"Formula One car for the road" is an overused and often useless cliché to describe a riced-up coupe or a kid's bewinged wet dream. Most of the time it's crap, but then just sometimes, like today, when the A.D. Tramontana R Edition rolls into view, that phrase fits like a Nomex glove.
Royal College of Art graduate Josep Rubau's creation goes beyond just an F1 car, though. In what looks like an automotive tribute to local boy Salvador Dali, who was born down the road from the Girona farm that houses this most bizarre hypercar's HQ, AD Tramontana has created a mash-up of a Grand Prix car and a fighter jet and unleashed it upon an unsuspecting world. Rubau's original plan was for a smooth, open-top F1 look, but the realities of everyday living led to this unusual marriage of land and sky.
But at 130 mph on a quiet Spanish back road the aesthetics take a distant back seat to the sheer dynamic genius of this creation. With the 5.5-liter, 720-hp MercedesV12 just inches away, the inner beauty of this creation shines through. Get past those in-your-face looks and the Tramontana R can deliver a rapier blow to the heart of the much more famous and aesthetically acceptable Pagani Zonda.
The R is ferocious when truly given its head. Its unique layout adds to the sensation of pure speed, which is what cars like this are truly all about. Sitting high over the nose, it feels like a 200-mph warm and dry motorcyle ride. Add the intoxicating note of the engine, steering so direct it feels hard-wired to your limbs, and every piece of racing tech that could reasonably cross over and you have a recipe for something amazing.
From the carbon-fiber chassis with F1 levels of torsional rigidity and a full-on safety cell, through to the fully adjustable Ohlins horizontal dampers with external reservoirs exquisitely displayed in the front, the engineering is perfect. Then there are Dymag wheels with carbon rims and Magnesium cores, to the inline seats that keep the weight over the center line. Things get even more obsessive under the skin, with silver wiring and gold used throughout the body. That's before you get to the diamond encrusted interior on the options list. No, really.
An LCD display screen contains the vital information. The sequential gearlever is shaped like a jet's joystick, is strapped to a six-speed Cima unit, and is thankfully combined with a clutch. There's a semi-automatic paddleshift on offer, but this is undoubtedly a better, more complete system, and I'd want to get rid of the show-oriented steering wheel and take the plain round one, too, as grabbing fresh air mid-corner would be seriously uncool.
Pulling the canopy shut with a dull thud and a firm shove on the lever through a central point of resistance, we were away, with the constant chirrup of the larger turbos that have been fitted to the engine. They run 1.4 bar of pressure and their operation is near invisible apart from the telltale noise and low-range torque, but we hadn't engaged the full works yet. In a nod to everyday usability, this car has a BMW M-style sanity mode. For the run to the office, the R Edition can stay at a relatively safe 550 hp, until you push the critical button and let loose the dogs of war.
The thrust in the back in full bore mode is insane, and keeps coming from 1500 revs all the way to the 6000-rpm redline.
In a straight line it is ballistic, hitting 60 mph in 3.6 seconds, 125 mph in 10.15 seconds and topping out at 201 mph, although that's thanks to an electronic limiter. It could be quicker, easily, and the Zonda F does leave it cold in a straight line. But Rubau wanted acceleration, drama, and feel rather than top-end speed, and wanted to make the most of 811 lb-ft of torque that pushes the four-stage traction control to its ragged edge and the car up to face-melting pace.
With a pushrod suspension and 500 pounds of downforce that press the tires to the tarmac and give more grip than anyone could reasonably break on a public road, it takes 1.22g of lateral force on standard tires to send it sideways-more on slicks. At high speeds it's sensitive to changing winds and pulls from the straight and narrow, requiring constant small corrections. Yet the car is so alive in your hands that it's all part of the experience and not a flaw.
The brakes, too, react like a stabbed cat, with the 380mm ceramic discs at both front and rear, together with six-piston calipers, hauling the car down from triple-digit speeds slightly less effectively than a brick wall. Its 60-to-0-mph time of 2.5 seconds is one of the more memorable statistics, but nothing prepares for the sheer violence of the actual procedure.
At speed, the car gets on its toes; it's alive and sensitive, direct and instant, but at normal pace none of this shines through. Tramontana may have honed its car on the race track and will even lay on a full test team for customers who want to drive their cars flat-out on closed roads. But it is, first and foremost, a road car.
That's why it comes with the canopy that so hurt the pure vision of an open-topped F1 car, and why it comes with full climate control, comfortable leather trim, plush carpet, and a real sound system. It can even hydraulically lift both the nose and the tail 135mm from the ground to prevent expensive scrapes and sheer hassle.
None of this helps its end mass, and it tips the scales at 2,795 pounds without fluids. But there is a stripped-out track version somewhere out there, and that's the one we really want to drive, as weight is truly the enemy in a car that is otherwise this pure.
Until then, we can just revel in this automotive oddball so exclusive it makes the Pagani Zondas and Bugatti Veyrons of this world seem almost common. This is unit number 10, and Rubau has set an absolute limit of 12 cars per year.
He says he wanted a unique car, one not everyone would understand, and his exclusive clientele are not just buying a car. They're buying a piece of art that they often admire and appreciate in the privacy of their climate-controlled garages with the aid of studio lighting, a plinth, a fine Cognac and a cigar.
I just hope they drove the wheels off it first, because to truly understand and appreciate the inner beauty of this F1 and fighter jet mash-up, you have to do just that.
2009 Tramontana R Edition
Longitudinal mid engine, rear-wheel drive
5.5-liter V12, sohc, 36-valve, turbocharged and intercooled
Six-speed sequential manual
Four wheel independent, double wishbone with pushrods, Ohlins dampers
Six-piston calipers with 380mm carbon-ceramic rotors
Length/Width/Height (in.): 192.9/81.9/51.2
Dry Weight: 2,795
Peak Power: 720 hp @ 5250 rpm
Peak Torque: 811 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
0-62 mph: 3.6 sec.
Top Speed: 201 mph
*Full power mode