Spectre is big. But secretly so. This is of course an advantage if you are a criminal organization, but a definite inconvenience for a supercar. Today, ViaRETRO goes double-up on Spectre, both of which failed but for rather different reasons.
If I were a gamling man, my money would be on the crime organization SPECTRE being the most famous of today’s two Spectres. Surely, every child in the Western World knows the letters are an acronym for “Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion” which is a global crime empire encompassing all which is evil. We first heard of the organization in Ian Fleming’s novel “Thunderbolt” from 1961 – yes, the story which later became a James Bond movie of the same name, which, in turn, created a whole Bond Empire of films with a somewhat opposite plot.
SPECTRE is a business too – with the evil Blofeld in charge. As is obvious from the name, one of the organization’s main business areas is extortion, and more often than not through large-scale operations backed by equally powerful threats and subsequent demands. Think theft of nuclear war heads and you’ll have a general idea of their level of evilness. However, it is beyond the scope of this article to go in any further depth to explain their many grand schemes. But the point is that SPECTRE has never succeeded with any of their major projects. Over and over again, they have been beaten back to the evil hole from which they surfaced by our hero James Bond, and often quite spectacularly too – as when he, for example, blasts their volcano base to smithereens.
Yet, on the other hand SPECTRE has never really been eradicated – and again and again they appear and reappear in Bond movies. With varying strength and goals, but they are at least tenacious. In a James Bond movie from 2015 – which I have not yet seen, but will a some time when it approaches retro status – the organisation is finally given the lead role and the movie is titled no less than SPECTRE. This hints at a great spectacle, but as Bond is back in an Aston Martin we all know how it ends – even without having seen the movie. Or, rather, does not end completely: There must of course be another SPECTRE comeback in the cards.
Today’s other Spectre is in stark contrast rather more dead. Just like the crime organization, it did actually recover after the first death in 1993, but after the second in 1997 it was pretty much game-over: Spectra have not manufactured cars for 20 years now. The basic plan was fine though and even seemed legit: This Spectre was a supercar which was designed to not have those typically super maintenance costs, which require owners to have a second income from a shadowy underworld crime business. The engine was therefore a standard Ford motor, which – seeing as this was after all a supercar – had of course been placed somewhere in the middle.
The engine itself wasn’t short of bang either, as it was the finest Ford could offer at that time: their 32-valve all-aluminium V8 of 4,6 liters, which transmitted its 360 horsepower through a Getrag gearbox and into a nicely specified fully-adjustable suspension. Especially suspension setups often end up being nearly there in similar low-volume production sportscars, but Spectre was greatly helped by the fact that the entire technical basis was that of the popular GT40 replica GTD, which at that time had been built in around 300 examples. GTD wanted to build a real street car, and what could possibly be more obvious than starting with the GTD base which was by now very well developed. In fact, Spectre founder Ray Christopher’s vision was indeed to build a modern version of the GT40 – even including a dream of entering the Le Mans 24 Heures.
However, in perfect alignment with British tradition for a small specialist car manufacturer, GTD went bankrupt after the (also a typically classic plot…) higher than expected development costs. But before that happened, they managed to present the R42 (named after its height in inches, although the R42 is actually 43 inches tall…?) at the London Motor Show where the interest was large enough for Spectre (the company; not the crime organization) to decide to take over the complete concept. The fact that they actually managed to build some cars in this new setup was due not least to Swede Anders Hildebrand, who had been agent of GTD in several countries. He was at the forefront of Spectre (the company…), and with a masterful marketing move, he captured the multiple Le Mans winner Derek Bell and appointed him as chairman of the board. Needless to say, this made for excellent marketing when you’re attempting to sell a new supercar. He even had some brochures printed for their Spectre R42 – as these four pages illustrate below:
There’s plenty to be said about the Spectre R42, but a real and proper supercar it is perhaps only barely. Had it reached its weight target of 1100 kilograms, it would probably have been achieved supercar status – but the final weight ended as far from the target as did the price: On the road and ready to go, it pushed the scales to some 1500 kilos and this obviously hindered its performance significantly. And its sale price broke the predictions as well: At £ 70,000 the Spectre was 18,000 more than a Lotus Esprit and 2,000 more than the highly competent Honda NSX. The Spectre’s performance was better on paper, but it also seems somewhat exaggerated. A very impressive 4 seconds for its sprint to 100 km/h and a top speed of 285 km/h? With a curbweight of 1500 kilograms, I’m sceptical. But who knows… What it did do really well, was again in the suspension department. It was surprisingly comfortable, according to “Car” Magazine, though they went on to criticise the design.
Personally I feel that the proportions are almost okay, but typical for the genre it’s in the details that much is left to be desired. Aerodynamically it worked well, but as we all know from similar stories like this, that’s just not quite enough. While you might be able to put up with flexing and vibrating body panels which also openly display their fibreglass weave (it should have been aluminum or carbon fiber, but that turned out to be – of course – too expensive) and perhaps even Honda Legend taillights, a supercar must at least look super, as a minimum when viewed as a whole and from a distance. The cabin promised great things too, but when you looked closer, the Ford parts bin spoiled the picture. After all, the ignition key for a Spectre R42 was a standard Fiesta plastic-thingy, complete with Ford logo! That’s just never going to be good enough. Nonetheless, they made it work for three years during which Hildebrand sold 26 cars, and even managed to launch (in words, at least) the R42 GTR racing version.
Two of the Spectre cars he managed to, again with great marketing skill, get prominently placed in the allegedly promising movie “RPM”, where the Specter R42 was given the role of a new eco-sports car. Amusingly, the McLaren F1 was considered as well, but not chosen simply because it was already too famous and well known. This could have been Spectre’s claim to fame, but the movie flopped big time, and in 1997 Spectre went bankrupt again.
Or did they? Was this perhaps just what they wanted us to think? Could there in reality be a connection between SPECTRE and Spectre? Quite possibly yes: For the lead role actress in the flop RPM, is also prominently featured as the femme fatale main villain in the Bond movie Goldeneye from 1995. A coincidence? Hardly! Real world secret agents and big screen secret agents might very well be the same thing in a clever double agent / double bluff conspiracy? The mind boggles as SPECTRE’s grandest of grand schemes yet unravels before us…
The villain herself, on the other hand, is not to be faulted in either RPM or Goldeneye: Her (real?) name is Famke Janssen, she is of Dutch heritage, meets every weight and power target, and is as super agile as any super villain should be. The curvature of her design is not at all bad either. Maybe she is the real Blofield?