There’s a puzzling but common conundrum bubbling in the modern automotive landscape: it seems the more money you spend on a face-melting hypercar, the less actual driving it will let you do. It’s not about the gathering cloud of autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence casting a pall over the entire industry. Instead, it’s the sacrifices made by the world’s most performance-focused brands as they harness reams of silicon and deploy armies of electronic nannies in a relentless chase for the fastest lap times, quickest acceleration numbers, and heaviest cornering g-loads.
It might seem unusual to use a term like ‘sacrifices’ to describe the seemingly endless torrent of speed-enhancing technologies that have poured forth from the most talented engineering minds on the planet. And yet, for every half-second pared away, or single-digit mile-per-hour improvement made by electronically-controlled hybrid drivetrains, larger turbocharged lungs, or precisely-tuned launch control systems, there’s an equal loss to be made on the human side of the steering wheel.
In an age where hypercars are increasingly designed and then driven by computers, with only as much human involvement as required to turn the wheel and stomp the gas pedal, one man’s dream of building something that can tap into the sheer visceral pleasures of motoring while still keeping pace in the frenetic world of world-class performance takes on an almost crusade-like quality. Hong Kong investor Norman Choi had such a dream. His decision to not only revive the glory of the Apollo brand but to take a firm stand and fight for those who still yearn for a profound connection to the asphalt carves out a unique identity for both the man and his machine.
If the Apollo name sounds familiar, that’s because it’s been a colorful if not minor character in the European Supercar Narrative for nearly the past two decades. Originally known as Gumpert Apollo, and dedicated to building track-focused weapons that also just happened to be street-legal, the financially floundering German automaker was purchased in 2016 by Choi and rededicated to finding its place in the performance pantheon. Its first order of business? The Apollo IE, or Intensa Emozionale, which lives up to its name marrying by jaw-dropping design with a level of driver engagement not seen since ones and zeros took over the left seat.
“The Apollo was a special car to begin with,” states Choi, clearly passionate about what that vehicle meant to him. “The original was the fastest car on the Nürburgring from 2009 to 2013, so to me it’s always been important because it’s never easy for any car to stay on top of ‘Ring times — let alone a small, independent manufacturer.”
“The IE’s entire philosophy has been to pay homage to the glory days of GT1 racing while also selectively incorporating new technologies,” explains Ryan Berris, General Manager of Apollo Automobil. “This means we’ve gone with a very forward-thinking full carbon-fiber chassis, for example, but we refrained from using any forced induction or hybrid systems because this is not meant to be a numbers car. This is meant to be a car that provides a true, raw driving experience.”
That last statement might only take up a handful of words on a page, but they represent a reverberating cannon shot in a market where enormous — but precisely-metered — engine output is almost always sanitized by automatic transmissions and torque-vectoring all-wheel drive systems. You’ll find neither in the Apollo IE, with the instant throttle response of its naturally-aspirated, mid-mounted 6.3-liter V12’s 780 horsepower flowing almost unmitigated to the rear wheels by way of a six-speed sequential transmission, its pneumatic activation ripping like a gunshot over the intoxicating roar of the car’s triple-exit exhaust system. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you: that’s an actual third pedal nestled beside the IE’s brake, perhaps the only detail more brazen than the rest of the coupe’s cabin-by-Batman passenger compartment. With only 10 hand-built examples of the IE planned, the automaker is able to laser-target buyers seeking the sensation of touching the car’s 208-mph top speed unfettered by self-determining servos.
“So many of the cars out now are so capable that there’s no way any driver, let alone an average driver, can explore their limits whether on public roads or even on a racing circuit,” says Berris. “They have to push the cars to such an extreme level in order to get any type of emotional feedback. But if you look, there is a demand there. Even Porsche has brought back a three pedal GT3, because there’s a core group of enthusiasts who have been yearning for that raw connection. And so, some companies are now willing to provide a little bit of sacrifice in terms of sheer on-paper performance in order to get that feeling back. Because in the end that’s what makes people feel special, and that’s what we believe made people fall in love with cars from the very beginning.”
Apollo Automobil doesn’t expect owners of the IE to stick to the streets. After all, why craft such a finely-honed, race-ready rocket without providing a proper, and controlled, venue in which to play with it? To that end, the automaker is in the midst of creating a Time Attack program to be launched later in 2018, coinciding roughly with the mid-summer delivery of the very first models. The series will allow IE drivers to sample some of the most challenging and historically significant circuits in Europe, with the full support and service of the company behind them.
In fact, Apollo’s owner involvement initiatives go well beyond the promise of providing a track day pit crew. In addition to being provided with an in-depth driver training program, whether they participate in the Time Attack series or not, customers are given the opportunity to fine-tune the development of their particular car as it goes through its continuous-development testing prior to being delivered. It’s a rare chance that moves beyond Apollo’s already-bespoke build process to have a final say in how each individual’s IE will feel out on the road.
“What’s very refreshing for Apollo and especially Norman’s approach is that this was never come at from a business perspective,” clarifies Berris. “The IE has been a true product of passion, and there has been nothing sacrificed in order to do cost savings on any component of the car. It’s very over-engineered, and we’re extremely, extremely proud of what we were able to achieve — because we were very worried that no one else would make something like the IE ever again. And with the way that technology is advancing, our concern was that younger generations would never be able to fall in love with cars the same way that we did.”
Choi is in full agreement. “We’re kind of losing the essence of the old days of racing,” he argues. “In working with our vehicle development partners, we’ve discovered that the IE is one of the most exciting projects they’ve had the chance to deal with… the sight and the sound of the car, everything about it, people get excited. And it’s especially rare because this not a high production number vehicle – we’re a small company bringing a daring project like this into the world.”
Reaching back into the past so as to preserve the future of driving is as noble a principle as one is ever likely to encounter in an automotive world where technology is increasingly used to box us in rather than set us free. With Choi behind the wheel, and Berris beside him navigating, Apollo Automobil seems poised to spark a new era in hypercar design — one where the human element is more important than numbers blinking soullessly from a computer screen.