in the Koenigsegg,
Pagani and Spyker
Pagani and Spyker.
What wouldnt you give to get behind
the wheel of one of these magnificent
machines? But to have firsthand
experience of all three as they were
designed to be driven... well,
the stuff of dreams. But even uber-
exotic dreams can come true...
SAYING 'YES' TO FOOLISH IDEAS bandied around in pubs is a personal
failing. The first time was to go parachuting despite the fact that I
had never even been in an aeroplane. It was a throwaway 'over the shoulder'
response, given without thought as my conversation involved something of
promise if I played my cards right.
The result was climbing out onto the wing of a De Haviland Rapide biplane and
plunging into the void above Thruxton's airfield circuit.
This time it was easier still: "Fancy going to Scotland for the weekend and
being driven in some of the most exotic cars imaginable?"
Come on, where's the catch? Apparently there wasn't one. By pure chance the
gods were smiling on me it was an opportunity made in Heaven. And one
that, in this particular case, is only available to those who belong to the
exclusive Rio Performance Members Club. It is something that money alone just
deal was that on the Saturday I would tag along behind a supercar rally through
world class scenery okay, so I was going to be in the VW people carrier
support car and maybe get a ride or two on Sunday at a disused USAF airfield.
And with luck, perhaps I'd even be able to drive something interesting. Given
it was very short notice luckily for me all of MotorBar's motoring writers
were already spoken for and that some long-evaded house painting was
my weekend's alternative entertainment, how could I refuse?
Fancy flying to Scotland
for the weekend
and being driven in
a Koenigsegg, Pagani
and a Spyker?
How could I refuse?
So that is how I landed up feeling rather lacking in confidence, walking along
to the very best of motor displays outside the new Dakota Hotel near Edinburgh
early on the Saturday morning. We were all called in for the drivers' briefing
and everyone else seemed busy, relaxed and so obviously much better drivers
than yours truly.
A near-cube of a building with a shiny black exterior finish, Edinburgh's Dakota
Hotel is brand spanking new and most definitely not your average hotel.
David Coulthard is an investor and the interior design was as sharp as his consistently
quick Grands Prix starts in his early F1 years.
A hugely enjoyable period of modest saloon car racing gave me very differing
opinions of motoring events. 'Brands Hatch-style' was petty officials getting
their kicks by scoring points over competitors and at the other extreme was
the totally different approach at places such as Thruxton and Oulton Park where
problems were shared and help gladly offered even to the humblest of
competitors like me!
The Rio Prestige fleet I was shortly to encounter was a multi-million pound
investment in 15 supercars by one man entrepreneur Bill Gray. I could
not conceive that he would be relaxed about anything, so assumed the organisation
was surely going to be towards the Brands Hatch-style. Little did I know of
Bill then. The cars were either brand new or in 'as new' condition an
accident between the most expensive cars could be surpassed only by two 747s
However, the brief was conducted in a very friendly fashion: Yes, safety was
paramount and consideration for others up there too; but it was for personal
enjoyment that we were all present in the same meeting room. Great stuff.
a surprise, really. There was neither a Marbella gold medallion nor a Hooray
Henry in sight just a group of chaps (and their partners) who had a passion
for driving the best cars. Part of the 'work hard, play hard' brigade.
was neither a
Marbella gold medallion
nor a Hooray Henry in
sight just a group of
chaps who had a
passion for driving the
I later discovered that there was a mix of occupations including IT, banking,
insurance, commerce and even a medic. As they had obviously worked hard for
their money, they would surely complain if they didn't get value for it.
The first leg of the rally was, as predicted, a bit of a struggle to shake loose
the traffic and leave the towns behind as we powered north, with three groups
of five cars meeting up in a lay-by once we'd cleared the clutter of urban roads.
A shuffle for everyone to change cars and Hey, presto! would I
like to join Jonathon in the Lamborghini Gallardo Spider for the next leg?
Any cobwebs left after a 04:00 AM start were banished in an instant as we exploded
up the road. Whilst the G-forces played havoc with my senses, I became aware
that the wheels weren't spinning but surely the tarmac was literally being torn
up as I couldn't imagine that anything could be propelled by such force. All
sensations were heightened but numbed at the same time.
The noise with the hood down was so shattering that one could not carry out
any dialogue nor even think straight to start with. The four-wheel drive
had such competent grip as to seem unreal every corner was an accident
waiting to happen in normal cars, but no sweat at all in the Lamborghini. Acceleration
straight out of Boy's Own.
