjoy seeing a luminous green Aventador that turns even Lamborghini’s already stark palette up a notch. Though, as we’ll see, you can go an Aventador too far.

But I also enjoy seeing grace and beauty: stunning, bespoke re-imaginations of the world’s finest cars, interpreted for exclusive clients by prestigious coachbuilders. And for that you have to turn to the Italians – as here with Pininfarina’s Gran Lusso Coupé.

Then there’s a whole raft of predominantly German tuning firms who have made their names twisting the output of their countryman into fearsome new beasts.

But let’s start off with that car. If you’ve checked out coverage from Geneva before, it won’t surprise you to know that this, the Flèche Rouge – the Red Arrow – is another car that has sprung from the prodigious fountain of talent that is France’s Sbarro design school.

The model was designed and built by 30 trainees in just 47 days. As with every Sbarro car, it’s not a model but a working, rolling car. What a car. The sci-fi offspring of the ’90s Batmobile, a Lamborghini and a Panoz LMP1, the tubeframe-chassis Red Arrow mounts a four-cylinder 1.6-litre Peugeot 155hp unit and has a fully composite body. It’s extreme, it has a sense of fun, and it shows that the Sbarro school is still at the top of their game.

The Red Arrow weighs just 900kg, which means the small engine doesn’t need to crank out obscene levels of power to make this fun: rear-wheel drive and the long nose would likely make this feel almost Caterham-like to drive.

Sbarro’s second offering was the Sparta hybrid, looking like an extreme Mégane Cup racer. Once again this was a quick turnaround project, with 14 weeks gestation from design to the prototype being finished and competing in the alternative energy leg of the Rallye de Monte Carlo. Based on a Citroën DS3, two 750Nm electric motors attached to the front wheels supplement a four-cylinder 1.6-litre engine. This… is… SPARTA!

Then, at the end of their stand, something so different that we might well have been transported back 80 years or more. It’s what makes Sbarro so appealing: their refusal to do anything predictable – or consistent. Sbarro are known for their replicas as well as the concepts, and this is their second recreation of a Bugatti Royale.

OZ-made recreations of Bugatti’s Roue Royale rims are stand-outs.

Underneath the long bonnet is an aluminium shroud hiding the real motors that lie beneath – their first Royale replica used two Rover V8s bolted together, aping the original 12.7-litre inline eight.

Inside the cockpit, a dashboard that is the polar opposite of a modern tech-laden saloon. That features a brass coat-hook, rather than a cup-holder. You’ve got to love that.

Oh, then there was also this. Nope, this isn’t me using a fisheye lens… French firm Lazareth were invited to share Sbarro’s stand in 2014 (which isn’t surprising, bearing in mind the cost of every square foot at the show), and this was one of three vehicles they brought along.

So front, so good, so normal. Just about. But then as you begin to rotate around, the true perspective of the car becomes clear: the Lazareth GT narrows to the rear, where these enormous wheels are mounted. Well, enormous in relation to the car they’re connected to. In the front is a V8 supercharged Jaguar engine. The GT weighs 1,000kg. It seems like the diametric opposite of something like the Nissan Deltawing, but apparently it does work. If you’re crazy enough to try it.

The GT is just part of the wacky Wazuma range; neither car nor bike, but definitely 100% fabricated from insanity. For instance, the GT was accompanied by these two monster bike… car… things.

The yellow peril was a V8F. Think what kind of engine a usual bike mounts. Then look at the name of the Wazuma and what’s lurking under those red leads. A three-litre Ferrari V8, for pity’s sake.

Not just at the front, but literally in your face. And people talk of the joy of having an Italian motor mounted right behind you… Its six-speed sequential gearbox comes from a BMW M3, it has Momo rims, Öhlins shocks and Brembo calipers with 324mm discs. The latter fact is the one I’d be thinking about the most.


Chapter 2 - Advanti! Electrifying Design and Aventadors

Things aren’t so bad if you have an Italian motor mounted in front of you though, especially when it’s clothed in a body like this. This is the Touring Disco Volante, unveiled as a concept at Geneva 2012, given Alfa’s blessing in 2013 and now presented in a deep green with gold and red highlights.

