Masterful Mutant - 1995 Jimenez Novia W16
In 1969, German sportscar specialists Porsche finalized a project more ambitious than anything they had done before. Throughout their history they had been concerned with the lower rungs of the endurance racing ladder, choosing to focus on small capacity vehicles. With the big flat-12 917 however, they were aiming for top honors at the most prestigious even on the planet: the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
However, the first version of the car unfortunately proved to possess potentially lethal flaws in its design. Due its smooth, stretched-out longtail shape, it had a worrying tendency lift its nose up. This caused terrifying understeer, robbing the driver of control. Sadly, this worrying aspect of the car would take a life, as privateer John Woolfe met his end at Le Mans shortly after the start.
With the problems identified, Porsche set to work trying to remedy the handling issues. With help from costumer team John Wyer Automotive, the short-tail 917K was born, an altogether more stable and competitive package. Despite further, and much safer developments of the longtail concept, the 917K remained the superior machine.
Among a slew of national and international victories, the car managed to win the great race twice. Hans Hermann (GER) and Richard Attwood (GB) reigned supreme in 1970, before an updated 917K secured the top step of the podium in 1971 with Gijs van Lennep (NED) and Dr. Helmut Marko (AUT). In the process, the 917K became one of the most iconic Le Mans racers in history.
Due to the iconic shape of the original 917K, it was no small surprise an entire industry started developing around producing replicas of it for enthusiasts to use on normal roads. Usually, these models looked far from impressive, and were underpinned by humble Volkswagen Beetle chassis, giving no real performance to speak of at all.
Though two original 917K chassis were in fact converted for road use at great expense, owning anything even vaguely approximating both the looks and performance of the real deal was reserved for the super rich.
To motorcycle racer Ramon Jiminez, this was simply unacceptable. Although he was a successful competitor and even champion in his native France, he had nowhere near the funds to acquire a genuine Porsche 917K.
Not content on purchasing a flimsy fiberglass Beetle-based knockoff, he decided to transfer his passion for the car to an ambitious private project. Instead of buying something pre-fabricated, he elected to build his ode to the mighty 917K completely by himself.
Work on the project started in 1985, and initially centered around securing the correct equipment, and developing the production techniques needed to produce the unique machine. This included setting up the means to produce carbon fiber composite panels, a technology which had only reached Formula One five years prior. With a small team of engineers, Ramon Jiminez commenced design of the car in his workshop near Avignon.
The core of the car consisted of an aluminium honeycomb monocoque chassis, to which a full carbon fiber bodyshell was fitted. Naturally, the car closely resembled the first iteration of the 917K, the most famous shape associated with the type.
The car's most amazing feature was found right in the middle. Instead of going the relatively easy route of mounting a flat six from a Porsche 911, or simply ordering a V8 crate engine from Ford or Chevrolet, Jimenez had gone out of his way to construct a completely unique powerplant.
His starting point was not one, but four examples of the popular Yamaha FZR1000 Exup superbike. The four bikes were rid of their 1003 cc, 20-valve, air-cooled four cylinder engines, which were then used in a peculiar Frankenstein experiment.
Jimenez divided the engines in pairs, and in effect constructed two V8s out of them. He then joined both pairs at the hip in a common crankcase, but retained separate crankshafts for both "V8s". What he ended up with was a 4208 cc, 80 valve, 16-cylinder air-cooled monster.
Though Ramon Jimenez and subsequent media publications would refer to the mutant motor as a W16, it wasn't really true to that layout. With four rows of four cylinders in two conjoined V's, the engine didn't resemble the "broad arrow" layout ascribed to a true W-engine.
The composition of the Jimenez W16 was similar to the approach behind the massive Chrysler A57 Multibank.
In fact, the composite nature of the engine was more akin to the obscure Chrysler A57 Multibank. This 30-cylinder, 20.5L behemoth consisted of five 6-cylinder automotive engines geared together, and was used to power the American M3A4 Lee and M4A4 Sherman tanks used in the Second World War.
As each engine produced 136 horsepower on its own, Jimenez expected an output of at least 500 horsepower for his W16. A slight bump to 1052 cc per cylinder head yielded a slightly higher result however, as the engine pushed out an impressive 560 horsepower at an ear-splitting 10.000 rpm. Owing to its origins, low down torque wasn't really a factor, as its maximum 432 Nm (318 lbs ft) wasn't reached until 7500 rpm.
