Meet the Vandal One, an American-Made, 1,200-LB Track Car With a 560-HP Civic Type R Heart
Upstart automotive manufacturer Vandal Sports Cars is building a made-in-the-USA speed demon designed to wallop the world's heavy hitters on the track.
Don't feel bad if you've never heard of Vandal Cars. Most people haven't. And with good reason.
“You probably aren’t familiar because we just covertly launched the brand,” Jeremy Sutton, chairman of Vandal Cars, says. The company's been operating with the secrecy of a Lockheed Martin Skunk Works program for the last couple years, chasing down a dream of building what Sutton describes as “stunning, purposeful performance cars” for "a track enthusiast lifestyle." In other words: cars for people who like to drive really, really fast.
“We just wanted to give every enthusiast a chance to drive a car with world beating performance at a price that won’t break the bank,” Sutton says. "This is probably the closest thing someone will experience to being in an F1 car.”
Just because the team is new doesn't mean the players are rookies. Vandal's employees are alumni of such notable companies as McLaren, Lola, and Ford Racing, according to Sutton; Jeremy himself spent time at Ford's famed SVT division, as well as across the Pond working on the likes of the TVR Speed 12 and Cerebra. ("I was probably one of the only Americans working at TVR," Sutton says.) As such, the company—an enterprise that the chairman says has largely been boot-strapped by a handful of private investors—has the advantage of being able to lean on industry connections to help source the parts: Honda Performance Development, Sadev, Pirelli, and other well-known OEM suppliers all contributed to the project.
For their first project, the Vandal Cars team set out to build a vehicle designed for track-day fun, one that could battle against the Ariels, Radicals, and BACs of the world—in Sutton's words, a car "to scratch the itch that we’ve always had" as enthusiasts.
No monster can thrive without a mighty heart, of course. In the case of the Vandal One, that thumping powerplant comes straight from a car that needs no introduction to gearheads around the globe: the Honda Civic Type R.
"That engine was the perfect fit for our first product," Sutton says. Dialed up to around 340 horsepower thanks to revised tuning, the turbocharged inline-four known as the K20C1—which also sees duty in the Ariel Atom 4, a car with a similar mission brief to the Vandal One—might not seem like a lot of power in this Hellcat-all-the-things era. Stop to consider that the car weighs in around 1,220 pounds wet, however—a mere 39 percent of the Type R's curb weight—and those 340 ponies start to seem a little more intimidating. In fact, that combination of horses and poundage means the Vandal One has a power-to-weight ratio of 3.59 pounds per hp. A Lamborghini Aventador SVJ, by comparison, sits at 4.37 pounds per pony—and that's based on its dry weight.
“Because the car is track-focused, having the car be as lightweight as possible was one of the main criteria,” Sutton says.
As if that weren't mad enough...that's just the base version. Opt for what Sutton describes as the "R Engine Package," and the Civic Type R engine is rebuilt from soup to nuts with forged internals, a BorgWarner EFR 7163 turbo, port and direct injectors, and other enhancements, delivering both more boost and the ability to rev to 9,100 rpm. Maximum output? Figure 550 to 560 horsepower.
"Its 60-130 [mile-per-hour] time is gonna be world-beating," says Sutton.
Normally, the mightier engine will be limited to around 480 horses, Sutton says, with the rest of the power available using a push-to-pass system that monitors the chassis via yaw sensors and the external environment via GPS and determines if the car is in a good place to handle the full wallop before freeing the extra power.
No matter how many horses on draft, the power flows to the rear axle through a Sadev-made six-speed pneumatically-controlled sequential transmission that only needs the clutch when taking off from a stop. The base engine does without traction control, but the beefier motor comes with it as standard.
"At 560 horses and 555 kilograms," Sutton says, "you need traction control.”
If power were all it took to make a track car, however, John Force would be in the Formula 1 hall of fame. Rounding a road course with speed and style requires a world-class chassis—so Vandal turned to HP Composites, a little-known Italian supplier that happens to be the largest carbon fiber manufacturer for the motorsports world, to build the carbon fiber monocoque.