Okay, so it’s a makeover, but with a car this beautiful you really don’t need an excuse to display it again. With Alfa making only 500 8Cs – the car Touring’s creation uses as its underpinnings – there are few examples due to be built: it’s thought to be just eight. The original red car has already gone to its lucky owner in China. This green model, again finished to a customer’s particular requirements, will also soon be gone from public sight.

But then there was also the 1952 original it’s a homage to, the reason why everyone gets so excited about the modern take. Touring displayed it next to their green goddess – a risky thing to do, I’d suggest.

Just look at it. I dare you not to appreciate the beauty and grace – or its angled-down poise. The definition of beauty in voluptuous metal form.

Fellow coachbuilders Italdesign Giugiaro once again displayed a crossover concept, this time the Clipper, based on Volkswagen’s MQB platform. Two electric motors power the axles, and the butterfly doors mean that the entire side of the car opens up to reveal the plush six-seat interior.

But you see what can happen? I’ve started talking about interiors… This is a stand that, during last year’s show, I had gravitated to so many times, so I’d deliberately delayed my initial visit in 2014, working up the anticipation. This is not what I was hoping for…

Just look at last year’s Parcour concept, an example of which could be found on the Vredestein stand, which even from the rear oozed style and personality.

Part Tamiya RC car, part buggy, part Cylon Raider, part GT car – ah, I just wished that 2014 had seen an even more extreme evolution of this, rather than a taming down…

But morale took a boost when I came across this in the sprawling lower hall – although I did have to concentrate to get the full name down correctly. Ready? This is the QUANT e-Sportlimousine With nanoFLOWCELL Powertrain Concept. Anyway, the underlying tech demonstrated a more efficient electric powertrain that uses liquid electrolytes, five time more efficient than typical lithium-ion batteries, so there are none of the usual jokes about having to stop every ten minutes for a set of Duracells. But the outside? Svelte and sophisticated.

The QUANT appeared to follow a similar design ethos to the Maserati Alfieri: sea predator meets GT monster. A 912hp electrified GT monster in this case. The interior also glows and pulses like being underwater. The fact it’s powered by salt water makes that even more appropriate.

Zagato’s Geneva offering was rather subdued in the context of standing in which they’re held, hidden away on a small stand deep in the show. Their Aston Martin DBS Centennial Edition carried a retro look; two were built last year to celebrate Aston’s 100-year anniversary. Again, I’m sensing shark-nose design tendencies.

A very popular route with start-ups at the moment is with compact, Lotus-style lightweight two-seater roadsters. Though rather than a small-capacity petrol engine, the carbon-monocoque Pariss Roadster featured a pair of electric motors. It’s something I’m getting used to: checking out the car first and the propulsion second…

Roding have been pitching their Roadster for a couple of years now, tweaking and tuning the R1 year on year. Maybe it’s familiarity, but it seems a more mature product now: the minor styling updates are helped by a new suspension package and larger wheels. It just seems to sit better than before.

I’d never heard of Italian firm Ermini – but then they’ve only recently been revived after being in stasis for the best part of 50 years. Their Ermini Seiottosei (686) Barchetta displayed a kind of retro charm, and with a weight of just 686kg (though you could have guessed that, right?) it’s certainly going to be quick.

Rinspeed are another company who are long-time Geneva exhibitors, turning up year on year with interesting or eclectic models. For 2014 they had a Tesla-based saloon, the XchangE, which was another car to expound the virtues of autonomous driving. To labour the point, the interior boasted a musical chairs arrangement where the steering wheel and seats could all move around, the idea being you could be brewing espresso and holding a face-to-face business meeting whilst cruising the autobahn. I think they forgot doors though, so it might get a bit windy during the meeting…

Now I want to move to a more challenging topic. Supercar facelifts. First, one that I was positively diverted by: Nimrod Performance’s Kayusha. The name might be a WW2 Russian rocket launcher, but the first thought I got was of a kabuki face mask. It’s based on a 458 but given the aesthetic of an FXX: fully re-bodied, with an extended nose and slab-sided rear. The almost ceramic matte white and red accents accentuated the aggressive look, for sure, though it’s a skin-only change.

But the East European company had more around the corner that are much more likely to divide opinions. Firstly, the Zero, another 458-based creation. If you didn’t like the brown Veyron, then this is just as likely to sink your battleship.

