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2 Fast 2 Fabulous
June 1, 2005, by Bill Cawthon
On Friday, June 6, 2003, "2 Fast 2 Furious," made its debut with a host of hot cars racing their way through Miami. Though widely panned by the critics, the movie was perfect entertainment for boy racers and knocked "Finding Nemo" out of first place at the box office. Ultimately "2 Fast 2 Furious" pulled in more than $127 million at the box office.
On Sunday, May 1, 2005, a sleek black coupe rolled out on the 12.5-kilometer test track in Nardo, Italy. It was 5:45 in the morning. Less than ninety minutes later, with champion race driver Klaus Ludwig at the wheel, the car had delivered performance that would blow the doors off of any of the cars in the movie. Think 4.4 seconds from 0-62 and a top speed of 351.45 km/h (over 218 miles per hour).
At first glance, that's not such a big deal. Sorry, guys, but there are plenty of cars that will smoke the even the Nissan Skyline GTR and Hemi-powered Dodge Challenger. But not many of them are six inches longer than a Ford Excursion and weigh more than three tons fully loaded.
The car is the Maybach Exelero, a two-passenger, two-door coupe based on the Maybach 57 sedan and, if it ever goes into production, it will likely command a price that would pay for most of, if not all of, the cars in "2 Fast 2 Furious."
This fabulous one-off concept car is actually a rolling advertisement for a new brand of tires made by Fulda, a Goodyear subsidiary and one of the leading tire makers in Germany. The Fulda Carat Exelero is a high-performance tire designed for larger wheels. In fact, the Carat Exelero is available in sizes up to 315/25 ZR 23. Even if your tastes run to those big chrome "dubs," you won't have any problem getting a Fulda tire that fits.
Fulda was founded in 1900 by Gustav Becker and Moritz Hasenclver. Taking its name from the region of Germany in which it was formed, Gummiwerke Fulda, or Fulda Rubber Works, began making various rubber products and tires for carriages. In 1906, Fulda started making tires for bicycles and automobiles.
In 1927, Fulda merged with Sieberling Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio and introduced its first pneumatic tire two years later. (Frank Sieberling had also founded another rubber company in 1898. He named it after Charles Goodyear, who had died years before the company was formed and whose family never got a penny for the use of his name).
In 1935, Vorwerk & Sons bought out Gummiwerke Fulda and the factory began making Buna tires.
During World War II, the company produced tires and other products for the Wehrmacht. By the time of the Allied victory, over 90% of the production facilities had been destroyed.
Reconstruction began in 1946 and tire production began once more in Fulda
Frank Sieberling's other company, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, took over Fulda Tire Company in 1962.
Almost since it began making tires, Fulda has been building special vehicles with which to promote them. Buses, cars and trucks with custom bodies and racing cars for high-speed testing have all been built to Fulda's specifications.
The origins of the Exelero project can be traced back to a special car Fulda wanted to test a new tire at sustained speeds in excess of 200 km/h (about 124 mph). In 1938, Fulda commissioned a one-of-a-kind car from Frankfurt-based custom builders Dörr & Schreck. Dörr & Schreck, in turn, decided to build this super-speedster on a SW38 chassis from Maybach Motorenbau.
The car was given a 140 hp, 6-cylinder engine which, combined with a drag coefficient of just 0.25 (0.6 was more common in those days), was felt to be powerful enough to get the car to the desired speed without weighing it down.
The result was a sleek three-seat car with a two-tone paint job that was delivered to Fulda on July 27, 1939, after the Germans had invaded Czechoslovakia and Poland. Because of the war, the SW38 had only a limited opportunity to show its stuff before testing had to be abandoned. During the war the custom Maybach disappeared and was never seen again. But its memory served as the inspiration for another car more than sixty years later.
About the same time the Maybach brand was being reintroduced a few years ago, Fulda was designing a new, high-speed tire for the larger, high-powered luxury vehicles that were being introduced. What was needed was a fast car with which to test them. A race car or sports car wouldn't do, so a group of executives and engineers at Fulda decided to see if a new group could be assembled to build a new speedster, this time one that could reach 350 km/h.
