Although the Ascari KZ1 first saw the light of day at the Birmingham Motor Show in 2000, it still looks bang-up-to-date a decade later. More classic Ferrari than contemporary Lamborghini, this early 21st Century supercar looks dainty, almost feminine from some angles, yet harbors a masculine aggression that gives it great presence.
Jointly penned by Ascari boss Klaas Zwart and Omni Design in Coventry, the KZ1 was inspired by the same design ethos you see on all the great Italian sports cars. Compact and elegant, the KZ1 is also dynamic and purposeful, with exquisite proportions that look right from every angle.
Particularly when the soft golden rays of a sunset highlight its surfaces, it becomes very clear that the KZ1 is very well finished too. Three coats of hand-rubbed paint over the carbon-fiber panels deliver an immaculate mirror finish.
Where the original KZ1 was a very pure shape, this latest version has unashamed trackday leanings, with a front splitter and large rear wing providing significant downforce over the front and rear axles. Its coefficient of drag is 0.32, still impressive for any supercar, where aggressive styling usually takes precedence over aerodynamic drag.
A car's interior should reflect its exterior. Simple and modern with no retro clichés or carryover switchgear from mass-production cars, the KZ1 interior does just that, and is supported by top quality materials like fine leather and carbon fiber that are so crucial to both the eyes and the fingertips.
The reason the Ascari KZ1 looks and feels so professionally crafted is down to the fact that former specialist oil drilling equipment king Zwart made up his mind to do things properly, and has deep enough pockets to put serious money where his mouth is.
Hiring the best people in the industry, he has well known ex-Lotus engineer David Minter on his payroll, along with a team of world-class people who cut their teeth in Britain's race industry. And as with so many carmakers big and small, Ascari employed the services of Lotus to finesse the KZ1's ride and handling.
The KZ1R LM is the fourth variation on the basic KZ1. The second was the KZ1R trackday version, while the third was the wide-bodied A10 that took the lap record at BBC Top Gear test track in 2007.
Although it is superficially similar to the original KZ1 and KZ1R, the KZ1R LM has many upgrades developed for the Ascari A10, plus the wheel arch extensions and spoilers from the GT3 race version. Because of this, its genes are more from motorsport than the original road car, and Ascari promotes it as a street legal club racer.
"It is a typical car for our club members," says Zwart. "Of course, you don't have to use it on-track, and some customers will simply drive it on the road as they would a Ferrari or Lamborghini."
The KZ1 is constructed from carbon panels around a carbon tub. While this flat-bottomed supercar was originally built at the Ascari factory in Banbury, a stone's throw from Prodrive, assembly has been moved to Spain and now occupies a floor of a building at the Ascari Race Resort.
Even though the original KZ1 from 2004 weighed just 2,900 pounds, Klaas wanted the power-to-weight ratio to be comparable to big league supercars. So 520 hp became the target figure for the 2,976-pound KZ1R LM, which is lighter than the Ferrari F430 and Lamborghini Gallardo.
The BMW M-Power V8 is mounted amidships for a 46/54 weight distribution. Tuned by a British race engine specialist, the KZ1's V8 has high-lift cams, gas-flowed cylinder-heads, bespoke intake and exhaust systems, and a remapped ECU. Thus modified, the E39 M5 engine pumps out its 520 hp at 7500rpm, with 398 lb-ft of torque at 6500 rpm.
The V8 has also been dry-sumped, dropping overall height by four inches and benefiting the center of gravity. This dry sump swallows 9 liters of oil, 2.5 liters more than the M5 motor. However the new intake manifold is taller, so the package ends up the same height as the stock BMW motor.
The unique stainless steel exhaust is ceramic coated and shielded with Darchem motorsport-grade heat reflective material to cut down heat in the engine bay. A 90-liter racing fuel cell sits in the chassis between the cabin and engine bay.
The engine is mated to the same six-speed CIMA gearbox used on the Pagani Zonda. Where the M5 has a dual-mass flywheel weighing a massive 50 pounds, the Ascari flywheel weighs just 17.6 and transfers power via a twin-plate organic AP Racing clutch. Ascari claims that the slightly lighter and more powerful KZ1R slingshots to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, to 100 mph in 8.2 seconds, and on to top out around 200 mph.
The engine and gearbox, with bespoke bell housing, are mounted on a steel subframe. The race-style double wishbone suspension uses steel arms mated to machined alloy uprights, Intrax height adjustable coilovers with helper springs, and Intrax race dampers with separate reservoirs. The anti-roll bars are three-position adjustable in front, with no rear bar.
Massive AP Racing 362mm cross-drilled vented discs with six-pot calipers in front and 330mm discs with four-pot calipers with Lucas ABS are connected to a hydraulic booster rather than a servo. The 9x19 and 12x20-inch Dymag three-piece lightweight wheels are shod with 255/35ZR19 and 335/30ZR20 Michelin Pilot Sport tires.
The British-made wheels have magnesium alloy centers and carbon barrels and are the lightest road-legal wheels money can buy. At 15.4 and 20.4 pounds respectively, they are about 20 percent lighter than a forged wheel, and up to 50 percent lighter than a conventional cast alloy wheel.
