As the 88th Salon International de l'Automobile winds down, it’s a good time to present some of the less publicized vehicles shown this year in Geneva. These aren’t the machines you’ll read about in the typical show report, but they’re the sort you’ll see at small stands in the vast Palexpo exhibition hall, right next to Geneva’s airport, year in and year out.
Switzerland is all about neutrality. It’s said Geneva endures because it’s a level playing field for the world's car builders, in a wealthy country with no native auto industry (Sbarro withstanding). That may be correct, but it’s also true that Geneva as a marketplace covers a much broader spectrum than Detroit or Tokyo or Frankfurt. It’s not just the regular automotive traffic from Europe, Japan and North America, but also wealthy car folk from Russia, the Middle East, India, Africa and increasingly China. And there’s a good chance these folks have stashed some wealth somewhere in Switzerland.
Here, then, are five things from Geneva that you won’t see at Detroit, or New York or Los Angeles for that matter. You probably won’t see them at your next cars-and-coffee, either, but you’d definitely check them out if you did.
The Corbellati Missile
Geneva has a thing for hypercars that fly above the beaten path, and we’re not talking Koenigsegg, Pagani or even the Hennessey Venom, which you’ve probably heard of and would certainly see there. We’re talking would-be hypercars from places like Croatia, China, Denmark and the UAE. This year our favorite obscure would-be hypercar was the Corbellati Missile.
The Missile is a retro-styled, Italian-looking coupe powered by a 9.0-liter twin-turbo Mercury Marine V8, built on Tenerife in the Canary Islands by Achille Corbellati — a 25-year-old Italian with an advanced engineering degree from Oxford. Corbellati has dreamed of building his own car since childhood. His goal with the Missile is only to homologate the most powerful road car ever built, with a certified top speed beyond 310 mph (or 500 kph, if you’re wondering why the odd number).
If the Missile seems a little too far out there to be real, know this: The car at Geneva was by all appearances a working prototype, and Corbellati says he has a second development car together on Tenerife. He also says the engine — tuned for 1800 hp — is deliberately constrained for drivability and durability. It makes substantially more power in high-end marine applications. To minimize strain on the budget, Corbellati designed the Missile’s carbon-fiber monocoque and body himself.
Achille and his partners (his father and brother) descend from several generations of goldsmiths and jewelers. He says he’s in Geneva to generate buzz more than money, and believes he has funding to get the Missile to the road. Next on his agenda, after the Top Marques show in Monaco this spring, is a certified speed run.
That will get some attention, Corbellati figures. He knows tires will be a problem at a big closed circuit like Nardo in Italy, because the tires do not exist to carry 500 kph — more than twice the neutral speed through Nardo’s most steeply banked lane — with any sort of lateral strain. So Corbellati will likely try its speed run on the Bonneville Salt Flats, target date 2019. And if the budget doesn’t leave room for an experienced speed-run driver, Corbellati feels comfortable undertaking the test himself.
Good luck, Achille.
$350,000 conversion vans from Turkey
These are built by Okcu, a small, family-owned concern in Istanbul that was established in 1951 to do automotive electrical repair. Today Okcu (pronounced ock-choo) outfits boats, private aircraft and vans — either a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter or V-Class (Metris in the United States). What separates this van conversion is official Mercedes support. Daimler signs off on Okcu’s engineering plans, and customers buy the vans at a Mercedes store. The factory ships the van to Okcu and sometime later — maybe two months later for V-Class, three months for a Sprinter — the customer claims the van at the dealership with full warranty.
What they get is a conservative-looking conversion with a truly expensive-looking, hand-finished interior, starting with a Rolls-Royce-style fiber-optic headliner. They get at least four full-leather recliners, an onboard safe, an espresso maker, a food warmer and a fridge. The retractable big-screen LED TV doubles as the driver compartment divider, with Apple AirPlay, Bang & Olufsen audio and everything from seats to privacy screens to climate-control operation integrated in a mobile app.
Like one? Okcu is operating at full capacity of about 100 conversions a year, but its dream of a presence in the United States remains (we assure you: There will be a market). So do the challenges.
“We wouldn’t have the same relationship with the factory, at least to start,” says Todd Ramsey, a Phoenix-based consultant who has worked with Okcu for years helping them integrate electronic systems. “Maybe bigger now is that Metrises (in the States) have (sliding doors) on both sides, and that is less than optimal for us. But we’re working on it, maybe with a single showroom in the right Mercedes dealership.”
A German tuner that specializes in British cars
Geneva drips tuners as profusely as hypercars, and again the crowd stretches past familiar suspects like Brabus, Rinspeed or Schnitzer. Back in a corner, not far from the Range Rover stand, you’ll find a couple of cars from Arden, and you’ll realize that German tuners don’t need German cars to succeed.
In the 1970s, Jochen Arden was the Jaguar retailer in Kleve, West Germany. By 1982, he had his first contract to modify and sell Jaguar limousines. In 1990, he developed Jaguar’s first ABS system under contract from Coventry. In many respects, his family-run company has been to Jaguar what AMG once was to Mercedes-Benz.
Arden has long since given up retails sales, except for the Jaguar/Land Rover models the company tunes. Those include the F-Type, F-Pace, XE, Evoque and Range Rover. Arden can squeeze 703 hp into JLR’s 5.0-liter V8 or nearly 300 into the Evoque’s 2.0-liter four. It can slam a Range Dog, make it look like an autobahn commando or change the interior trim to red carbon-fiber. It can also restore an E-Type or vintage XJ with German thoroughness, if you’re looking for that sort of thing.
Arden will tune your Evoque in the heart of Germany for unlimited speeds on the autobahn
An E-Moke from France
The basic E-Moke concept is probably obvious from the picture below. It’s an electrified take on Sir Alec Issigonis’ minimalist variant of the original BMC Mini van, made famous at beach resorts from the French Riviera to the Caribbean (and as an aside, we’d guess that BMW’s Mini brand can’t have much to say about this because “moke” is widely accepted slang for mule, among other things).
Indeed, E-Moke bills itself as the new Mini Moke. The company is up and running in Lyon, France, with two models in production: the cart-like Moky and the four-seat BeachMoke, with a top speed of 44 mph and a range 50 or 93 miles, depending on whether you choose lead-gel or lithium batteries.
E-Moke executives say their first visit to Geneva in 2017 put them on the map and started the orders trickling in. Yet they were back this year to introduce their line-topper, which is planned for sale in early 2019. The four-wheel-drive JaMoke will also seat four, with more ground clearance than the BeachMoke, a top speed of 75 mph and a range of 125 miles after a three-hour charge.
A Japanese tuner with an American-sounding name and a message of peace
These folks you might see at SEMA. Liberty Walk creates wildly custom composite body kits — think Kaido Racer with a bit more subtlety and international flair — for everything from Aventadors to Mustangs to R8s. Founded by Waturu Kato near Nagoya, Liberty Walk has grown steadily since it first offered its wares outside Japan in 2008.
Certain Liberty Walk kits are offered by mail order for customer paint and installation, but for followers of this movement the ultimate is sending a car to the factory in Aichi Prefecture for body, paint, air suspension and engine tune. These days, unless the customer explicitly says otherwise, any fast and furious Lambo, Ford or Audi will be finished with a Liberty Walk signature of sorts, and that will be the immortal words of John Lennon stenciled somewhere on the paint: “Imagine all the people living life in peace.”
Looks great next to the Imperial Japanese war flag.
Imagine there's no paint issues, but be careful with your colors if you want your message to be clear (below) …