With the help of automobile photographer René Staud, the Fulda group made contact with DaimlerChrysler's Maybach development team. It was quickly discovered the 1938 car's width and height were very similar to the Maybach 57, although it was about 290 mm (11.4 inches) shorter. Leon Hustinx, Maybach's director of sales and marketing, quickly arranged for a Maybach 57 platform to be provided. After careful study, Jürgen Weissinger, development manager for Maybach, decided the 57 would serve, but a new engine was needed.
The engine in the Maybach is no slouch. It's a 5.6 liter, 550 hp, twin-turbocharged, 12-cylinder powerhouse that is capable of taking the heavy cars to speeds in excess of 150 mph with 0-60 times of less than six seconds. But it wasn't enough to achieve the level of performance Fulda was seeking.
To get more power, Weissinger turned to the DaimlerChrysler engine development group in Untertürkheim. The displacement was increased to 5.9 liters and the turbocharger system was optimized for maximum performance. When everything was done, the engine was developing 700 horsepower and a whopping 737 foot-pounds of torque.
As was the case with the original Fulda speedster, a custom body was required. Professor Harald Leschke, Manager of Advance Design Projects for DaimlerChrysler, called in Pforzheim Polytechnic's Department of Transport Design. Working with DaimlerChrysler designers, Professors James Kelly and Lutz Fügener and a team of four students went to work. After nine months and a number of concepts, a design by Fredrik Burchhardt, a student from Bowenden, was selected. As can be seen from the photos, Burchhardt created an elegant synthesis of classic and modern automotive design.
Incidentally, this was not Professor Kelly's first work for Fulda. He and another team of students designed the Fulda "High-Tech Emotions" show truck in the mid-1990s.
DaimlerChrysler tuned final construction over to Stola, a specialty design and production house in Turin, Italy. Founded by Alfredo Stola in 1919, Stola has become one of the world's most respected builders of prototype automobiles. Stola's 2004 design for a limousine based on the Lancia Thesis is certainly proof of the firm's ability to produce outstanding work.
Amazingly, it was just 25 months from the initial inquiries to the moment Jürgen Weissinger turned the key in the Exelero's ignition and the engine roared to life.
Unlike many concept cars, the Exelero is completely street-legal. DaimlerChrysler worked closely with the TÜV Automotive Group, the German technical services company that conducts testing and determines roadworthiness for vehicles in Germany.
So is this street-legal masterpiece of speed destined for production? No one is saying anything right now, but it's a pretty good bet there's an additional model in Maybach's future. While it's not entirely the fault of the cars themselves, Maybach sales have missed DaimlerChrysler's projections by a fairly wide margin. Something like the Exelero could go head-to-head with just about anything Bentley or Rolls-Royce have working.
Speaking of concepts making it to production, Audi plans to produce a new premium sports car based on the gorgeous LeMans Quattro first shown at the 2003 Frankfurt Auto Show. The car, currently named the R9, will be derived from the Lamborghini Gallardo (Lamborghini is owned by Audi). Look for it in 2007.
How about seeing the Exelero in 1:87 scale? Fulda has a pretty good track record of translating its show vehicles to model form. Herpa has produced a number of variants of the Emotions truck and Busch recently produced a special run of its Smart Fortwo with Fulda's trademark tread pattern. Perhaps in a few months, we will see a miniature Exelero in the Fulda online shop or maybe even right here at Promotex.
See you next time!
- Bill Cawthon
Bill Cawthon is a modeler and collector. His primary hobby interests are vehicle models in 1:87 and 1:160 scales and model railroading. He is senior editor of Route 1-87, the magazine of the 1/87 Vehicle Club, and a columnist and product reviewer for Model Railroad News. He is one of the creators of the award-winning "Grimy Gulch" model railroad layout.
In real life, Bill is a marketing and public relations consultant for MARK III Systems, a successful information technology company. He also writes for just-auto.com, an international auto industry publication, reporting on the U.S. light vehicle industry.
He lives in Houston, Texas with his wife, Marge, and their children.
Bill's columns appear twice monthly on Promotex Online. To learn more about him, click here.
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