Happily Jonathon, a self-confessed petrol-head, proved to be highly accomplished
and gave me no qualms whatsoever. Our progress was meteoric.
Habitually a bad passenger, I was quite relaxed about our attempts to orbit
the world before lunch. Jonathan proved an interesting companion and conversation
flowed easily but when we were chatting, he would tend to ease off the
throttle marginally. We could talk later so I quickly shut up! After
that, I could have gone home happy that I'd had a great experience the
Lamborghini had proved to be the best of any 'supercars' I had previously come
Jonathan and Gavin our very helpful PR for the experience, I wondered
how I was going to top it. The wait was short. Would I like to accompany Christian
von Koenigsegg the founder of Koenigsegg in the 240mph Koenigsegg
CC8S? Would I heck!
I like to
the founder of
the 240mph Koenigsegg
Would I heck!
weekend was proving difficult: my mind had already run out of superlatives for
this article and unuttered expletives as we took off! None of this was the laid
back yawns of the motoring journalists who had done it all before. This was
the real thing with intensely mind-blowing thrills.
These cars go like nothing on earth, which is why I will allow myself to exaggerate
just a little and say that after my ride in the Koenigsegg, only
space travel could possibly surpass the sensations. Although I will settle
for a EuroFighter Typhoon as being the next step.
Trying desperately hard to clamber into the cockpit over the impossibly wide
sills a feature on all these cars was tricky. By the end of the
weekend, there was scuffing on all of them, but none was due to me. I was keenly
aware of my fragile presence on the rally. I need not have worried about being
driven by such a successful tycoon. None of your young tycoon's petulance. Christian
von Koenigsegg was charismatic and charming to the point that surely more than
one person has bought a Koenigsegg purely on the basis of his friendship.
Christian has a rapidly expanding family each Koenigsegg is one of his
offspring, and he is proud and very caring of every single one of them. We were
travelling in number 5 out of the first batch of five; and it had taken 40,000
hours to build that's the same time it takes to build a large yacht.
It would hurt him if someone damaged his creation, and he certainly was not
going to be the culprit.
As the founder and originator of these eponymous cars, he had an exceptional
understanding of its potential and limitations not that I could detect
any let-up in his style and pace, which prompted my thought that I had to accept
that the Lamborghini Gallardo was by comparison relatively slow (which it is
not by any means). But I would hastily add, only in the context of these über-exotics,
as MotorBar has christened them.
Bill, the founder of the RPM Club, had also recognised that the 'supercar' tag
was inadequate, using the term 'hypercar' instead. For myself, even that is
inadequate to aptly describe the breadth of their blistering performance. Whilst
I offer no adequate alternative, I would call them 'Extreme' cars as they bear
no resemblance to anything standard.
number of high points about the Koenigsegg drive mentioned in MotorBar's
introductory news item about the Rio Road Rally are worth repeating and
are included in 'The Experience' section of the side panel to the right. There
were many such moments. I had been along the route many years ago and had always
held fond memories of the beautiful scenery. Frankly, that was largely unseen
this time around as it became swamped by the sensations of travelling in one
of the world's greatest cars.
Lambos ride was
and the engine noise
Not the voice of
more the roar of the
a World Cup win...
Unquestionably, the Lamborghini had given a highly competent ride. The only
non-motoring comparisons I could think of were to a Stradivarius violin or a
top racehorse: extremely taut (literally highly-strung), extremely precise with
the engine noise very pure but not the voice of an angel more the roar
of the crowd at a World Cup win.
The Koenigsegg was very different. Certainly not relaxed; but exuding such power
in depth that it would treat any lesser car as merely a pest settling on its
flanks, before disappearing showing utter contempt.
The last comparison would indicate that there was competition running through
the fleet. Not so. The cars complemented one another and were, surprisingly,
all very different in character. A good mix and, thankfully, the 'Dumball' Rally
fever was totally absent. The cars travelled exceedingly quickly and sometimes
close to, but never racing just adding an extra ingredient to an already
great recipe for driving enjoyment.
Christian had an enormous empathy with his car and really extracted every last
drop of performance from it. As owner, CEO, ambassador and creator of the Koenigsegg
brand, he has a lot of diversions from driving. But I would not put money on
Top Gear's Stig to beat him at Dunsfold and I most certainly would
back Christian on the open road!
Our rate of progress even made all thought processes go into overdrive. A shorthand
was needed, perhaps only using the first half of each word so you could
The pleasure of running in close company with the 'tweaked' Pagani ahead, and
both cars being driven by highly-accomplished drivers, was so entrancing that
the beautiful glens, rivers, moors and forests were a blur in fast forward format
that failed to detract from the stars of the show the cars themselves.
