he iPhone’s success might be traced to the fact it was not conceived by the usual phone guys but by a visionary unshackled by limitations or priorities repeated by industry regulars. Consider the Vuhl 05 the iPhone of track cars. Until now, loads of those cars were designed the British way. And although Great Britain has certainly given us plenty of track stars, the repetitive problem preventing them from admiration outside the U.K. is that it takes more than a virtuously sorted chassis and impressive steering to gain worldwide appeal.
To find that thing in the track car business, we looked far outside the U.K. and discovered it in Mexico. The Vuhl 05 is a brainchild of brothers Iker and Guillermo Echeverria. They founded the company, an acronym for Vehicles of Ultra-High performance and Light weight, in 2010 when they were just 26 and 29 years old. Seven years later, they run it with the help of their entire family. Most notably they benefit from the experience of their father, who infected the brothers with their passion for cars. Even if Mexico isn’t the first country that comes to mind when you think of motorsports tradition, Vuhl’s founders were exposed to racing throughout their young lives.
Guillermo Echeverria Sr. spent more than three decades in motorsports, taking part in formula car and GT races in North America using the number 05. As Iker proudly recalls, his father was a friend of Mexico’s biggest race stars, brothers Pedro and Ricardo Rodríguez, who are now immortalized by the name of the country’s F1 track. Vuhl aims to build on Mexico’s F1 heritage; the dashboard of the company’s own 05 wears the autograph of Esteban Gutiérrez, one of two Mexican drivers on last year’s grand prix grid and now racing in Formula E. He drove the car and is a big fan, but Vuhl has an even more important backer, the Mexican government, which strived to make Vuhl one of the country’s global high-tech ambassadors.
With a little of the nation’s aid, the startup built a high-end flagship showroom in Mexico City and a 30,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art factory located in Querétaro, where cars are assembled in cells — Formula 1 style — not on production lines. Iker points out how this location is one of the company’s strongest assets. “Querétaro is famous for its aerospace cluster,” he says. “We decided to assemble the car here because of the great location and highly experienced labor. After all, the 05 and aircraft have much in common, like the carbon-fiber bodywork and aluminum-extrusion bonded monocoque.”
Esteban Gutiérrez drove the car and is a big fan, but Vuhl has an even more important backer: the Mexican government.
Despite being ostentatiously Mexican, the 05 is a global product. “[My brother and I] studied industrial design,” Iker continues, “and what advanced the project was that very quickly we were able to get onboard the most important developing partners, investors, and consolidate strategic alliances.”
The 05 was designed mostly in Italy in the studio of Esiste, a small consultant group that also advises the likes of Lamborghini and Ducati. Iker went there for six months to assist with the work. The car’s engineering was honed in Canada by Multimatic (the engineering buffs recently associated with Ford’s GT racing campaign) and its handling polished by Corum Technology on several tracks and airfields in the U.K. “We sourced the highest-specification components regardless of where they were located,” Iker says. “We even have some parts from South Africa.”
If the 05 looks like a textbook example of the postive effects of globalization, it still promises to possess unique handling characteristics brought by its Mexican origin. Put another way, the 05’s R & D was determined mostly by the roads surrounding its birthplace. As it turns out, those streets are in rather poor condition, so the 05 was given a larger-than-segment-average ground clearance of 4.33 inches. Another factor that played a key role in the development phase was high altitude (the city sits 6,100 feet above sea level), which called for a turbocharged engine. Following some of their key potential competitors, the Echeverrias went for the proven solution of a Ford Focus ST-derived drivetrain, along with its clutch and manual gearbox. It’s not the exotic stuff you probably expected, but it’s a proper win-win solution with OEM longevity and Ford-like cost of maintenance. Add amenities such as keyless engine initiation (Vuhl’s keyfob looks pretty neat, by the way) and a usable cargo area that will house more than a toothbrush and a pair of underwear, and you almost believe you can use this car as any other.
If this sounds disappointing, you’ll be happy to know the 05 is arguably as extreme and raw as a car gets, even if it’s more on the savvy side than your usual British track machine. No sight of sound deadening, cupholders, heater, or infotainment in the cabin, but in return you get some switches and knobs you can’t opt for even in a Porsche 911 GT3 RS. For guaranteed durability, the instrumentation is sourced from a military helicopter, so you can always depend on it when you need to operate brake balance, telemetry, and the GoPro camera setup — itself neatly installed in the rear firewall to record your racetrack heroics. With a quick-release suede steering wheel, bare carbon bucket seats made by Tillett, Sparco racing harness, OMP perforated pedals, indicators operated by toggle switch that will not self-cancel, and virtually no form of isolation (not even a windscreen), it feels only natural to drive this car on a track.
Or not. Instead, we’re taking the Vuhl to the ultimate supercar playground. No, not the Nordschleife. We’re headed to the heart of London. Certainly, the brilliant-looking matte-blue 05 isn’t out of place on tony Park Lane. If the “likes” count is more important than the lap count, this car is already a winner. A note for the Instagram show-offs: The lack of A-pillars and a relativelyelevated driving position (you sit significantly more upright here than in 05’s competitors, leaving half of your body above the side sills) means you’re perfectly exposed to the public’s bewildered attention.
This is where Echeverria’s design experience comes to light. Using the same components as automotive industry giants, the 05 looks like the product of one, which says a lot about quality at the Querétaro factory. Iker points to another feature. “My favorite component is the full carbon-fiber wheels,” he says. “Lightweight, strong, beautiful, and specifically designed for the 05 (as are all of the body parts).” The car looks menacing and aggressive but in a very high-tech, almost clinical kind of way. Its design shuns obvious, big air intakes and racerlike spoilers, instead finding authority in radically short overhangs and a refined contrast between the black carbon-fiber bits and painted plastic body panels.
Somewhere between the streets carefully monitored by tourists’ phones and speed cameras, even in London you can find some empty stretches of dead end or restricted-access roads that form corners, ramps, and straightaways of a first-rate urban racetrack providing a perfect test ground for the 05’s dynamic talents. Although its performance numbers are far from mind-boggling in the Tesla era, getting to them is nothing like an electric car act. It takes only 3.6 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph, and any speed higher than this feels unlike anything you experience in a car with a roof. Forget all your Ferraris and Hellcats. If you’re looking for pure thrills at the wheel, this is it.
The 05 is more than just a midget dragster, though. The limits are clear here, and getting to them is as easy as pie. To go beyond is another thing. A mix of the pendulum rear end and the front that tries to counterbalance it by biting hard into the tarmac feels a bit more like a struggle between two elements rather than a harmonious joint effort, especially given that there’s no limited-slip differential to help with rear traction if the rear goes out of control. In a way, the 05 offers a masochistic kind of driving fulfillment, punishing the driver physically or even aurally. With the air-intake system located between the driver’s and the passenger’s ears, the only things they can hear most of the time are fierce hisses and whistles depending on the throttle movement. The 05 is scary.
Even if Vuhl’s maiden car is still not a game changer, for a first attempt by two automotive industry virgins the results are shockingly good. Although the Echeverrias have already contributed something new to the segment, showing an unprecedented attention to detail that goes all the way down to the helmet design that matches the car’s paint, it is not their last word. (See sidebar.) With dealers established in five countries — the U.S. hub is in Miami — and a plan to sell 60 cars per year, this Vuhl is ready to rage.