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"Vauxhall", August 1, 2013

UNKNOWN SOLDIER

With 4WD and 500bhp, is this carbon-clad monster the most badass Calibra in existence? We think so...

WORDS Bryn Musselwhite

PHOTOGRAPHY Bryn Musselwhite

FAST FACTS

* Cosworth-built 2.5-litre V6

* 500bhp, 12,000rpm rev limit

* Full carbon monocoque construction

* 10x18in Magnesium BBS wheels

* Xtrac 6-speed transmission

Imagine if you could control time, the consequences of your actions or change the way events played out. You’d have to think pretty carefully about what you messed with, but all things considered, think of all the fun you could have. Looking at this incredible Calibra, that’s all I can think about.

Zakspeed’s pedigree is well proven. During the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s they turned out some of the most outrageous racecars I can think of. Now consider that roughly half an hour from their front door is the Nürburgring – what better place could there be to test racecars? Put those two famous names together and you know that the machine I’m here to see today is going to be special. Although I didn’t realise just how special until I started looking at the technical specification of the raw carbon creation that is the stillborn 1997 ITC Calibra.

International Touring Cars was created by the FIA in 1996, with some mad DTM-style machinery from Alfa Romeo, Mercedes and Opel. It lasted one season, which was won by a Calibra. This one was going to be the 1997 car, but when the championship was canned, the project was shelved. Not unusual, as often manufacturers will try something and then push it to one side. But what we have here is a mind blowing Calibra that was entirely finished and ready to race aside from a sponsors’ livery. But it wasn’t sold on. It wasn’t put out to dealers for demonstration – it was parked in Zakspeed’s private museum and left.

Barring a few building changes, this is where it’s stayed. But just look at it, how could you not want to see what it will do? Details are sparse and stories have probably shifted since Zakspeed built the Opel – all we’re told is that the manufacturer doesn’t want the car to be raced.

And this is where that initial question comes back in – just imagine what would happen if it came out and could face the potential rivals. Run a series for ghost racers, just for kicks – how cool would that be? Would it have affected road car sales? Would the sums and technology do their job and win the race? It’s purely hypothetical, but hey, I can dream.

NUMBERS GAME

The figures really pull you in as they get reeled off – so for starters what about the Cosworth-built 2.5-litre V6 that revs to a serious 12,000rpm? When I ask if there’s any chance the engine could be fired up, there is mild smile and a very polite “No”.

The all up weight of 1040kg actually seems pretty heavy when you consider how much carbon there is on show. Which I’ll say right now is my favourite part – it looks so good up close. Take a look at the cross web bracing on the bonnet and the monocoque style seat on the inside, just two things that scream racecar. Closer inspection shows the panels are just thick enough to not warp when air flows over them at speed, but thin enough to be as light as possible. Curved cutaways behind the 10x18in, slick shod, BBS Magnesium wheels aid airflow as it would cut through the atmosphere.

It’s amazing what a difference the lack of a livery can make. It looks mean in bare carbon, with the plain black cage inside and chassis emerging through the bulkhead like polished robotic fingers, clutching at the carbon throttle-bodied V-motor.

With an engine like that, the transmission is suitably special too, again, details are limited as I’m not even sure anybody directly involved with the build originally is still at Zakspeed, so research has been patchy and often wildly differing in results. Although it would seem that the semi-automatic six-speed gearbox came from Xtrac and was developed in part using Williams F1 shifter tech.

The low engine and transmission height is possible thanks to some clever packaging. If you’re looking at the engine from directly above, the gearbox obviously sits behind it, but then there are two short, alloy encased stubby arms running forwards either side of the engine connected to the box delivering drive to the front drive shafts. This means the engine can be mounted further back, unlike rivals at the time like the Alfa Romeo.

Considering the Zakspeed bespoke in-board suspension is mounted around there as well, with silly things like exhausts getting in the way it really is amazing to see it all packed in together. Especially when you remember that everything has to be accessible in a pit for inspection or replacement.

BACK IN THE DAY

It’s another sobering thought to think that this was all done seventeen years ago, look at BTCC nowadays and they seem so tame. WTCC too, yes all race cars are limited by regulations and it does keep it all on a level playing field. But what happened to building badass racecars?

I ask one of the small Zakspeed team who are in the background as I’m left alone to shoot the Calibra, if it will race one day? Once again he smiles and neither confirms or denies it. This is all old, irrelevant technology for Opel, why would they want it wheeled out again? To be honest, I’m not even sure who completely owns the Calibra, it’s here – but does that mean Zakspeed can do what they want with it? Obviously not.

TECH FEST

There are a few photos on the Internet where you can see the mechanical lay out of the 1996 ITC Calibra and it soon becomes apparent just how different, how much more advanced this build is. Sitting in the driver’s seat (well you would, wouldn’t you?), once again it’s rammed home just how advanced this thing is.

The seat itself is part of the overall cockpit moulding, so presumably it was made to fit a generic driver size with the pedal box adjustable for leg length. It feels like a proper cockpit too. Once again no logos to keep in-car TV cameras happy, and my mind can drift to what it would feel like to roll out on to some mirror smooth tarmac, warm the engine up and flick the wafer thin shifter paddles up and down like tapping out my favourite tune.

I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon though. As I pack up my cameras, the Calibra is wheeled in the air back down to the museum, at the back of the workshop. Like the facts of this story, this shoot was brief but very enjoyable. You may have noticed one of the radiators is missing from the front of the Opel, but that aside, I don’t see anything apart from a change to new rubber that would stop it being exercised on a track.

It might seem criminal to keep the Calibra hidden away, but then if it had been let out in to the open, what would have become of it? Where would it be now? Probably not here and here is a good place, because we can all see just how awesome it is, thank you for the experience Zakspeed.

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