First impressions are of a very fast, civilized, and highly driver-focused car. The cabin is a bright and airy place to conduct business. Power delivery is smooth and strong, and thanks to a moderately weighted clutch and balanced controls, the car is easy to drive in traffic. Both primary and secondary ride are good, and it's obvious that the significant structural stiffness lets the suspension do its work properly. Many manufacturers seem unable to get their power assisted steering right. Ascari has succeeded, and just the right amount of assistance delivers good feel and linear reactions at all speeds without a hint of turn-in nervousness.
Ascari benefits from having its own 3.5-mile, 26-corner racetrack where I could give the car its head. Unlike a turbocharged car of similar power and weight, which would be trying hard to break traction at the slightest provocation, the LM is wonderfully linear and progressive in its power delivery.
Strong and unrelenting from just above idle to cut-out, the big V8 is almost deceptively smooth, and with your race helmet blocking out a lot of its rumbling decibels, the reference points to your pace come more from the rate at which the scenery hurtles past.
Off the gas and hard on the anchors, the big AP Racing brakes deliver tremendous retardation. They proved to be fade-free even though I pushed them to the limit in a series of flying laps.
Equally impressive is the superb handling and grip. Before I took the wheel myself, Klaas drove me around the track at full pelt. Although the LM was wearing Michelin road rubber, I was astonished by the sheer mechanical grip it could generate, and felt that it was not that far behind a Porsche GT3R on slicks.
As a driver's car and an object d'art, the Ascari KZ1R LM is a stunning achievement for a small specialist manufacturer. Its straight-line go is up there with the major league supercars, while its handling and grip and general usability are a wake-up call to bigger names in the business.
The cabin is tight for larger drivers, but that's a problem with mid-engine supercars in general. The only real downside is the price. If you look at the KZ1's dynamic abilities, it can hold its head up high against cars like the F430 and Gallardo. If it were similarly priced-in fact even if it were 20 percent more-it would still be a good proposition.
Due to the amount of money Klaas has poured into the project and the 1,000 man hour build time for each car, the KZ1 comes with a €350,000 price tag, making it a tough sales proposition. For some wealthy enthusiasts for whom such sums are paltry, however, the exclusivity factor kicks in, and they can be assured that they're getting a unique and beautiful car that actually does what it says on the tin.
Ascari KZ1R LM
Longitudinal mid engine, rear-wheel drive
5.0-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve
Independent double wishbones
AP Racing assemblies
Curb Weight: 2,976 lb
Peak Power: 520 hp @ 7500 rpm
Peak Torque: 398 lb-ft @ 6500 rpm
0-60 mph: 3.7 sec.
Top Speed: 200 mph
Ascari Race Resort
A gearhead's dreamland
Situated high up in the Andalucian hills, not far from the ancient Spanish town of Ronda, 5.425km of high-grip tarmac winds its way through picturesque country with a backdrop to die for. The Ascari Race Resort is one of the finest racetracks ever built.
The brainchild of Klaas Zwart, who sold his offshore oil drilling equipment company for rather a lot of money in the late 1990s, the track is longer than most international Formula One tracks, and can be divided into sections for different activities to be run simultaneously.
There is also a skidpad that can be wetted down for drivers to practice drifting and an off-road course behind the track. The fully equipped workshop that's part and parcel of the Resort is staffed by experienced race mechanics from the UK.
The spacious 300-car garage and workshop allows resort members to store their vehicles in a perfect environment. Here, pride of place in Klaas Zwart's personal racecar collection goes to two late '90s ex-Gerhard Berger Ferrari F1 cars.
Unlike most tracks, the hustle and bustle is absent, and blaring tannoys and gaudy advertising billboards are out. The Clubhouse is built in Spanish hacienda style from the finest materials, and as the track is so long and only very occasionally used for racing, the sound of cars screaming past seldom disturbs your rest as you lounge on the patio or by the pool.
Although he originally built this $40 million petrolhead's playground to indulge his passion for cars and motorsport, Klaas quickly realized the track's commercial possibilities. The off-road course was quickly added, and a small but spectacular six star resort hotel will be the final component in his plans to make the Ascari Race Resort a car enthusiast's heaven.
In addition, Ascari Race Resort offers a unique membership opportunity to hardcore trackday fanatics. For a one-off fee of around $230,000 (you get a $76k discount if you buy a KZ1), these members will be guaranteed 52 track days a year. Membership is capped at 500, and as with a golf or country club, you can resell your ticket if you so wish.
The Race Academy, with its professional instructors, can take someone from basic right up to LMP sports prototype or Formula One over a period of time, so there is every incentive to keep coming back. Ascari recently acquired the former Jaguar R5 F1 cars, and has a three-seater Benetton for F1-experience passenger rides.
Klaas's passion for cars goes far beyond the bounds of most very wealthy enthusiasts. More than just a collector, he is also a driver. A distinguished "gentleman driver," Klaas has won the Euroboss 3000 Championship three times. In earlier days, he also competed in the TVR Tuscan series, Ferrari Maranello Championship, British GT, and 24 Hours of Le Mans.
He entered the 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours with his own team running their Ascari Ecosse GT, and currently runs an Ascari KZ1 in the GT3 class of the Spanish GT Championship.
There are 87 golf clubs on the Costa del Sol, but only one facility like Race Resort Ascari. It's an enthusiast's dreamland where Klaas Zwart lets others play with his toys. -IK