There was also the music of the exhausts that stirred the soul more than even
the last night of the Proms. The Koenigsegg's engine has the range of an entire
orchestra; the lazy beat of a drum when at near-rest, rising to a whole series
of crescendos as Christian moved up through the gears. The real fireworks were
lit from third gear on, when the power available was still capable of stripping
the road surface off its tarred base.
most apt destination for lunch was, of course, the front lawn of Balmoral Castle,
where a picnic was enjoyed by all. The visiting public forgot the rather severe
cold stone of this Victorian castle that they had come to see and a couple of
blue rinses seemed transfixed by the Pagani; obviously wondering where the little
green men from Mars had gone...
motto of the Roman
Ad Deum Tendo:
Hold for the Day.
Which is, to me: Go For
It. So no worries
with Wild Bill then...
driving legend of our host Bill Gray can be summed up by the fact that the general
consensus of opinion of those who know him was that pensions would not be on
the minds of, or need to be applied to, his passengers! And Yes, I won the jackpot
again! There was a spare berth in the Bill-driven Pagani Zonda C12S. A motto
of the Roman gladiators was Ad Deum Tendo or Hold for the Day. Which
is, to me: Go For It. So no worries here with 'Wild' Bill then.
Straight into the groove after lunch, in this LHD 'grounded' jet fighter of
a car. A bit more involvement with the Pagani for me as I could call the overtaking
shots for Bill, although it was hardly necessary as overtaking was a momentary
jig out and back in the blink of an eye. These extreme cars can also be frustratingly
slow with frequent and long visits to petrol stations.
However, this time the stop was uplifted by its location: a stunning glen in
a side road with a view across the river to the road on which we would next
run. The backdrop was a wooded mountainside. A scene that could be appreciated
everywhere in the area but for us it was our grandstand seat to see and, more
dramatically, hear the whole fleet pass up the road in a spirited manner.
It made the hairs on the back of my neck tingle.
I spent the whole of the afternoon in the Pagani and was regaled by Bill with
a stimulating conversation to complement the highly-entertaining drive. One
could get used to this style of life. Bill is a 'finance man', but you couldn't
get further away from the John Cleese accountant's image so adroitly described;
Bill is a colourful, larger-than-life character and as such would complement
John Cleese himself!
We arrived at St Andrews where the cars were lined up in front of the hotel
and, as usual, they stole the show. Tired but elated What a day! The
only mishap was a dinged wheel which slightly affected the tracking on the Lamborghini.
No problem for me selfishly, that was crossed off already from my list
of four cars to experience. As, too, were the Pagani and the Koenigsegg. Great
only car that had eluded me was the slightly quirky-styled Spyker. But there
was always tomorrow to look forward to.
locals must have
thought the jets had
returned as the savage
acceleration and terminal
speed were literally
Koenigsegg generating a
mirage-like haze as
it rapidly shrunk and
disappeared into the
The RPM Club members went to Glamis Castle the childhood home of Queen
Elizabeth, the Queen Mother for a Black Tie dinner. I needed a rest after
the early start with easyJet to Edinburgh and I was determined to be daisy fresh,
anticipating the following day's airfield experience.
On the Sunday morning I arrived at the disused airfield at Edzell well before
the rally as I wanted to familiarise myself with the runway and work out how
I could make up for my driving limitations by guile.
A bad start as my Vauxhall hire car could only just make 100mph on the near
mile-long runway in the slightly downhill direction. Not a propitious start…
Together with the security man, I laid out cones at the intersection of the
runways in case any stray vehicle wandered across.
The cars arrived and the focus of attention turned to the Koenigsegg: Christian
had to leave early so he quickly got stuck in, taking passengers on demonstration
runs before letting them drive. The general pattern was what seemed a leisurely
start but it actually only appeared so compared with the performance
from third gear on. The locals must have thought the jets had returned as the
savage noise, time-warp acceleration and terminal speed were literally staggering;
the Koenigsegg generating a mirage-like haze as it rapidly shrunk and disappeared
into the distance.
On Christian's runs he sprinted up the runway and returned, giving his passengers
a slalom experience winding up the sideways G-forces, finishing with a foot-on-the-floor
brake test. Not only did the Koenigsegg stop in an instant; Christian took both
hands off the wheel to demonstrate a stable and straight halt.
