Absurd Annexation - 1998 Vector M12 ASR GT2
Towards the end of the 20th century, the world of endurance racing had seen an increased emphasis on Grand Touring racing. Full blown sports prototypes had ruled the roost since the late 1960’s, but the bloody demise of Group C and the associated World Sportscar Championship in 1993 instigated a massive paradigm shift in the sport. With prototype racing as good as dead in Europe, everyone turned their attention back to the traditional road car-based GT.
This renewed interest not only motivated big corporations to take advantage of the marketing potential of running a recognizable production-based car, but also opened the door for tiny sportscar factories to work their way into the spotlight. After all, the old saying Win on Sunday, sell on Monday still had some merit to it. As a result small factories like Helem, MiG-Tako, Panoz, VBM, Lister and MVS Venturi all decided to try and build a reputation on the world’s racetracks.
Across the pond in the good old United States of America, a similar revolution was occurring. The American counterpart of Group C, the wildly popular IMSA GTP category, had also collapsed in 1993 due to economic malaise, rising costs and a lack of manufacturer interest.
A desperate attempt to replace the closed cockpit monsters with a much cheaper roofless World Sport Car formula failed to regain the same level of popularity, which saw GT cars grabbing a much larger share. With little in the way of large-scale manufacturer involvement, smaller companies like Panoz tried to take a slice of the tasty new pie. One of those companies was Vector Motors.
Vector Motors was the brainchild of recently graduated Californian engineer Gerald “Jerry” Wiegert, who started the company in 1971 under the name Vehicle Design Force after a stint as technical consultant for Chrysler, Ford ánd General Motors. Wiegert’s biggest wish was to create America’s first true supercar, and take the fight to foreign invaders Lamborghini, Ferrari and Porsche.
Little over a year later, he introduced The Vector at the 1972 Los Angeles Auto Show. The blunt futuristic styling was certainly eye-catching, but Wiegert’s wild statements about either Porsche or GM Wankel-power revealed the car was still far removed from reality.
"I wanted to be a fighter pilot, but my eyesight's not good enough. So I've decided to build a fighter plane for the street". - Jerry Wiegert.
Jerry was however deathly serious about his promises, and set about refining the car into 1978’s W2. Powered by a titanic twin turbo 5.7L Chevrolet V8 with 600 horsepower, 800 nm (600 ft lbs) of torque and with a claimed top speed of 242 mph (389 kph), the W2 was serious business.
Sadly he lacked the funds to put the car into proper production, so the W2 was used as a testbed until he could find more financial backing. The W2 put on more than 100,000 miles (160,000 kilometers) in testing, and eventually came to life as the refined W8 in 1989. With this model, Vector Aeromotive Corporation had fulfilled its promise.
The car brandished a unique transversely mounted 625 horsepower twin turbo 6.0L V8, which drove the rear wheels through a highly modified GM TH425 3-speed automatic transmission. Funnily enough, this gearbox could trace its roots back to 1966’s Oldsmobile Toronado. Despite the hum-drum transmission, the $448,000 W8 could reach 60 mph in 4.2 seconds and go on to a top speed of 218 (348 kph).
The strikingly extravagant W8 was a hit with teenage boys everywhere, and even managed to convince the odd motoring journalist. Gerald Wiegert’s small firm had delivered a top notch product which easily outgunned the opposition. For a short while, business was booming.
Just 19 cars were built between 1989 and 1993 however, before Vector presented the more rounded Avtech WX-3 concept car at the 1993 Geneva Auto Show. The new machine was to be available as both a coupe and a roadster, and sported a 7.0L DOHC twin turbo V8 with the option of 600, 800 or 1200 horsepower. Unfortunately though, Wiegert would never get the chance to complete the new design.
Shortly after the presentation of the Avtech WX-3, an Indonesian company by the name of MegaTech Limited swiftly bought a controlling interest in Vector Motors. MegaTech couldn’t have had shadier credentials, as the firm was based in noted tax haven Bermuda, and was 50% owned by Tommy Suharto, son of totalitarian president Muhammad Suharto. The quick nature of the transaction did indeed turn out to have a nefarious purpose, as Jerry Wiegert would quickly find out.
Upon his return from Geneva, he was suddenly lead into the board room for an impromptu meeting. Under clear influence from MegaTech, Vector’s board of directors requested him to abandon his role as CEO of the company, and assume a position as Vector’s head of design. Wiegert vehemently refused, and even initiated a total lockdown of Vector’s headquarters. These actions resulted in him being fired from his own company.
From this point on MegaTech officials assumed total control of Vector Aeromotive, and moved the company’s headquarters to Florida at great expense, before attempting to put the WX-3 into production. However, a series of frantic lawsuits by Jerry Wiegert took this opportunity away from them. He successfully patented his own designs, and ordered MegaTech to cease all attempt to build his car.
This situation put MegaTech in a bit of a pickle, as they now had no car to put on sale and no-one to design a new one. Luckily the company had recently acquired Vector’s biggest rival, Lamborghini. Seeing an easy way out, MegaTech brought the two brands together. The ungainly product of this arrangement appeared in 1994 as the M12.
Predictably, the M12 had absolutely nothing to do with any of its predecessors. In actual fact, it wasn’t even a Vector. In their desperation, MegaTech had simply taken the Lamborghini Diablo, stretched it out a bit and fitted it with a horribly distorted fiberglass version of the Avtech WX-3’s bodyshell. Because of the longitudinally mounted 5.7L V12, the car was much longer than the 1993 concept, which didn’t do it any favors in terms of looks.
