James Mackintosh 9 years ago 0

MVS/Venturi: France's Other Sports Car Company

Remind me later
Wait, what?  France had a sports car company? And there was another one?  If you don't count Bugatti (and most people don't; hasn't been French in decades), when you ask most car people what sports-car brands France is famous for, they might come up with one: Alpine.  Jean Rédélé's particular brand of rear-engined Renault-powered weirdness achieved some international success with rally specials like the A110, and later with rear-engine sports cars like the A310, GTA, and A610. But for the most part, that's about as far as the story goes.  France isn't really renowned for sports cars.  They've made sporting cars.  You can't look at an R5 Turbo or Clio Renaultsport and not nod your head and think, "awesome."  But France doesn't really have a Porsche or Ferrari or TVR.  They made the deux chevaux.  But they did have another sports car brand, and it shone brightly for a short time - I'm talking about MVS, usually referred to as Venturi. What the hell's an MVS/Venturi?  Well, MVS stood for Manufacture de Voitures de Sport.  The company was started in 1984 by French automotive designer Gérard Godfroy and engineer Claude Poiraud.  The basic idea behind MVS was to create a mid-engined sports car offered world-class performance, with a distinct gallic flair. The first MVS prototype (called the "Ventury," although the Y was later dropped for an I) was displayed at the 1984 Paris Motor Show.  It was a low-slung rear-engined coupe with two-tone grey fiberglass bodywork, and as an early concept it utilized a lot of parts-bin pieces: the 120bhp engine from a VW GTi, the MacPherson struts from a Peugeot 205 GTI, and the crowds at Paris loved it.  Plans were made, Hervé Boulan raised the necessary funds to get the project off the ground, and MVS began designing a road car. The big thing for MVS was that their car had to actually be French, not just built in France.  This meant the highly regarded VW GTI motor was given the heave-ho.  Boulan was insistent that in order to play with the big boys at the time (i.e. Alpine, Ferrari, Porsche) the Venturi had to have at least 200bhp.  Therefore, the first MVS prototype used the 2.2L turbocharged I4 from the Peugeot 505 Turbo, modified with a Danielson (now Politecnic) tuning kit.  With the more aggressive camshaft, increased boost, etc the tuned Pug motor made 200bhp@5,700rpm and 206lb-ft@4,000rpm.  It was, however, rougher than a handful of nails and cement in a blender, which was less than ideal. Development on the Venturi continued, with the basic formula changing up a bit: the front suspension was swapped from MacPherson struts to double control arms (universally considered a superior design for performance cars), and the 2.2L Peugeot 4-cylinder was tossed out in favor of a PRV (Peugeot-Renault-Volv0) V6, the 2.5L SOHC sourced from the Renault 25 Turbo.  This motor was a lot more refined than the Pug motor, but still stumped out 200bhp (at a lower 5,750rpm) and more torque - 214lb-ft - at a significantly lower 2,500rpm. The transmission was mounted behind the engine (the opposite of the Alpine GTA, which had the engine facing the other way) making a true mid-engined car, rather than rear-engined like the Alpine and 911.  The new Venturi (now with an i!) debuted at the 1986 Paris show, with the new front suspension, 6-cylinder engine, and many other details.  It had gained quite a lot of weight compared to the original prototype - tipping the scales at 2,821 lbs, nearly a half-ton heavier than the original - but it was significantly quicker as well.  Orders were taken in 1986, and the first customer cars were delivered in June of 1987. Having moved out of their original location, Venturi set up offices and production facilities in Cholet, about 100 miles outside the famous Le Mans circuit.  A total of 52 MVS Venturi's were delivered in 1987, impressive considering the 350 man hours(!) required to build one, and the newness of the company.  The first Venturis weren't perfect, but it was a good start.  Performance was reasonably brisk - 0-60 in under 7 seconds and a top speed of 152mph put it in league with the Esprit Turbo, 944 Turbo and Ferrari 328, but turbo lag was quite noticeable, and there were still some kinks in the suspension that needed working out.  Still, there was much to like about the original Venturi - check out this comparison by Classic Car of a Venturi and a '91 Esprit SE here. 1988 saw the introduction of two new things to the Venturi line - a naturally aspirated (160bhp) model, but mostly notably the MVS Transcup, which was a Venturi with a funky folding roof, available with either engine choice.  The roof seperated in three pieces, giving you a coupe, targa top, or a full convertible - pretty neat.  It's understandably hard to find a picture of a Transcup, but here's what it looks like with the roof affixed: 1989 saw the first availability of an upgraded engine for the Venturi.  The 260 SPC ("Sans Pot Catalytic," or "There's No Cat On This Sucker") used a stroked out 2.8L PRV (developed by EIA) and other changes for an increase in power to 260bhp, and a solid 296lb-ft of torque.  There were 60 of these catless hotrod Venturi's made before being replaced by the more socially conscious 260 APC ("Avec Pot Catalytic"), which still made the same power output.  Horsepower numbers on the Venturi would keep growing from here.  In 1990, the company dropped the "MVS" and went by "Venturi," which was probably less confusing.