Unfortunately the special oil refill for the Koenigsegg was not available in
the backwoods of Scotland on a Sunday so the focus moved to the Pagani
although my attention initially turned to the Spyker as I was taken for an invigorating
drive on the public roads by Ed, the Rio General Manager. Again, highly skilled
and, much to my benefit, because the Spyker is his favourite car in the Rio
After negotiating the usual awkward and inelegant scramble into the cockpit,
I was presented with a totally different cabin 'theatre' compared to the other
The word theatre is an entirely appropriate choice as it expresses the visual
drama created. The Koenigsegg theatre was typically Swedish: beautifully simple
and clear in its layout and instrumentation. Being Italian, the Pagani follows
the national 'lively' style with a much more extrovert design.
style of the Spyker represented a totally different approach. Whether it was
a Dutch style or not, I do not know. But again theatre, and a very confident
style it is.
first impression was that it was retro in an Art Deco way. I hate kitsch, pastiche
and Disney-style; preferring today's or even better tomorrow's
style. But this was no reproduction of the past and it worked brilliantly: milled
aluminium dashboard, chrome and alloy toggle switches and cream faces to the
numerous dials. A real character of a work station.
road in the
Spyker, thinking that
if ever I got this
opportunity again ear
plugs would be top of
the needs list...
The feel of the car again was different, but not lacking in any quarter. One
felt that there was a heritage of the traditional British sports car plus the
directness of a Lotus in there somewhere. However, this was as modern as you
wanted and felt very connected to all the senses.
Cannoning down the road, thinking that if ever I got this opportunity again
ear plugs would be top of the needs list, I lapped up the experience and (S)miles!
I got quite comfortable with our rapid progress until Ed demonstrated the Spyker's
stability by yanking the wheel to one side then the other. What a wake up call
in a normal car we would have emulated (or even emasculated!) a stag,
jumped the hedges and gone ploughing without any doubt.
Back at the airfield, the maxed test drives were still being enjoyed. The first
stalled start raised a cheer and my stomach churned as other people went well
ahead of me for a turn in the driving seat. I waited until last for a drive
in the Pagani. Bill announced to everyone that he would give anyone a 'Really
Wild' drive as the finale after my run. There were no takers.
One very experienced driver accompanied by one of the Rio team had 'a moment'
under braking at the far end of the runway: the lock-up was marked by plumes
of tyre smoke seen from afar and there were two rather flushed faces on the
Once at the wheel of the Pagani, Bill pointed out that 3,000 to 5,000 revs in
the first two gears was the danger zone; after that effectively it was all mine.
He also mentioned that one can start off with no throttle at all and that we
would run past the 'end' cones.
My approach from the start was to avoid embarrassing myself and to keep the
door open in case the jackpot ever comes up again. I was also very mindful that
the Pagani leaves everything to the driver to sort out no ABS,
no 4WD, etc.
a surprise: a clean start as I found the clutch was not too sharp and I could
read its feel quite clearly. Up through the gears; those movements of both the
stick and the intervals were very short and I was naturally worried about the
consequences of going down the 'box by mistake.
my big mistake was misidentifying the cones. When I laid out 'my' cones, I assumed
the full runway would be used, but it had then been decided that stratospheric
speeds were not be to be the order of the day and so more cones were placed
alongside the runway to indicate the finish line for the shorter run.
to 80mph and then
a celebratory 360-degree
Assuming I had reached the end I eased-off, thinking it was all over, and then
had to get back on the throttle. The response was rapid but the ultimate speed
spoilt. The main objective had been achieved, but I had failed to take full
advantage of the potential.
Still no takers for Bill's 'Wild Run' so I jumped at the chance of swapping
seats again. This time the Pagani was made to sing for its supper and it came
up trumps. Quite what top speed was achieved is immaterial as the sensations
were fully indulged we slowed to 'parking speed' and Bill then performed
a celebratory 360-degree power spin. The 'parking speed' turned out to be 80mph,
so what speed we were travelling earlier can only be described as awesome.
A dramatic finish to a weekend that will be engraved in my memory until I draw
my last breath. For the record, and even realising the capabilities of these
'hypercars', never once did I have any reason to believe it would be my last
breath on the Rio Rally. John Steel
in the Highlands Koenigsegg, Pagani and Spyker take Scotland by storm...
RARE AND EXOTIC CONVOY OF SUPER-CARS including the fabled trio of Koenigsegg,
Pagani and Spyker blistered across the dramatic Scottish scenery between
Edinburgh, Balmoral and St Andrews over the first weekend of June.
