Driven: Peugeot 907 Concept - French Super Model
A loud bang echoes through the sleepy French village of Sochaux. Residents could have mistaken it for a terrorist attack, if it was not followed by a thundering bark and nervous idle like that of a 1970s Le Mans racer. The uneven running not only betrays the morning moodiness of this twelve-cylinder engine, but also the fact that the Musée de l'Aventure Peugeot is the current habitat of this beauty and not the wide open roads. The aluminium gear lever with a wooden inlay feels immovable like the control stick in an F16 fighter jet and needs to be pulled back hard to select first. There is no tangible confirmation, so the only way to know if the sequential six speed transaxle has obeyed, is to gently release the clutch. The left padal feels remarkably stiff with a very short travel and the 907 shakes forward while the V12 stutters. It clearly needs a little more motivation, so I gently press the accelerator a bit deeper. With an aggressive jolt the French super model jumps forward, spinning its rear tires on the crumbled asphalt. Not very subtle…
Once rolling, I release the clutch completely and with the V12 idling, the 907 drives at about 35 km/h. I can’t tell the exact speed or even the amount of rpm because there are no gauges, but we get to that later. At higher speeds the engine still produces a bang now and then and crackles violently on the overrun. This creates an atmosphere that is more fitting for Circuit de la Sarthe, but I’m sitting in a luxury cocoon, upholstered with hand-stitched leather and Alcantara. The view over the vast sloping nose brings another reminder to classic endurance race cars, with twelve inlet ports sticking through the bonnet under an acrylic cover, just like on the 1962 Le Mans winning Ferrari 330 TRI/LM. The 907 Concept just keep bringing up mixed emotions and even after fifteen years it still does what it was intended to do: impress.
Those beautifully machined metal inlets provide large amounts of air to the twelve combustion chambers below; an amount that is not very common, certainly not for Peugeot. This V12 is literally fabricated from two V6 engine blocks and has a bespoke crankshaft and camshafts. Museum mechanic Alain Labrell tells me that during development Peugeot made parts for two engines, but only one was assembled and the other parts are kept in storage in case something goes wrong with the one in the nose of 'our' 907. After a short drive, Labrell signals me to stop and switch off the engine.
‘Because this is a show car there is no automatic radiator fan so it has to be turned on with a switch under the dashboard. If the engine keeps running without it, it will overheat but when the fan is constantly running the engine will not get up to operating temperature. A few years ago there was a fire in the engine compartment because the exhaust on the left was too close to the carbon fibre chassis. I changed that afterwards but we are still extremely cautious with it.’ Even with all its quirks the V12 runs smoothly with the oil at the proper temperature. There is instant torque with the slightest twitch of the right ankle and the power build-up is perfectly linear as only a naturally aspirated V12 can be. I did not push it to its limits though, because later today this car has to return to its prominent spot in the factory museum where it is one of the stars of the exhibition.
With the 907 being a concept car, created to shine on international motor shows, there are no functional electronics in the interior. As an advocate of classic cars with a passionate dislike for electronics, Labrell takes us on a little tour in the interior of the 907. He does so in fluent English, perfected during his time as a marine on a submarine: ‘The touch screen in the centre console is not really a touch screen. It was put there to show the public what could be possible, but back then this technology was not really suitable for cars yet. The speedometer and tachometer look like digital guages with an analogue scale from machined aluminium around them, but the screens you see are actually Windows PDAs. On car shows they displayed a JPEG file creating the illusion of a digital gauge.
The whole car is in fact an illusion, because Peugeot never had the intention to take it into series production. In 2004 the design team left their old studio in La Garenne to join their collueagues from Citroën in the new PSA Design Centre in Velizy. As a tribute to their old premises the designers received a one-time carte blanche to combine all their skills and passion in a fully functional prototype as a paragon of what Peugeot was capable of. ‘Nowadays concept cars are created digitally so they do not have to be functional cars anymore. They are not even created within PSA anymore, because these projects are mostly outsourced to specialized companies’, explains Labrell. For the 907, Peugeot created a carbon fibre monocoque and that was equally revolutionary for Peugeot as the V12 that was lurking deep down in that chassis. The suspension is fully independent all-round, so every technical detail was made for extreme performance. ‘It has never been officially tested, but according to the development team it should have no problems reaching a top speed of at least 300 km/h’, concludes our chaperone. A speed that I sadly will not reach, but I have already caused enough commotion for the day with that blaring V12.
That drawing attention is the raison d'être of this car was already clear, but during my test drive this is greatly emphasised by the crowd that we unintentionally gathered, trying to get a glimpse of the action and frantically snapping pictures with their phones. I don’t know what they are thinking of this museum piece, because some might see the 907 as the result of a one-night-stand between a Panoz Esperante and a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren while some might see it as a Hot Wheels toy car blown up to full-scale proportions.
This car is just stunningly beautiful but also introvert and classy as only a true Gran Turismo can be. The fact that this car never reached series production actually makes it even more mystical. In a real-world situation the 907 would have been forced to go toe-to-toe with masterpieces like the Ferrari 575 Maranello in a segment that is far beyond Peugeot's league. That could have ended in a tremendous financial disaster with the 907 going down in history as an utter failure. So, let's just cherish the fact that the 907 became a once-in-a-lifetime extravagance holding prominent places in both the history of Peugeot and the museum that tells the magnificent story of the brand.
Price: Not for sale, part of the museum collection
Engine: 5,890 cc V12
Valvetrain: DOHC 48V
Power: 500 PS (368 kW)
Torque: 600 Nm (443 lb ft)
Layout: Front-engine, RWD
Gearbox: Manual sequential 6-speed
0 - 100 km/h (0 - 62 mph): 4 sec
Top Speed: 300 km/h (186 mph)
Wheelbase: 250 cm (98 in)
Weight: 1,400 kg (3086 lb)
Words Natan Tazelaar (www.tazelaar.eu)