The period between 1990-1994 basically consisted of some minor facelifts, special editions, and Venturi's entry into the racing field.  There was also another change in location: the plant was moved again, this time to Couëron, Pays de Loire where production stayed until 2000.  The 1990 Atlantique 260 was a lightweight version of the APC 260, without A/C, radio, and the addition of some lightweight components brought weight down to 1,100kg.  The Atlantique was a quick car - 0-100km/h in 5.2 seconds, VMax north of 160mph.  And it needed to be, as the competition kept getting stronger.  The Venturi's primary competitor - the Alpine GTA - received a huge update in 1991, rechristened the A610 and gaining another 50 bhp (now up to 250) from it's turbocharged PRV-V6, and Porsche was on a roll with the updated 964 911. They started to dip their toes into racing in 1992, co-sponsoring the LaRousse F1 team.  But the thing that really brought Venturi into the enthusiast spotlight were their GT race cars, 5-600bhp endurance racers based on the street Venturis.  This lead to another special edition, the 1992 260LM, which was painted French Blue with 17" OZ Racing Alloy wheels. At the same time, Venturi began a one-make racing series called the Venturi Challenge.  The cars (called Venturi Trophys) were loosely based on the road-going sports cars, but were 10cm longer in wheelbase and about 25mm wider, with increased track width front and rear.  The biggest news here was the switch to the new-generation Peugeot/Citroen 3.0L 24v V6 that was replacing the PRV in road cars at that point (found in the 605 and XM).  Modified by EIA with twin turbochargers, Venturi had a killer motor on their hands: 408bhp @ 6000rpm, and 383lb-ft of torque at 4,800rpm was leagues above the old SOHC PRV motor. While the Venturi Trophy's were dedicated race cars, the logical decision was made to convert some over to road use - and thus was born the fastest series-production car France has ever made.  Called the 400GT, it looked exactly remarkably like a Ferrari F40.  The twin-turbo V6 in the back still cranked out 408bhp through a limited slip differential and huge 285/35/18 Michelin MXX's.  It was also the first production road-going car to feature carbon-ceramic disc brakes (didn't know that, did ya?), and it was quite fast: 0-100km/h in 4.6 seconds, and a confirmed top speed of 182mph put it up there with Ferrari and Lamborghini sports cars of the day. By this time, the original Venturi was getting a bit long in the tooth.  Venturi displayed it's replacement at the 1994 Paris show, called the Atlantique.  The restyled body was much more modern, sort of a Ferrari F355 with some French in it.  The biggest change was the adoption of the newer 3.0L 24v V6 (already seen in the Trophy and 400GT), which boasted more displacement as well as better-flowing cylinder heads (now DOHC with 4v/cylinder) over the old PRV.  In non-turbocharged form it produced a healthy 210bhp (more than the original PRV turbo motor), and with a single turbocharger output climbed to 281bhp.  The new Atlantique was a much more fully-developed product than the car it replaced, and it was compared quite favorably to cars like the Esprit. While it still had supercar pace, the Atlantique was a more luxurious and spacious car than the Esprit, with many reviewers citing a better gearchange, more headroom, easier maneuverability, and higher build quality as advantages over the Hethel flier.  However, Lotus' introduction of their new 3.5L flat-plane-crank twin-turbo V8 in 1998 put the Venturi at a distinct power disadvantage, even though it had more torque at lower rpm than the high-winding Lotus motor.  The cabin of the Atlantique was a nice place to sit; hand-stitched leather and wood covering everything, with logical control placement and a comfortable, upright driving position. Things weren't all peachy with Venturi, though.  Over-investment in racing ("the best way to make a small fortune with car racing is to start with a big one.") lead the company to bankruptcy in 1996, and they were purchased by the Thai concern Nakarin Benz, who focussed on continuing production of the existing cars. Venturi's last full road car came in 1998.  Called the Atlantique 300, it had an evolution of the original Atlantique 3.0L engine - now with twin Aerodyne turbochargers instead of a single unit - and power jumped from 281 to 310bhp, still backed by that Renault 25 box that Esprit owners everywhere loathe so.  Despite the much-improved lineup-  the Atlantique 300 was a fully-developed world class sports car - it wasn't enough to keep Venturi afloat, who declared bankruptcy again in 2000, and was subsequently purchased by a wealthy Monaco resident.  Since then, the direction has changed - Venturi only builds around 15 cars per year, primarily the electric powered Fetish sports car, along with a number of bizarre concept cars. Like many "cottage" car makes, MVS/Venturi went through a lot.  Changes in location, an overall withdrawal of the sports car market right when they were ready to get rolling, multiple managements - but what's impressive is they managed to make some truly great sports cars in the time they existed.  A total of around 700 Venturis were made between 1987 and 2000, meaning the site of one is extremely rare.  The good thing is, they do use a lot of standard parts - Renault/Peugeot/Citroen parts - so they're easier to keep running than, say, a Ferrari.  They're just a footnote in the history of failed sports car makers, but they sure were an interesting one.