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Full throttle in the Koenigsegg, Pagani and Spyker

Click to view full picture galleryKoenigsegg, Pagani and Spyker.
  What wouldn’t 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, that’s
  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 can't buy.

Fancy flying to Scotland
for the weekend
and being driven in
a Koenigsegg, Pagani
and a Spyker?

How could I refuse?”
The 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?

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 colliding.

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.

There was neither a
Marbella gold medallion
nor a Hooray Henry in
sight — just a group of
chaps who had a
passion for driving the
best cars...”
Quite 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.

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 across.

Would I like to
accompany Christian
von Koenigsegg —
the founder of
Koenigsegg — in
the 240mph Koenigsegg
Would I heck!”
Thanking 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!

This 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.

The Lambo’s ride was
highly competent:

extremely precise
and the engine noise
very pure.
Not the voice of
an angel

more the roar of the
crowd at
a World Cup win...”
A 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.

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 keep up!

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.

A motto of the Roman
gladiators was
Ad Deum Tendo:
Hold for the Day.
Which is, to me: Go For
It. So no worries
with ‘Wild’ Bill then
The 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...

The 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 going!

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
The only car that had eluded me was the slightly quirky-styled Spyker. But there was always tomorrow to look forward to.

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 fleet.

After negotiating the usual awkward and inelegant scramble into the cockpit, I was presented with a totally different cabin 'theatre' compared to the other marques.

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.

The 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.

Cannoning down the
road in the
Spyker, thinking that
if ever I got this
opportunity again ear
plugs would be top of
the needs list
The 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.

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 car's return.

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.

Quite 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.

The Pagani slowed
to 80mph — and then
Bill performed
a celebratory 360-degree
power spin
However, 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.

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

Thunder in the Highlands — Koenigsegg, Pagani and Spyker take Scotland by storm...
A 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 location!

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 enough.

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.

The Itinerary

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 Edzell airfield.

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 from Edzell.

THE FOLLOWING are John Steel's personal highlights from his fantastic two days in Scotland driving RPM's über-exotics for MotorBar.

The Experience

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 seat!

“In a Koenigsegg,
  no-one can hear
  you scream...”

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 think so…