Josep Rubau didn’t want to build a sports car for everyone, he didn’t want just another generic project with a smattering of Ferrari at the front and Lamborghini at the rear. The Royal College of Art graduate set out to make a statement that would sell to just a handful of people every year. With the AD Tramontana R, it is absolutely mission accomplished.
And as we screamed past 250 kph on a quiet Spanish country road with the infectious, buzzing fury of a 5.5-litre, 720 bhp Mercedes twin-turbo engine just inches away, the sheer beauty of this creation hit home. Get past the oddball looks and the Tramontana R is easily a match for the much more lauded Pagani Zonda.
The R is ferocious when truly given its head. Its unique layout adds to the sensation of pure speed, which is what cars like these are truly all about. Sitting high over the nose, it feels like a 320 kph, warm and dry motorcycle ride. Add the intoxicating note of the engine, steering so direct it feels hard wired to your limbs and every piece of racing tech that could reasonably cross over and you have a recipe for something amazing. This is the second time I have approached the Tramontana, both times with trepidation; both times I have emerged laughing like a maniac.
Rubau set up shop in the grounds of a rural farm just outside Girona and unleashed the oddball Tramontana on an unsuspecting world in 2005. In open top form it was a thing of beauty: a flowing and organic, albeit fatter F1 car. It even fits the silhouette of Lewis Hamilton’s company car and the low centre of gravity and inspired weight distribution provided by the inline seating are the recipe for something special on the handling stakes.
At almost five metres, it’s mighty long, bigger than the pictures could ever suggest, and you have to use the 20" wheels to truly appreciate the scale. So what we have here is a long, fat F1 car with a twist. Rubau took inspiration from another distinct source when it came to the hard-top, which he deemed essential for hotter climes and everyday use, and there’s no getting round the fact that a Formula One body and fighter jet cockpit make about as much sense as one of local boy Salvador Dali’s finest works. The end result looks part racing car, part Eurofighter and part mechanised insect thanks to that sloping back end and the two antenna-style mirrors on the front end. It is not a conventional beauty.
But underneath the challenging exterior is a well of inner beauty and engineering depth. From the carbon-fibre chassis with F1 levels of torsional rigidity and a full-on safety cell through to the fully adjustable Ohlins horizontal dampers with external reservoirs exquisitely displayed in the front. Then there are Dymag wheels with carbon rims and magnesium cores to the inline seats that keep the weight over the centre line. Things get even more obsessive under the skin, with silver wiring and gold used throughout the body. To put a value on this car, you’d need a jeweller, not a test driver, and that’s before you get to the diamond encrusted interior on the options list. No, really.
The centre of gravity even lies beneath the rear passenger seat, so it won’t affect the car if there’s one on-board or two. But a word of warning, if you take a passenger they had better be a close friend.
I had engineer Jordi for company as I lowered myself into the other-worldly cockpit and got acquainted with the controls. An LCD display screen contains the vital information and a welcome message, the sequential gearlever is shaped like a jet’s joystick and strapped to a six-speed Cima unit and thankfully combined with a clutch. There’s a semi-automatic paddleshift on offer, but this is undoubtedly a better, more complete system, and I’d want to get rid of the show-oriented steering wheel and take the plain round one, too, as grabbing fresh air mid corner would be seriously uncool.
Pulling the canopy shut with a dull thud and a firm shove on the lever through a central point of resistance, we were away, with the constant chirrup of the larger turbos that have been fitted to the 5.5-litre. They run 1.4 bar of pressure and were, apart from the noise and low-down torque, near invisible, but we hadn’t engaged the full works yet. In a nod to everyday usability, this car has a BMW M-style sanity mode. For the run to the office, the R can stay at a relatively safe 550 bhp, until you push the critical button and let loose the dogs of war. Then it opens up a whole can of crazy.
The thrust in the back in full bore mode is insane, and keeps coming from 1500 revs all the way to the 6000 rpm redline. It does run out of revs, but the next gear brings a similarly insane surge of acceleration that’s just as savage, just as ferocious, and the turbos whistling away inches from your ear give a brutality, an edgy tone that’s mirrored in the car.
In a straight line it is ballistic, hitting 96 kph in 3.6 seconds, 200 kph in 10.15 seconds and topping out at 325 kph, although that’s thanks to an electronic limiter. It could be quicker, easily, but the Tramontana is a real compromise of everyday use and in-gear acceleration, and Rubau decided to do without the headlines a 350 kph car could comfortably have generated.
Not that the R isn’t quick enough. Rubau could have squeezed more power from this update, and he will, but everything comes in stages. So it keeps the same 720 bhp headline figure with fewer revs and peak power comes at just 5000 rpm. And as the Spaniard likes low-end torque, he came up with a near stupid 110-plus kgm at low revs – enough to push the four-stage traction control to the limit.
With pushrod suspension and 250 kg of downforce that press the tyres to the tarmac, you get more grip than anyone could reasonably break on a public road. In fact the cornering speeds belong in high end motorsport, with lateral grip of 1.22g on standard tyres, much more on slicks. But at high speed, it’s sensitive to changing winds and pulls from the straight and narrow, and it takes constant micro corrections. Yet the car is so alive in your hands that it’s part of the experience and it’s no flaw.
The brakes, too, react like a stabbed cat, with the 380 mm ceramic discs at both front and rear, together with 6-piston callipers, hauling the car down from triple speed figures more effectively than a brick wall. Its 100 kph-0 time of 2.5 seconds is one of the more memorable statistics, but nothing prepares you for the sheer violence of the actual procedure.
At speed the car gets on its toes, it’s alive and sensitive, direct and instant, but at normal pace, none of this shines through. Tramontana may have honed their car on the race track and they will even lay on a full test team for customers who want to drive their car flat-out on closed roads. But it is, first and foremost, a road car.
That’s why it comes with the canopy that hurts the pure vision of an open-topped F1 car, and that’s why it comes with full climate control, comfortable leather trim, plush carpet and a real sound system. It can even lift both the nose and the tail 135 mm from the ground with the help of a hydraulic system to prevent expensive scrapes and sheer hassle – this car just swallows speed bumps, potholes and other obstacles that would leave a heavily tuned 911 beating a retreat.
None of this helps the weight – although the R is 98 kg lighter than the original, it still tips the scales at 1,250 kg without fluids. There is a stripped out 1,000 kg track car out there, in the hands of one lucky owner, and we’d dearly like to try it…
Until then, we can just revel in this automotive oddball that is so exclusive it makes the Pagani Zonda and Bugatti Veyrons of this world seem almost common. This is unit number 10, and Rubau has set an absolute limit of 12 cars per year. They are for the men that already have a Zonda and Veyron in the garage, and want to stand out from their peers in extravagant style.
Rubau says he wanted a unique car, one that not everyone would understand, and his exclusive clientele are not just buying a car, they’re buying a piece of art that they often sit and appreciate in the privacy of their climate controlled garage with the aid of studio lighting, a plinth, a fine cognac and a cigar. I just hope they drove the wheels off it first, because to truly understand the hidden wonders of the Tramontana R Edition, you have to get past the looks, and get in and drive one of the finest cars on the road.