The start-up supercar scene is a curious corner of the car industry. It attracts the colourful, the smart and the downright bonkers in equal measure, and is a world where failure is conspicuously more common than success.
History tells us that if you launch a new supercar brand, the whole venture will almost certainly go up in smoke. But it can work, and when it does all come together, the results can be spectacular - just look at firms like Koenigsegg and Pagani.
Telling which category a new company fits into isn’t easy, particularly as, with the advent of monstrously powerful electric powertrains, there seem to be more emerging than ever. In a number of ways, though, Californian outfit Czinger isn’t running with the herd with its 21C.
It has an unusual, fighter jet-style ‘inline’ seating arrangement, and a big chunk of it is 3D printed. There isn’t a 2000bhp electric drivetrain here, either. Granted, with 1250bhp on tap from the C21’s hybrid guts, the output is still otherworldly, but what’s especially interesting is how the majority of that is developed.
The Divergent Blade, a concept forerunner to the C21, used a Mitsubishi Evo X-source inline-four bored out to 2.4 litres. But here, there’s a 2.9-litre V8 that develops 950bhp at 10,500rpm and will rev until 11,000rpm. Oh, and it’s been designed by Czinger itself. From the ground up.
"It isn't just a gimmick that sounds good in a press release - additive manufacturing had a fundamental effect on the 21C's design"
That’s a huge undertaking for a small company like Czinger, but the quality of the two ‘1PT’ prototypes at the company’s recent launch doesn’t seem to have suffered considering the resources a bespoke engine will have eaten up. We’ve seen untidy, hastily thrown together and frankly embarrassing show cars from niche manufacturers before, but that’s simply not the case here.
So, the setup is interesting and the products look to be well put together even at this early stage, but what about the people behind the project? At the top of the tree is CEO Kevin Czinger, whose eponymous car brand is a wholly owned subsidiary of Divergent 3D, an additive manufacturing specialist he founded in 2013. Then we have chief commercial officer Jens Sverdrup and chief technical officer Jon Gunner, both of whom have 12-year stints at Koenigsegg on their CVs.
At the launch event, we sat down with Sverdrup and Gunner to find out more about the car, and the direction Czinger intends to take. And the first thing we wanted more detail on was the additive manufacturing side of things. Gunner notes that Czinger only “use the 3D printing where it’s necessary,” but that’s still resulted in much of the car’s structure and suspension components being made in this way.
It isn’t just a gimmick that sounds good in a press release - additive manufacturing had a fundamental effect on the overall design of the 21C. “The constraints of typical manufacturing are removed - you don’t have the lead times or restrictions of tooling. It really frees you up to do unique things,” Gunner explains. Many of the components could be made smaller than through traditional means, making packaging that strange but brilliant inline seating layout possible.
Putting the driver in the middle also meant the cockpit could go further forward while giving the Czinger a smaller frontal area. This results in lower drag, and higher downforce. That’s a win-win before we’ve got to the fact you can pretend you’re a fighter pilot while driving this. It is worth pointing out that the passenger seat isn’t big, though - unless you have someone vertically challenged driving, getting an adult in the back looks like it’s going to be a squeeze.
Even with the cabin pushed so far forwards, the mid-mounted engine needed to be small, yet very powerful. The only problem is, there wasn’t anything out there that fitted the bill. “We took inspiration from really power-dense applications like Formula 1 or hyperbikes,” Gunner says, adding, “But the only way to get that package so small and compact and power-dense was [to design it] from the ground up”.
The construction of the engine, however, will most likely be outsourced. Supply lines are still being figured out, so Czinger isn’t ready to say who’ll be making the engine, nor the firm who’ll supply the two motors that power a front wheel each.
There’s a 2kWh battery pack either side of the cockpit, giving a total of 4kWh. Enough juice to get the 21C off the line quickly (0-60mph takes just 1.9 seconds), but not so much that the hypercar is excessively weighed down by loads of heavy cells. All in, it tips the scales at just 1200kg in its lightest configuration - about the same as a VW Polo. Gunner claims this setup was “the only real mass-efficient way” to get the performance the team was after.
The system does have some limited electric-only capability, with the twin-turbo, flat-plane V8 shutting down during coasting or while pulling away gently. Theoretically, it could eke out an electric mileage of about 10 miles, but that’s not what the setup is for, Gunner says.
What the C21 isn’t, Sverdrup tells me, is a Rimac-style showcase for technology partnerships, with Divergent taking care of the b2b stuff. Czinger, “is founded to stand on its own two legs as a car brand - there’s a full model line-up coming, well into development”. He added, “I’ve seen this in the media - ‘just another hypercar’. It’s not that, there’s a bigger plan”.
Although he wouldn’t go into specifics for the next Czinger just yet, it’s clear we’re looking at something that’s more supercar than hypercar. “It’s not super high volume, but definitely higher volume than this”.
The vehicle in question will, we’re promised, be “lighter than anything it competes against and be more bespoke”. Bold stuff, but Czinger also has to worry about the setback the C21 has been lumbered with.
Though it was all smiles in the photos the company released at the Geneva Motor Show (the stand was nearly finished, so Sverdrup decided they may as well carry on), the event’s cancellation was a hefty blow for Czinger. But not for the same reason as most other exhibitors.
“PR wise it’s not a huge cost. It’s for the customers who actually come and touch and feel and compare,” Sverdrup said, adding, “At Geneva, there’s two, three thousand hypercar customers, and that’s very unique. We want them to compare us to Koenigsegg and Bugatti and the best in the game…It’s going to take us six to 12 months to catch up”. Ouch.
The very different approach taken by Czinger and the bold step of producing a bespoke engine will likely raise eyebrows amongst more established players in the supercar field. But you do get the sense that everything is being done properly here - this is clearly not just a pipe dream.
Even if everything plays out as intended, Czinger’s success is not guaranteed, however. This is not an easy world to make it in. Will Kevin Czinger pull off his aim to “Create one of the great, enduring brands”? Only time will tell. But we’ll be watching with interest.