Additionally, the M12 was 60 kg (132 lbs) heavier than the Diablo, and didn’t produce more power. Things looked rather bleak for MegaTech then, but a $50,000 price advantage over the Lamborghini was deemed enough to salvage the brash company’s investment. Even with the price cut, would-be customers found it hard to justify spending $189,000 on a canoe-bodied car that was slower, uglier and of lesser build-quality than the Lamborghini.
Unsurprisingly, the botch-job M12 received scathing reviews in the automotive press. In a Top Gear review, Jeremy Clarkson complained quality control was on par with that of “…a Bulgarian power station.“, with doors that didn’t actually fit, a bonkers seating position, a protruding gasoline smell and air conditioning vents he could push down into the dashboard. Autoweek Magazine even went as far as branding the M12 the worst car they had ever tested.
The devastating exposure made Vector’s Indonesian management very nervous indeed. To try and shut their critics up, the company elected to venture out in the chaotic world of motor racing. If the M12 could score wins on track, Vector would surely gain the pedigree of better brands like Ferrari, and be on top of the market in no time at all.
With this in mind, Vector called in assistance from the appropriately patriotic American Spirit Racing, a team formerly active in the IMSA GT Championship. ASR helped modify a pre-production M12 for GT2-racing, which saw it fitted with uprated suspension and braking systems.
Weight was reduced by 500 kg (1102 lbs) to 1160 kilograms (2600 lbs). On the engine side of things little modifications were needed, as the V12’s 490 horsepower was already firmly in the GT2-ballpark. A big front airdam, large rear spoiler and lightweight wheels completed the package. With minimal testing, the car was shipped off to Sebring for the notorious 12 Hour race.
With its infamously bumpy concrete surfaces along the old airfield section, Sebring had gained a reputation as a savage car-breaker. The punishment it dished out to cars during the race was often enough the shake parts loose or outright destroy them. Considering the M12’s record for quality, the decision to debut it there appeared to be slightly misguided.
IMSA GT-drivers Bill Eagle and Dorsey Schroeder were given the thankless task of trying to qualify the M12, facing opposition from the Porsche 993 GT2, Acura NSX GT2 and the Saleen Mustang GT2. The pair failed to set a time however, starting 33rd on the 48 car grid. On race day Sebring lived up to its name however, as it shook the car apart and out of the race.
After the inevitable horrors of Sebring, the team moved to Las Vegas for round 2 of the IMSA Championship. A time of 1:23.962 put the car second to last on the grid, only managing to beat a GT3-spec Porsche 993. The M12’s second showing didn’t last long, as the car overheated in the early stages of the race.
The second DNF in a row forced ASR to miss the next round at Homestead. Instead, the outfit concentrated on the fourth round of the series at Road Atlanta. Now with Kevin Allen and Randy Pobst behind the wheel, the M12 failed to improve. Again the car qualified second to last in front of a GT3 Porsche, with a time of 1:33.588. During the race proper the plagued machine managed to last a bit longer, but a gearbox failure saw it out before half-distance.
By this time MegaTech’s money had dried up due to a financial crisis in Indonesia, and the GT2 project was shelved. Along with the cessation of racing activities, MegaTech was forced to sell Lamborghini to Audi, killing their hopes of dominating the supercar market. Vector Motors was retained, but with Lamborghini now a rival company, it started charging MegaTech for the supply of the 5.7L V12.
Crippled even further by a total lack of competent management and supposedly large scale embezzlement of company funds by Tommy Suharto, the company couldn’t even afford to pay for the engines. Left with no other option, MegaTech offered an unsold Vector W8 as payment. Lamborghini accepted, but was immediately sued by Jerry Wiegert, who was in fact the rightful owner of the car. Wiegert won the case and demanded his property be returned to him, but Lamborghini refused to budge. To this day the W8 remains in the hands of the Italians.
The whole soap left MegaTech scrambling for a way out. Sensibly, the idea of running Lamborghini engines was abandoned. In a last ditch effort to save the brand, the GT2-racer was turned into a new show car. A decidedly less expensive Chevrolet LT1 5.7L V8 was fitted, coupled to the renowned Porsche G50 5-speed manual transmission.
Like its cousin, it received fixed headlights taken from the Nissan 300ZX. A mild bodykit served to spice things up a bit, but the public wasn’t buying it. Just days after the SRV8 showed its face, Vector Motors closed its doors for good.Jerry Wiegert was eventually able to buy the ruins of the company back, and immediately started work on a successor, the 1200+ horsepower WX8.
The Vector M12 ASR GT2 was the result of a daring hostile takeover orchestrated by a crooked Indonesian company. MegaTech managed to infiltrate America’s only manufacturer of supercars, and kicked out the man who had made it great.
Without Jerry Wiegert, the Indonesians hadn’t the faintest idea what to do with their new toy, so they decided to simply merge it with their other recent acquisition: Vector’s arch rival Lamborghini. The offspring of this unholy marriage was inherited the worst traits of both parents, and the brand’s image was fading rapidly as a result. MegaTech realized taking the M12 into the world of motorsport could elevate it within striking distance of more prestigious manufacturers.
Unfortunately, the racing version turned out to be just as much of a dog as the street car, as it failed to finish every race it entered. With their funds evaporating due to mismanagement, economic malaise and a corrupt dictator’s son, MegaTech was forced to pull the plug after four short years. In the end, their ambitious and foolhardy plan to conquer the world of exotic sportscars had failed in the most embarrassing way possible.