Venturi – Shifting Fortunes

8

By Dan Bevis

A lot of cars have been successfully named after winds. Volkswagen in particular has been mining this fruitful seam for years – Scirocco, Passat, Vento, you name it; even the Golf is named after the Gulf Stream. Renault had a crack at it in 2010, although badging their effort ‘Wind’ didn’t totally enter into the spirit of the endeavour. But the undisputed champions of all have to be those crackpot eggheads at Venturi Automobiles.

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Alright, so the term ‘Venturi’ actually denotes a short piece of tube that tapers in the middle with the aim of exerting suction, but that’s harder to reel out as a fact in the pub; besides, the vent/wind word root makes far more sense for a company whose sole aim was to craft opulent machinery to waft across continents like the trade winds. Back in 1984, a pair of engineers and dreamers by the names of Claude Poiraud and Gérard Godfroy set up an outfit called MVS, an initialism which stood for the no-nonsense Manufacture de Voitures de Sport. However rusty your GCSE French might now be, it’s not hard to fathom their clear sense of purpose here.

The gents in question were ex-Heuliez, the company responsible for nailing together all kinds of fancy and desirable French fare (and the Peugeot 206 CC), and their common goal was to fuse a very specific set of values in order to dominate – and ideally redefine – the Grand Tourisme genre. Aiming to meld the precision of a Porsche, the flair of a Maserati and the style of an Aston Martin, they developed a fabulous prototype in 1984: badged ‘Ventury’, its swoopy two-tone fibreglass lines housed a Golf GTI motor, of all things, along with the suspension from a Peugeot 205 GTI. As the testing development progressed, the car found itself packing a turbocharged motor from a Peugeot 505 (as the fellas considered that for a car to be truly French it had to have a French engine) before eventually arriving at the popular PRV V6 choice. Hey, if it was good enough for Alpine and DeLorean

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With its mid-mounted V6 making all the right noises and the spelling of the badge on the back tweaked a bit, the MVS Venturi emerged blinking into the light in 1987. The tremulous first steps of the fledgling company were akin to a newborn giraffe wobbling its way into a fresh new reality; five cars were made in that first year, but their niche allure was enough to build the basis of an icon upon. Production steadily increased as Venturis found homes with connoisseurs, the ultimate production run being close to 750 cars over the following two decades. Hardly world-changing numbers on paper, but it sparked a fire in the enthusiasms of the obscure sports car hunters of the 1980s and ’90s – not to mention schoolyard Top Trumps tournaments the world over.

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Available in either coupe or roadster form, the MVS Venturi sported a double-wishbone front end instead of the MacPherson struts of that early concept, and the transmission was bolted on behind the engine – rather than in front, as was Alpine’s method with the GTA. These cars were extraordinarily labour-intensive to build – anecdotal evidence suggests anywhere up to 400 man-hours per car – but the credentials spoke for themselves: 0-62mph in sub-7 seconds, 150mph+ at the top end, and movie-star looks.

The roadster was badged ‘Transcup’, and had a distinctly weird roof comprising three separate chunks – it could be a full convertible, or if you were feeling saucy you could have it as a targa, making it like a sexier Citroën C3 Pluriel – and at the same time, an extra engine option was added to the line-up. As well as the 200bhp turbo motor, you could option a naturally-aspirated 160bhp version. There was also a 2.0 variant using the four-cylinder engine from the Renault 21 Turbo, but that was just for the Italian market. (Remember the Ferrari 208 GTB? Yep, same deal. Tax reasons.)

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Fast-forward to the early nineties, and MVS had started to go a little power-mad. The Venturi was now packing a full-fat 260bhp, and the company had waded into the arena of top-flight motorsport by throwing some sponsorship money at the Larrousse Formula One team. GT racing knocked things up a notch, with a handful of 600bhp endurance racers being developed using road cars as a base, before MVS levelled-up to their own single-make race series. The Venturi Challenge ran an evolution of the car called the Venturi Trophy, which was basically the same as the road machine but with a wider track, longer wheelbase, and the 24-valve V6 from the Citroën XM. With a couple of turbos bolted on, this made over 400bhp and some really incredible noises.