“All of the carbon on the car is pre-preg autoclave carbon fiber,” Sutton says, a note of pride in his voice. Such "dry" carbon fiber is pre-impregnated with resin before going into an autoclave—as opposed to "wet" carbon fiber, where the material is dipped in resin in the mold before being vacuum-sealed to infuse the sticky substance into it.
"It gives you a more structurally reliable part, and also a lighter part," Sutton says.
Going with carbon fiber construction for both the monocoque and the body panels brings other benefits beyond Sutton's oft-touted lightness. It also enables owners to tailor the carbon weave to include different colors, or even to thread metallic elements through it.
The chassis's structural elements utilizes pair of flat-plane full carbon floor members; towards the stern, the inline-four lies in a stressed engine configuration in which the gearbox and engine hold up the entire rear suspension, much like in a Le Mans prototype or Formula One car. Unlike both those types of cars and the car's tube-frame construction rivals like the Radical SR8 and BAC Mono, however, the Vandal One was built to accommodate even plus-sized builds. Sutton claims even people weighing 280 pounds and standing six-foot-six can fit inside the car. (Having been shoehorned into the occasional track car in my life, the latter is the sort of claim this writer desperately hopes is true.)
The suspension, likewise, has been designed for the needs of the gentleman (and gentlewoman) racers and the compromises they struggle with. In order to keep the driver from scraping the nose too much, the suspension is designed to rise and fall when needed. While it rides with the nose a mere inch and a half off the ground and the tail two inches above the pavement in Race mode, the pushrods can be hydraulically lifted to provide a street-worthy five inches of clearance up front and 5.75 inches astern. The sway bars are also adjustable, as are the JRi dampers, enabling owners to play with the bump and rebound settings.
Building the car the way the company has, around its carbon fiber endoskeleton, also enables Vandal to change the body without affecting the car's suspension or powertrain. “We have a philosophy called 'obsolescence obsolete',” Sutton says. Putting it simply, it's a way of future-proofing the design; new body panels can be affixed to the chassis in the future, changing the look of the car in ways drastic or subtle.
“We didn’t want a car the owner wouldn’t still be proud of 10 years down the road,” he says. “This way, you can have that track car for life.”
Keeping well-heeled, easily-distracted track car owners interested over that time takes more than just new sheetmetal (so to speak) every so often. In order to help drivers gamify their track days, the Vandal One will pack a telematics system that scoops up data from the car's on-board sensors via two control units and dumps it to a cloud-based server via an integrated 4G modem. That enables real-time engine and chassis data to be viewed from the pits in real time; the data, Sutton says, could also be used for remote driver coaching. It can also play into owners' competitive natures, allowing them to share lap times as part of a friendly community of rivals—and, ideally, building buzz around the brand.
“We wanted owners to band together to take down track records across the US,” Sutton says.
After around six months and 1,600 miles of chassis mule testing, the company is on the verge of bringing the car into the public eye. As of this article's publication, chassis development is almost complete; Sutton says pre-orders currently number in the single digits, but that's before much in the way of publicity, let alone a finished car. (The latter should show up in mid-April, Sutton says.)
If the Vandal One is your cup of tea, well, you'd better be prepared to fork over Porsche 911 money. The car starts at $119,700 before taxes; go wild with the options list, Sutton says, and you can push it close to $190,000. The order process starts with a $1,000 refundable deposit, just like Elon Musk did with the Tesla Model 3; once the order is locked in, the buyer makes periodic payments before they take delivery at the company's Detroit-area headquarters, where final assembly takes place.
Once Vandal Cars is over the hump of launching its first car, the carmaker doesn't seem to plan on sitting on its hands. Eventually, Sutton says, the company intends to sell the car as "turnkey-minus," much as Ariel does—complete except for an engine. (The HPD-tweaked version of the engine found in the read-to-roll car isn't road-legal...but we can think of a street-legal car with a very similar powerplant.) And, as the species name kind of gives away, the Vandal One will be just the first in a series of vehicles if all goes according to plan. Future cars, Sutton says, will likely have more than one seat, meaning the presumptive's Vandal Two moniker could refer to more than its spot in the company's history.
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