Venturi 400 GT

My problem with supercars is that, well, they're just too easy and too formulaic. 

But I only really think that of the mainstream supercar makers.

If you gave a team of engineers from any large car company some money, performance, and styling targets—then left them alone for a year or two—I have no doubt that a quick car would roll onto the stage at the next car show. They've got the resources, it's just a matter of putting it all together, slapping "Speciale" on the end, and bingo—every car magazine cover is yours.

For a smaller make, however, building a supercar is almost always fatal.

Even Venturi, who tried to be the world's only all-French sports car manufacturer, was dead after just 17 years and fewer than 700 cars were made. 

We pick up their story right about in the middle, with their Ferrari F40 competitor.

Based on the Atlantique (itself based on the company's first car, the APC 260), the 400 GT was a homologation special built in order for Venturi to compete at Le Mans. The company decided to take more established competitors head-on…and it didn't do all that well on-track.

But whereas, say, Ferrari built the F40 road car and never really got around to using it all that much in competition, Venturi took their Atlantique design, modified it heavily for racing—and then converted the specifications back for road use. If you consider the Bugatti Veyron more of a German car than French, the Venturi 400 GT remains just about the fastest French car ever made.

Behind the seats was a PRV V6—Peugeot Renault Volvo V6—built for the automakers by a company called Française de Méchanique. The beauty of this arrangement meant that other manufacturers, particularly smaller ones, could buy a stout motor and name it as their own. At the top end, Renault-Alpine put it in their GTA V6 Turbo—a direct competitor to Venturi—and it ended up in cars as diverse as the DeLorean, Eagle Premier, Talbot Tagora, Volvo 264, and Citroën XM.

It was even used in Jean-Louis Schlesser's Dakar rally buggies and in the WM Peugeot, recognized as the record holder of the fastest top speed ever attained at Le Mans: 407 km/h (253 mph).

Anyway, in the 400 GT it was a DOHC 3.0-litre with twin turbos and an output of 408 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque. Weight was just 1150 kg (2538 lbs). Zero to 100 km/h (62 mph) came in 4.7 seconds, with a top speed of "fast enough" at 291 km/h (181 mph)—for the specs nerds, that's a full 20 mph shy of the Ferrari F40. Grow up.

The first car fitted as standard with carbon brakes, in my estimation the 400 GT was just about the most raw car you could buy at the time, along with the Maserati Barchetta—even though Venturi at least fitted a full leather interior.

I think I'd like to drive one, please.

(And leave a comment online if you can guess where the tail lights are from…)