Some of history’s coolest supercars have been road-going versions of racers, and that’s precisely what happened next. The Venturi Trophy was widely regarded to be a bit of alright, so the Venturi 400 GT was developed. It still stands today as one of France’s most powerful ever production cars (OK, ‘production’ in this instance actually only means fifteen cars), and it was a bit of a monster: 408bhp, an LSD, 285-section tyres and aerodynamic cues cheekily stolen from the Ferrari F40. Fans of pub quiz trivia will be interested to learn that this was actually the first production car to come with carbon-ceramic brakes (again though, ‘production’ is a loose term), and it’d run from 0-62mph in four-and-a-half seconds. That’s insanely rapid for a road car built in the mid-nineties.

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The basic ingredients of the Venturi were looking a bit last-generation by this point, so a comprehensive refresh resulted in the car that people who’ve actually heard of MVS will most likely be familiar with: the Venturi Atlantique. The covers were pulled off at the 1994 Paris Motor Show, revealing a tasteful GT profile that called to mind a sort of cross between a Ferrari 355 and a Ford Probe. The 3.0-litre, 24-valve V6 was updated with DOHC heads, serving up 210bhp in nat-asp form or 280bhp when mated to a single turbo. It wasn’t just about raw numbers though – the Atlantique was developed to be a luxurious grand tourer, neatly illustrating the company founders’ initial aim of reframing the Grand Tourisme market. It was plush and luxurious and easy to manoeuvre. A lot of effort went into ensuring that the Atlantique was perfect: it was the car that Poiraud and Godfroy always wanted a Venturi to be.

Unfortunately, in the world of car development ‘a lot of effort’ can be directly translated as ‘a lot of cash’. Too much, in fact. The investment was wildly out of control. So much so that MVS went bankrupt in 1996. This, however, was not the end. A Thai investor bought up the remains, pumping funds into the development of the Atlantique 300 Biturbo. As the name suggests, this had twin-turbos which gave it 310bhp. But then, er, the company went bankrupt again.

The latest chapter in the Venturi tale has been one of Monegasque peculiarity. With the company being bought up by a wealthy Monaco-based owner, it seemed to evolve largely into a manufacturer of weird concept cars. Perhaps the best known of these (or, perhaps, the least obscure) is the Fétish of 2002, a two-seater sports model with a Renault engine; this was reworked as an electric car in 2004 and, surprisingly, actually made production in 2006 – the world’s first production electric sports car. These buzzy little trinkets continued being made until 2011, although fewer than a hundred were built in total.

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The Venturi Fetish concept – Weird

Further weirdness came in the form of the Eclectic and subsequent Eclectic 2.0 – zero-emission concepts powered by solar energy and little integrated wind turbines – and the Astrolab, a battery-electric 1+1 nutjob. The Volage was a coupe developed with Michelin, featuring eight in-wheel electric motors, and the America was a bizarre SUV concept which debuted a decade ago, looking like a cross between a Fétish and a Nike trainer.

…but don’t go thinking the Venturi name has been reduced to being merely a weirdo sideshow. 

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The Venturi Eclectic concept – weirder

The company’s President, Gildo Pastor, is what’s known as a ‘business angel’ – a wealthy investor who helps to bankroll innovative start-ups. As part of his portfolio, Venturi scratches his own personal itch to develop ground-breaking EV technologies; the R&D centre in Monaco employs a number of industry leaders in technology and design, and the company has numerous offshoots. ROKiT Venturi Racing competes in Formula E, Voxan Motors is busy trying to crack the land speed record for electric motorcycles, and the Venturi Antarctica is an EV designed specifically for expeditions to – you guessed it – Antarctica. In addition, Venturi was the first to complete an unaided coast-to-coast journey across Africa in an EV (using a specially equipped Citroën Berlingo), and their VBB-3 set a record for the fastest EV in the world, clocking up 341mph on the Bonneville salt flats. So, the Venturi story may all have started as an attempt to refocus traditional automotive values – and sure, you won’t find the company in a deck of Top Trumps these days – but the direction is clear: the team at Venturi have the wind in their sails, and it’s blowing them firmly into the future.

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