Spectre R42: Britain's Lost Spiritual Successor To The GT40

Should have been the new GT40, but instead it was another paragraph in the history books.

2y ago

We all know and love the Ford GT40, Ford's and Carroll Shelby's Ferrari-eating masterpiece that triumphed at Le Mans from 1966 to 1969. It became an automotive icon, and as such many people decided to capitalize on its fame and race-winning glory by being firm believers of the phrase "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", and making countless rip-offs, known better with their more artistic names as replicas. There have been different kinds of GT40 replicas, that used Rover or Buick V8s, but up until the 90s there was not even one car that could be described as the GT40s spiritual successor. Some know about the Ford GT90 concept, Ford's own attempt at a new GT40, that came out in 1995 and served as the inspiration for the Ford GT, but no one has ever heard about the Spectre R42, a car that was revealed in 1992 and was, you guessed it, designed to be a modern GT40. Let's find out more about it.

The R42, was the brainchild of one Ray Christopher, a car designer associated with GT Development, a British company that was known for building near perfect replicas of the GT40. Christopher envisioned his creation as a modern GT40, meaning it would have all of the original's party tricks ie. the mid mounted V8 and the low slung body, but brought up to 90s technological standards. Even the name he chose, R42, paid homage to the GT40, and specifically to the 42 inches of height the original had, while the R was for his name, Ray. And oh did Ray have high hopes for his creation. He wanted to take his car Le Mans racing, where it would emerge victorious just like the car he took his inspiration from, and in theory, he had a reason to keep dreaming, as the R42 had a drag coefficient of just 0,28, which was considered best in class. Moreover, the car incorporated styling cues from such legends as the Lamborghini Countach, the Jaguar XJR-15 and the Ferrari 288 GTO. So all was well right? Well not really.

The R42's interior. You can see the bits that came from the Fiesta.

The R42's interior. You can see the bits that came from the Fiesta.

In order for the car to go racing, a limited production run was required, which meant that the car needed to be further developed. The development costs for the R42 though were so high that GT Development went bust, after only one working prototype had been made. The R42's future remained uncertain, until 1995, when the American company Spectre Motors, took over the R42 project. Spectre was headed by Anders Hildebrand, GT Development's former sales agent, and he immediately set out to produce the R42 as quickly as possible. He brought in investors, reorganized production, and even made 5-time Le Mans winner Derek Bell chairman and development consultant. But most importantly, he launched the ALCO-Spectre racing programme in order to, you guessed it, take the R42 racing. So surely things were perfect now, right? Right?

No they weren't even remotely perfect. In order for the car to be produced in time, Spectre raided every car company's parts bin. So the R42 had the door handles and the front indicators of a Toyota MR2, the tail lights of a Honda Legend, and many interior parts from the Ford Fiesta! Its specs were relatively impressive though, as it used a 4.6 L Ford V8, that made 350 hp and 430 Nm of torque, mated to a 5-speed manual with a Getrag transaxle. The car also had race-style independent suspension with adjustable anti-roll bars, inverted wishbones and adjustable gas dampers all round, while it also featured AP racing vented discs with 4 piston callipers both on the front and the rear. As for the body itself, it consisted of an aluminium monocoque and a tubular steel space frame, on top of which laid an all-fiberglass body, which brought the total weight up to 1550 kg. So the car had the specs to back its efforts, but it just wasn't enough.

They even made a movie about it!

They even made a movie about it!

In its 3 year run, Spectre only managed to make 23 R42s, mainly down to the fact that every car needed 2000 man hours to be completed. And like that wasn't enough, the cars were unreliable and not well put together, with automotive journalists of the time, saying that while it was an impressive effort from an unknown company, it wasn't good enough to battle the likes of Ferrari. In an effort to drive up sales, the R42 even had a movie made about in 1998, called "RPM". The movie starred David Arquette and former Bond girl Famke Janssen, but by 1998 the company was in deep financial trouble, and not long after the movie got released, it went into receivership. And the racing programme that was supposed to take the R42 racing? A Le Mans variant of the R42, the R42 GTR was made and it was scheduled to race in Le Mans in 1997, but Spectre didn't have the money to actually race the car. And so in 1998, the R42 left us for good, never to be the modern GT40 its designers envisioned. I wonder what Spectre could have done after the R42. We may never know and we can only imagine. At least it left an average movie behind. That has to mean something..

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