One of my absolute favourite vehicles built in the last 10 years was the Mercedes-Benz R63 AMG, a 500 horsepower crossover that would do 100 km/h (62 mph) in five seconds flat. Of course, it's excessive in every way, makes no sense in any way, and even though it was the fastest way to get well-heeled church groups from A to B, few people took Mercedes-Benz up. Made for just one year, it's more rare than just about any other modern Merc.
But it's just the latest in a long line of fast people carriers, an idea sparked years ago with big block rear-drive wagons, the Ford Transit Supervan, and other specials.
By the late 1980s, however, the idea of a business express for the road was starting to bubble up among Europe's specialist shops. The Cadillac Techniques d'Avant Garde Function Car by Sbarro is one, but my personal favourite is the De La Chapelle Parcours.
Founded by the great-nephew to the founders of the small French automaker Stimula, De La Chapelle began producing neo-classic roadsters as an homage to the family's earlier works—a line of neo-classics in both full-size and kid-sized designs.
According to their website, they took on their most monumental task of creating a modern supervan after being approached by a client who, presumably, needed to get up to eight people to 150 mph.
Because when you think about it, there's a great reason why most vehicles capable of ridiculous speeds usually seat two, and sometimes up to five: going fast is dangerous. An alert and experienced driver, clear road, maintained vehicle, and a whole host of other things can make it safe to do that speed—but risk still exists. And getting it wrong at that speed would be catastrophic—especially with eight people on board.
I'm impressed by the Parcours (truth be told, it's one of my favourites since starting #bcotd in April) most because it looks like it could have been a production vehicle. Its lines, interior, and technology are perfect for the time it debuted in. Even better, in many ways it parallels the R63 AMG:
- Automatic transmission
- Quad cam 5.0-litre Mercedes-Benz V8 engine with 326 horsepower and 319 lb-ft of torque
- Cd of just 0.28
- Top speed of more than 240 km/h (150 mph)
- Composite bodywork (likely reinforced fibreglass)
- Boxed tubular chassis, like a race car
- Air suspension
- Between 4 and 8 seats depending on configuration
- Onboard laptop computer
- Power seats, dual zone climate control
Not bad for a small, independent automaker, eh? And this was in 1988, when many of those features were hard to get on a Mercedes, let alone other luxury vehicles. And based on the interior appointments, it's exactly how De La Chapelle went about making the Parcours: they took a Mercedes-Benz and chopped it up, using its components inside the MPV bodywork.
For my more well-heeled readers: they made three. Go find one.