I do know that people crave individuality, and it’s interesting that the tuning ethos goes so far up the food chain these days, but I think there are limits. Nimrod’s Avanti Rosso Aventador looks to the Sesto Elemento for cues, and its aesthetic is bold to say the least.

Aventadors seem to be the car of choice to be chopped around like this, with examples reflecting everywhere – most often off Range Rovers. These seem to be the equivalent SUV base model for tuners, with modified Range Rovers almost as prevalent as Lambos.

One final Aventador, to bring things back down to earth. It’s not that Hamann are at all subtle, let’s face it, but what they do bring to the party is added performance along with the new panels and dabs of colour.

Whether or not fluorescent green highlights are your thing, one thing I can’t help but appreciate is that the exhaust system choices include a deliberate race-style backfire option!

But then the Hamann’s M6-based Mirr6r is a different beast altogether and much more engaging to my eyes. Maybe it’s because it’s not an Aventador for once, but with its stealth-Hulk look and long lines, the weaponised Mirr6r was much closer to what I’d like to drive out of the show.


Chapter 3 - Clash of the Tuner Titans

ABT are well-known on the racing scene, having campaigned Audis in various series for years, but they’re also serious VAG tuners as well. All that experience on the track means that their street cars pack a hell of a punch. The RS6-R for instance. It has 730hp from its four-litre V8, a 25% rise on the already hammer-blow standard, which means you can get to the shops really, really fast.

The new aero detailing has been picked out in raw red carbon – luckily enough, otherwise this stealth sleeper would have almost disappeared under the Geneva lighting.

At the opposite end of their stand, ABT took things fully to the dark side: the Golf VII GTI Dark Edition to be precise. Again Abt have decked it out in a completely revised bodykit, but it’s the uprated 300hp TFSI motor and competition suspension which will define this car.

When I visited Brabus in the Summer of last year, they were just putting the finishing touches to this monster: the twin-turbocharged 700 6×6. Despite weighing four tons, it still gets to 60mph in less than eight seconds, and has its top speed limited to 100mph to prevent it simply taking off and going into orbit. In the flesh it’s even more impressive than expected.

Carlsson’s epic SLK 340 hillclimb weapon was let off the leash last year at Geneva, but was back again as the highlight of the German Merc tuner’s stand. Last year I made a note to try and see this 780kg, 610hp beast out pummelling a hill – and failed. 2014 needs to be different.

Mansory are another of the more out-there high-end tuner types: their stand was awash with more Range Rovers and some pretty garishly trimmed Rolls Royces and Bentleys – though I wouldn’t say no to this chopped-off Roller nose as my new Speedhunters desk…

I’d sort of promised no more Aventadors,hadn’t I? Well, one final one and then we’ll say no more about it. As this one has… wait for it… 1,600hp. That’s 900hp more than standard. The Carbonado GT has been fired up with new internals, then fitted with two turbochargers and a sports exhaust system. They also do a Mansory golf cart, if you need to calm down.

TechArt are one of many firms who have now got their hands on the new 991 platform. With the scale of the big centrally-mounted exhaust outlet and general styling updates, the rather imposing girth of the new 911’s backside seems less vast, likely helped by also being offset with the wing.

I’m not at all a fan of Panameras as a rule of thumb, but TechArt’s GrandGT take did make me reconsider. The composite aero kit lends it a far more purposeful look, and the fact it packs 630hp also goes a long way towards reconciliation.

For raw power they offered up the Turbo S, which delivers on-demand extra power with the push of a TechArt button: another 60hp and 130Nm of torque, to be precise, taking the car easily over the 200mph barrier.

Finally, when things get rough, I get going to RUF, as anyone sensible would do when looking for insanely fast, tuned Porsches. Draped in their protective covers pre-show, it was still obvious that weaponry lay beneath.

Although the canary yellow RCT was the new RUF on the block, it’s still the savage CTR3 Clubsport that captures me every time.

Out back under the big rear deck is basically a race car layout; somewhat necessary when 777hp is on tap.

So much for the mechanics of the show. What’s it like to get under the skin of a major auto show like Geneva? That’s where we’ll go next…