This incredible multi-million pound convoy was The Rio Road Rally an
inaugural 250-mile motoring experience organised by RPM, a private members car
hire club who quite rightly bill themselves as the 'ultimate in car hire'.
Another 'first' was the presence of two high-profile CEOs from the motor
industry: Christian von Koenigsegg and also Victor Muller of Spyker, who brought
a second Spyker to complete a hat-trick of firsts two Spykers at one
Fortunately, MotorBar's John Steel was on hand to fly up to Scotland at very
short notice to cover the event and not only pulled off an exclusive scoop as
the only media representative to attend the whole weekend, but was also driven
in the 240mph Koenigsegg by Christian von Koenigsegg himself.
The stuff of dreams: How often do you get to ride in one of the world's most
desirable supercars let alone be driven by its creator?
And 'Ultimate' is the right word for the Rio Prestige line-up: every one of
its luxury sports cars and supercars has been hand-picked by founder Bill Gray
a larger-than-life character who believes that only the best is good
Hence the über-exotics the Koenigsegg CC8S, Pagani Zonda C12S and
Spyker C8 Spyder (one of just four in the UK) that dominate the tempting pool
of attention-grabbing machinery which also includes a Porsche 997 Carrera 2S,
Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Bentley Continental GTC,
Ferrari 355 Spider, Ferrari 360 Spider, Porsche Boxster S, Porsche Cayman S,
Mustang V8 GT and a TVR Sagaris convertible.
Accompanied by Christian von Koenigsegg in the CC8S and Dutch Formula One team
owner Victor Muller with his Spyker, the convoy of sports cars and supercars
that made up The Rio Road Rally set off from the striking Dakota
hotel in Queensferry, near Edinburgh, heading for Perth and Braemar before stopping
at Balmoral for lunch.
The weather was sunny and clear, as perfect for exploiting the challenging roads
as it was for the tranquil picnic that followed on the lawns of Balmoral Castle.
Even PC himself nipped out for a look!
Then came a whistle-stop 'tour' of the fabulous Aberdeenshire countryside on
what many agree to be some of the finest open roads in the world.
As the day's driving drew to a close, the drivers checked in to the Fairmont
St Andrews hotel before transferring to 15th Century Glamis
Castle on the Saturday evening for a Black Tie dinner.
The adrenaline side of the event came on the Sunday morning with the opportunity
to drive the Koenigsegg, the Spyker and the Pagani to their full potential at
These stunning driving machines were tested to the limit on the runway of the
former Cold War air base northwest of Montrose.
The atmosphere was electric and the sound indescribable the booming thunder
of highly-tuned engines a poignant reminder of the military jets that once flew
THE FOLLOWING are John Steel's personal highlights from his fantastic
two days in Scotland driving RPM's über-exotics for MotorBar.
As luck would have it, I found myself riding as passenger to Christian von Koenigsegg
in his exotic Koenigsegg CC8S.
As you would expect, he is more than at one with his own creation and he knows
just how to get the very last bit of performance out of the 710bhp engine sitting
right behind us. I am anticipating the thrill of a lifetime.
In front is another 'monster' in the form of the 'tweaked' Pagani Zonda C12S,
piloted by Bill Gray, the founder of the RPM Club.
Bill is a larger-than-life character whose spirited driving is something to
behold you'd have to experience it for yourself to appreciate just how
much of a white-knuckle ride he can deliver. Because almost to a man, his polished
and loyal team prefer to walk rather than to be lured into filling the passenger
no-one can hear
Both cars are accelerating, nose-to-tail, so hard that the Zonda is, literally,
ripping up the road surface and peppering the Koenigsegg's nose with it. This
is no first gear, one second wonder; it goes on and on...
The G-forces were stunning, staggering and unprecedented lunch was long
forgotten, but happily kept down! And, in a Koenigsegg whether with euphoria
or in pure terror no-one can hear you scream!
There were some highly comical moments, too. At one stopover, Christian von
Koenigsegg was asked by a passer-by if the Koenigsegg CC8S was his. His immediate
response was: "No, it's a hire car."
Lifelong memories are made of such things as pushing out the boundaries of driving.
Such extremes of all too real experiences and emotions are the stuff of dreams
with which to regale all who share your fascination for supercars until you
draw your last breath in spite of the heart-stopping moments, not for
one second did I think my last breath was imminent!
These sort of encounters are not for the faint-hearted. Indeed, some would fear
to tread in such places. There was only one problem for me. Top that? I don't