A system of gears directed the power from both crankshafts to a common output shaft, which then fed into a 6-speed manual transmission. Finally, lightweight 18 inc alloy wheels shod Michelin tires sized 275/35 in the front and a generous 345/35 in the rear ensured the power reached the road. Thanks to the copious amounts of lightweight materials like aluminium and carbon fiber, the car weighed just 890 kg (1962 lbs).
As the engine was still air-cooled, a lot of care was taken to improve airflow in the engine bay. Fans were placed in front of two large grilles in the back of the car, sucking out hot air to help the intricate engine to breathe. An even larger example was found in the middle of the distinctive diffuser section, situated between the two pairs of exhausts.
In terms of overall dimensions, Ramon Jimenez had been very thorough in replicating the size and shape of his dream car. At 4166 mm long, 1956 mm wide, the car was just 44 mm longer, 24 mm wider than the original.
The biggest deviation was found in the vertical sense, as the Jimenez design was 152 mm higher than the Porsche at 1092 mm, a necessary evil to provide the occupants with a decent amount of space.
The car was finally completed after an arduous ten year developing period in 1995, at the reported cost of 855.000 dollars. Cheekily, Ramon Jimenez named the car Novia, Spanish for girlfriend, fiancee or bride, as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the enormous amount of time he had spent on the car.
Considering the impressive specifications, it was no small wonder the Novia was a very potent machine. With just 1.6 kg (3.5 lbs) per horsepower to lug around, the car was a regular acceleration monster The standard 0-100 kph (0-62 mph) sprint was over in just three seconds. A 1000 meter sprint recorded similarly impressive figures, as it took the car just 19 seconds.
However, the Novia wasn't just an out and out glued-together racer. Inside, the cabin was fully furnished in nicely stitched creme-colored Connolly leather, including the two racing harness-equipped bucket seats.A black leather-rimmed steering wheel and full instrumentation panel was complemented by a radio/cassette player, an ash tray and even an air-conditioning system.
Entry to the car was provided by Lamborghini-style scissor doors, adding to the exotic ambiance of the car. Further luxury was provided by an electronic traction control system, and a handy hydraulic suspension system allowing the car to negotiate bumpy roads.
However, the ultimate question still remained: how fast would the Novia really go? With a call to some friendly local government officials, Ramon Jimenez created the perfect opportunity to find out. A section of the A7 highway was cordoned off for Jimenez, allowing him to unleash the full potential of the crazy W16. A breathtaking 381 kph (236 mph) top speed was the result.
Further performance tests followed on the roads surrounding the workshop, and the Paul Ricard Grand Prix circuit. Another persuasive call saw Jimenez being granted access to the 2,407 meter (1.5 mile) runway of Orange-Caritat Air Base, where a curious complement of French air force pilots witnessed the test.
The car continued to be tested and developed as Jimenez made plans for further performance enhancements, a possible Le Mans entry under the popular GT1 rules, and even an off-road model. However, the French government got in his way. In order for the car to qualify for series production, he would have to produce a chassis solely for the purposes of a crash test.
With almost a million dollars in the creation of his first car, this proved to be quite a challenge. Despite the publicity generated by the A7 run and the appearances at Paul Ricard and Orange-Coutirat Air Base, he was unable to find financial backing for the second stage of the project. As such, a planned production run of the Novia at an asking price of 300.000 dollars was never realized.
Faced with these obstacles, Ramon Jimenez elected to keep his remarkable creation as a one-off, and instead redirected his business to dedicate itself to an entirely different field in 1998. As such, Jimenez Motor Laser survives to this day as a firm specializing in the production of water jet CNC cutting machines.
Though the Novia hasn't been seen since, it's safe to assume it still has a special place in Ramon Jimenez' garage as his crowning achievement. Coming from absolutely nothing, he had built a car which could comfortably rival the best offerings from Ferrari, Lamborghini and even McLaren at the time, at least in terms of performance.
Though funds eventually dried up, and it never reached production, the innovative, unusual and lightning-quick Jimenez Novia commands respect from any supercar aficionado.