Sexiest cars built in recent memory? Have to include the BMW Z8, Aston Martin DB9-Coupe or Volante-and Aston's new V8 Vantage. All were designed by the steady eye of Henrik Fisker, our Dane on the left coast. Now Fisker Coachbuild in Newport Beach, Calif., exists and he's the boss.
Wasting no time, he created these two beauties: the Tramonto convertible (tramonto is the Italian word for "sunset") and Latigo CS coupe. The Tramonto is here based on the AMG Mercedes SL55, while the Latigo CS coachwork covers a BMW 645i chassis. Customers can either request only the bodywork, or they can add more to the price with a performance pack. Kleemann in Denmark has signed on to provide the tuning package for the Tramonto, while a decision has yet to be made about the tuning provider for the Latigo CS.
A client buys a new SL55 for $125,775 (or SL65 for $182,100) and then hands it to Fisker to have the entire gorgeous Mercedes body removed and the Fisker panels and interior built onto the naked chassis for $128,000 more. I like almost everything about the Fisker Tramonto better than what comes on the SL55 originally.
Same goes for the Latigo CS hardtop ("latigo" here from the road near Malibu called Latigo Canyon Road) which looks to my eye as though Fisker has taken all of the best parts of the M5 and M6 and rearranged them into one extremely successful design. Granted, the Tramonto will be the hottest seller, but sport coupes drive better.
What Fisker had during my drive south of Los Angeles was a fully ready Tramonto with the 610-bhp tune from Kleemann, while the Latigo CS is not quite finalized and therefore has all the standard 645i power readings and chassis parts. Besides the fully new interior and exterior, this Latigo CS does at least have a great-sounding sport exhaust bought from Hamann in Germany.Both cars drive better than the cars on which they are based. The Tramonto has been perfected by Kleemann engineers to be a car you can drive every day that can also eat any Bentley Continental GT or Porsche 911 Carrera S for lunch. Every part of the upper cabin structure of the SL55 has been retained and this includes the folding hardtop. The body of the Latigo CS is all new, which makes sense since it is the easier of the two to alter.
While driving the Tramonto convertible, Fisker himself in the passenger seat kept on urging me to give it more accelerator. The sound of the Kleemann sport exhaust up to 4000 rpm from a standstill is amazingly powerful. Fisker said, "You like that? I really wanted the initial acceleration sound to be like NASCAR. Very American." Zero to 60 mph is said to happen in just 3.6 seconds.
Six-hundred-ten horsepower out of an SL three-valve engine is wonderful stuff. Normally putting out 493 bhp, this Kleemann V8 tune is creamy smooth in its delivery and shocking all at once. Torque improves significantly from 516 lb-ft between 2750 and 4000 rpm to 650 lb-ft from 2200 to 4700 rpm. The best feeling of all is that under all this power the ride and handling from the Kleemann suspension are superbly balanced. Latigo customers will be able to get the Fisker coachwork done on either the 645i, 650i or M6. Fisker has decided to keep the 6 Series V8-based models available since a manual transmission is possible on these.
Most important is the design. First, the 20-inch heat-treated alloy wheels have been designed by Fisker and are not off-the-shelf pieces. The face of the Fiskers is key for the designer. Fisker definitely has a preference for bold, wide latticework grilles and fender accents. Inspiration here has come from the front silhouette of the F/A-22 Raptor jet fighter. Width of the central grille is large on the Latigo CS and narrower for the Tramonto.
Bumpers, front fenders, hood, trunk lid and door panels for the Tramonto are all carbon fiber, while the rear fenders are of lightweight steel. Every bit of anodized or powdercoated aluminum on the inside or outside has been crafted by Italian master Andrea Cecutti, who now works out of Los Angeles.Whereas the interior of the Tramonto tested maintains much of the SL55 feel while altering all of the surface materials and creating a boat-like surround for the passengers, the Latigo CS interior is a major step forward versus the BMW original. The dashboard and front shelf have been more smoothly built into the instrument display, and the center console with iDrive functions has been oriented much more toward the driver.
Only 150 of each car will be sold in the first year-April 2006 delivery date for Tramonto, June for Latigo CS-and each year there will be two new models while the previous year's two designs will be retired once they are all sold. This is an innovative approach to be sure, and possible only under these conditions. Fisker adds also that the two architectures used each year can change.
Fisker Coachbuild Tramonto (SL55 AMG)
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
5.5-liter V8, sohc, three valves per cylinder, superchargedand intercooled Kleemann Performance Plus Package, stainless steel tubular headers, downpipes, 70mm dual exhaust, 120-cell metal catalyst
Carbon-fiber body panels by Henrik Fisker
Peak Power: 610 bhp @ 5800rpm
Peak Torque: 650 lb-ft @ 2200 rpm
0-60mph: 3.6 sec.
Top Speed: 202mph
Fisker Coachbuild Latigo (645i)
Longitudinal front engine
4.4-liter V8, dohc,four valves per cylinderHamann sport exhaust
Carbon-fiber body panelsby Henrik Fisker
Peak Power: 333 bhp @ 6100 rpm
Peak Torque: 332 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
0-60mph: 5.6 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph