Wiesmann Project Thunderball | PH Review
Looking for a retro-styled EV roadster? Here's the field of one…
By Mike Duff / Monday, 28 November 2022 / Loading comments
If there was a graveyard for extinct automotive brands it would be looking like the zombie scene in Michael Jackson’s Thriller video by now – with as many holes as occupied plots. In recent years long-dead names as diverse as Bizzarrini, Bogward and Hispano-Suiza have been reanimated. Now here’s a short-dead one joining the trend: Wiesmann.
The original incarnation of the German maker of retro coupes and roadsters ran out of road back in 2013. After a quick in-and-out of insolvency the company’s assets and factory in Dülmen, near Munster, were acquired by a British-Indian businessman, Roheen Berry, with work beginning on the creation of a new V8-powered model that would effectively follow on where the old range left off soon afterwards. But development on that car – Project Gecko – was suspended a couple of years ago with the radical decision taken to convert the same platform to electric propulsion. Which is what brings us here.
Now known as Project Thunderball (although the Bond-inspired name definitely won’t make the transition to production) this is a prototype rather than a finished car. But the basics are all defined with customer deliveries scheduled to start in Europe in 2024. Meaning that, if you knock various restomods out of the equation, this should be the first EV in this part of the market.
Beyond the obvious powertrain difference, the basics are close to those of earlier Wiesmanns. That means it uses a bonded aluminium sub-structure similar in principle to the one employed by Lotus and Aston Martin, this a developed version of the one the German company debuted in 2003. It has been widened and strengthened with the aim being to meet full U.S. Federal homologation standards. But it keeps what is obviously a V8-sized space up front, plus a vestigial transmission tunnel, these now repurposed to house the battery cells mounted in a T shape – wide and tall at the front, narrower and lower further back.
While Wiesmann reckons that the shape and position of a battery pack is an advantage – as it helps replicate the weight distribution of one of its traditional models and spares Thunderball from the raised seating position that would come from an underbody pack – there is also the strong sense that virtue is being made from necessity. It’s not like the existing structure offers anywhere else to put it. The actively cooled cell pack has a total 92kWh of capacity, with power sent to twin rear motors that blend their efforts before delivering it to the axle through a limited-slip differential. Peak power is 670hp, peak torque is 808lb-ft and range is targeting a 310-mile WLTP rating.
There is absolutely no shortage of visual presence. Earlier Wiesmanns took very obvious inspiration from fifties and sixties sports cars, especially British ones. But Thunderball manages to riff on the same themes while looking more modern and less retro. The large radiator grille isn’t delivering much functional purpose, yet it gives a striking frontal graphic that contrasts with the sizeable black areas around the LED headlamps. There’s a definite similarity to the much-delayed new-age TVR Griffith, although the (more expensive) Wiesmann has much more visual swagger to it.
Project Thunderball’s bodywork is made from carbon fibre, and the prototype’s fit and finish and the quality of paintwork all stayed good up close. Less impressive was the packaging of the fabric roof when folded, as it was throughout my limited time with the car, this sitting like a slightly lumpy backpack behind the seats with too much of its structure left on display. The prototype’s fixed roll-over hoops were also prominent and their high mounting position made them too obvious. A forthcoming coupe version will cure that, but also lose the hair-rustling potential.
In terms of critical reaction, the cabin is a tale of two halves. The traditional Wiesmann bits look and feel good, with that list including the hand-stitched leather (including covers for the indicator and wiper stalks), ‘rifle bolt’ door latches and the array of apparently analogue instruments turned towards the driver. (These are repurposed to report on the powertrain’s charge and status.) Less positive are some packaging foibles, including an uncomfortable lack of elbow room on the driver’s door side, and a touchscreen that soon proves nearly impossible to see in direct sunlight. The UI is also fiddly to operate and, as it controls heating and ventilation as well as infotainment, meaning that changing the prototype’s temperature became an awkward faff. Conventional heating controls would work much better in such a tradition-minded EV.
Performance is subjectively fast rather than exceptional, although quantifying EV acceleration as an experience is much harder than quoting numbers. The lack of engine noise or gearchanges means that even the most potent electric performance machinery makes uncomfortable G-forces seem a bit too easy. Unsurprisingly, that disconnect is more marked in an open-topped sports car. Even under full throttle it never felt savagely quick, although with the proviso that the proto-powertrain was frequently working at less than full strength.
Although I got a decent drive in the prototype, it was on the German equivalent of A and B roads, meaning brief hits of acceleration rather than sustained cruising speeds. It didn’t take many consecutive doses of full throttle to feel the sensation of the powertrain starting to de-rate as the motor temperatures rose; like driving into an invisible slick of treacle. This was in a car some way off finished spec – and there is no attempt to hide what is happening; the digital instrument display adjusts to show the maximum power and torque available at any point.
Beyond the novelty of its electric propulsion, Project Thunderball drives pretty much like Wiesmann’s earlier offerings, a point proved by the chance to experience it back-to-back with a couple of the company’s heritage collection including a very nice V8-powered MF4. Mass distribution is similar to that of the BMW-powered cars, with the company reckoning the 500kg battery pack is only about 50kg heavier than the combination of the combustion engine and gearbox; we’re told the finished version should be around 1,700kg, although the prototype is still over that. While the target weight is sylph-like for an EV, the Wiesmann’s centre of gravity is obviously higher than it would be with an underfloor battery pack. So although steering is fast geared, turn-in felt more leisurely than in something like a Taycan.
Lateral grip is good, but the motors’ ability to deliver huge, instant torque means that the traction control was often intervening in corners, even when it didn’t feel as if the car was being pushed especially hard. The prototype’s steering was also a bit darty and short on a sense of connection when compared to the weightier and chattier systems of some of Wiesmann’s earlier cars. Suspension was also set too low, grounding out several times in big compressions. Again, there’s plenty of time to finesse it ahead of customer deliveries.
Another interesting detail is what appear to be gearchange paddles behind the steering wheel. These aren’t, of course – rather, like Hyundai EVs, Project Thunderball uses them to control selectable levels of regeneration, with five to choose from. Even the keenest of these doesn’t actually slow the car that quickly, but it does allow one-pedal operation.
So cautious optimism, but with a fair crop of provisos that will need to wait for the finished version for answers. The Wiesmann EV plainly lacks the visceral appeal of the old V8 cars and their brawny soundtracks. Nevertheless, beyond that loss, there are many obvious similarities. It also seems set to have its part of the market to itself for a while at least – the first brand-new electric ragtop since the Tesla Roadster, no less.
Will it work? That’s what Berry has bet a considerable chunk of money on – having chosen to pay for development up front rather than – as with some of the more vaporous new car offerings – funding this through customer deposits. While the “circa €300,000” price tag is chunky, it’s hardly outrageous by the standards of a highly rarefied market. Now the production version just needs a name that won’t get James Bond’s lawyers firing writs. How about Revenant?
Specification | Wiesmann Project Thunderball
Engine: Twin electric motors
Transmission: Single speed reduction, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 670hp
Torque (lb ft): 808 lb-ft
Top speed: TBC
Weight: 1700kg (est)
Range: 310 miles (WLTP, target)
Price: c. €300,000
- Wiesmann details Project Thunderball battery specs
- Wiesmann taking Project Thunderball reservations
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