Throughout automotive history there are countless examples of small manufacturers established with the intention of taking on the powerhouses of the supercar world. The vast majority of the time these manufacturers either only form an idea for a car and fail to ever actually build it, or enter production only for the car to turn out to be a bit rubbish. Occasionally however, one of these manufacturers manages to build a car that actually turns out to be quite good: think Pagani or Noble. Ascari was another such upstart manufacturer that, while defunct now, produced their own strong supercar contender.
Ascari Cars Ltd. was founded in Dorset in 1995 and introduced its first car, the FGT, in the same year. The company took its name from Italian racing driver Alberto Ascari, who was the first double Formula One world champion. Following the announcement of the FGT the company was purchased by Klaas Zwart, a Dutch entrepreneur and racing driver. Zwart took the FGT into competition, and the company would go on to produce a road version, the Ecosse, which was unveiled in 1999. In 2000 the company was relocated to Banbury where a brand-new facility had been constructed.
Following the move to the new facility Ascari began work on developing its next car, the KZ1: named after Zwart’s initials. The journey to actually achieving production was lengthy and awkward, as it took until 2005 for the final product to be unveiled and put on sale. Initial plans had been to have the car on sale in Autumn 2001, however the date was continually pushed back until 2004. At this point it was announced production had been cancelled, and the KZ1 would only be used at the then in-progress Race Resort Ascari. This decision was quickly reversed, and finally the KZ1 debuted at the 2005 Autosport International show.
The KZ1 featured a mid-engined, rear wheel drive layout and was built with a carbon fibre chassis and body. This extensive use of carbon fibre greatly contributed to the KZ1 weighing in at only 1330kg, which was significantly less than some of its contemporary rivals. The engine was a naturally aspirated, 4.9 litre BMW V8 lifted from the E39 M5. This was tweaked to provide a substantial increase in power: the KZ1’s engine produced 500HP, compared to the 400HP of the variant in the M5.
BMW M5 E39
Ascari claimed a 0-60 time of 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 200mph, which with the power and weight of the KZ1 is entirely believable. Somewhat surprisingly the KZ1 did not feature any traction control system or other such driver aids. Even for supercar standards, the KZ1 was always intended to be extremely exclusive. Only 50 cars were built, and the price of £235,000 made it the second most expensive British car on sale at the time.
Purchase of the KZ1 entitled owners to discounted rates at the Race Resort Ascari in Spain, where they could drive their new car on the resort’s test track and receive driver coaching. As is often the case with extremely limited-run supercars, buyers could make special requests for their car to add even more individuality to their example. These largely came in the form of unique interiors, though the ‘regular’ interior for the KZ1 was far from lacking: carbon fibre, leather, aluminium and suede were all used throughout. Likely the strangest request for a KZ1 was an entirely wood dashboard, to which Ascari obliged.
The general build quality of the KZ1 attracted many compliments from reviewers, which was another example of the Ascari distancing itself from the expected small manufacturer flaws. The majority of the switchgear was bespoke, and the general feel of the car was solid and confidence inspiring. The KZ1 managed to back up its straight-line performance in the corners as well, with the handling also receiving lots of praise in reviews. From the factory the default suspension set-up was geared in favour of understeer, though the KZ1 featured adjustable suspension and requests could be made to the factory for different set-ups. This understeer bias was intended to ensure less talented drivers would be able to enjoy the car, as due to the lack of driver aids this could have been problematic.
Ascari would go on to be involved in GT racing and planned to produce another car, the A10, before cancelling the project. In 2010 the company concluded production of its cars, but it continues to operate the Race Resort Ascari to this day. The facility in the UK that Ascari was based in is now owned by Haas F1, leaving little trace of the company. While Ascari did end up going the same way of most small manufacturers (that is, out of business), it did at least produce an impressive car that proved that not all supercar start-ups are a waste of money.