Sunday, January 23, 2011

Factory Tour: Koenigsegg

Remember the days when the mere sight of a Lamborghini Diablo, or Ferrari 308 was a memorable experience. Yes, the prestige of a Lamborghini, Ferrari or Porsche seems to dull when you begin to see each multiple times on a daily basis’ being driven by people who don’t seem competent enough to tie their own shoelaces. However there is a new breed of supercar working their way to the top. Italian builder Pagani, the rejuvenated mark of Bugatti and the unsuspecting Swedish builder Koenigsegg; represent today what Porsche, Lamborghini and Ferrari where in the 60’s. They are true low production hand built supercars that exude soul, character, cutting edge style and most importantly, unfathomable performance.

So what makes these marks so prestigious? I went to Sweden to look in and get a behind the scenes look at how Koenigsegg takes passion, ambition and acute attention to detail to build one of the worlds truly great supercars.

After a fire in 2003 burnt the companies small factory to the ground with all tools, molds and spares inventory, company founder Christian von Koenigsegg decided that the show must go on. He set up shop in a Swedish Air Force hangar at the airport just north of the small town of Angelholm. Ironically enough, the hangers prior residents was the Swedish Air Forces 1st Flight Squadron, whose soul purpose was to test highly secretive experimental fighters. Now instead of building some of the most deadly aircraft in the world, the building produces the once fastest production car ever made. Fastest, before the Gumpert Apollo took the title a few years ago. As a tribute to the hangars heritage, each Koenigsegg has the 1st Flight Squadrons insignia; that of a ghost, emblazed into the rear window of every vehicle.

Building one of the worlds most expensive, and most manic cars to be street legal bears little resemblance to the robotic production lines of Volvo’s Torslanda factory a couple hundred kilometers north, just outside of Goteborg. Torslanda pumps out 1000 vehicles per day and employ’s over 5000 people, while Koenigsegg employs 54 people and handcraft 20 cars per year. While I was there they had 3 cars in production and one chassis hot from the kiln. These cars are not a mass of stamped sheet metal welded together. Von Koenigsegg wanted to build a truly special car, a car that would be lighter, more powerful and faster than anything else on the road. For this you need a factory that resembles a Formula One Constructors shop more than car factory, and for this, a Koenigsegg has more in common with F1 than your basic commuter.

The building process starts with skilled hands cutting and laying out sheets of Carbon over a honeycomb aluminum core. These soon-to-be body parts are vacuum-sealed and cooked in a kiln. Then these newly formed pieces t get sent to the finishing department where they are either painted in the customers preferred colour, or for those getting the Limited Edition, all the carbon is sprayed with a clear coat then meticulously polished to a mirror finish. 

While skilled hands are creating these bodies, and readying them for finishing, a machine shop goes to work creating the magnificent V8 engine that pushes the CCXR to 254 mph. Casting their own blocks in house, the engine has two uses. Power delivery and being the rear structural member; much like an F1 car. Coupled with twin superchargers, the engines are capable of 870 hp, and 1018 hp when tuned to run on biofuel. Mated to the engine is a 6-speed Richardo gearbox, which we saw in a ready state in the engine shop with rear suspension and massive composite brakes.

With the engine and gearbox section ready, the cars begin assembly on the production line as all the glorious bits get pieced together. At the first station the car is just pieces, but further down the line at the final stop, the alignment is measured and the car is ready for test drive on the companies private track on a nearby runway. When the car is mechanically sorted, it is sent out to have the interior installed, then is readied for shipping to its lucky and wealthy owner.

To visit the factory is an amazing experience and the skill and passion that all the staff put into each and every little task in a cars production is inspirational.

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