If ever you wanted to sum up its mission statement, VLF Automotive is about making cars for people who “want a really big steak.” According to chief designer Henrik Fisker, anyway.
While Fisker’s focus these days is on building a revolutionary electric car, he understands sometimes what you really need is a beefy muscle car, one that burns lots of gasoline and emits a growl loud enough to wake up your neighbours.
“VLF is about having fun, and while it’s not ideal to have steak every single day, every once in a while you just want to, with apple pie,” Fisker expands on his analogy. It’s why the VLF portfolio is made up of cars that make lots of noise and go really, really fast.
VLF Automotive was launched earlier this year, at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It billed itself as America’s newest car company at the time, but the people behind it are anything but new to the car manufacturing industry.
The ‘V’ in the company’s name stands for Gilbert Villarreal, an accomplished auto industrialist; the ‘L’ is for Bob Lutz, perhaps the most-renowned auto exec of all time, with a tenure spanning work at BMW, Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors. (While most people’d rather kick back and enjoy retirement at age 84, Lutz is showing no signs of slow down.)
The ‘F’ is for – you guessed it – Fisker, whose credits include styling beautiful cars like the BMW Z8, Aston Martin DB9, and the Tramonto, a vehicle he designed and built under the banner of his old company, Fisker Coachbuild.
With VLF, Fisker is going back to his coachbuilding days, where he would take an existing car and give it a boost of performance and style.
Designer Henrik Fisker with a VLF Destino at VLF Automotive headquarters
Taking a look at the menu
Currently, VLF offers three products. The Destino is a re-engineered Fisker Karma Plug-In Hybrid, only with all the eco-tech removed. Gone are the Karma’s electric motors and turbocharged 2.0-litre inline-four gasoline generator, and in comes a supercharged 6.2-litre V8 from the C6-gen Chevrolet Corvette ZR1.
The LS9 produces 638 horsepower and 604 lb-ft of torque, sent to the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox; if you launch it perfectly, you’ll see the 96 km/h (60 mph) sprint from zero dealt with in just 3.9 seconds, and if you keep the pedal buried, VLF claims the Destino will nudge 322 km/h (200 mph).
(Sadly, I never got the chance to experience the Destino when I met with Fisker at VLF Automotive’s facility in Auburn Hills, Michigan—the cars on the premises were not ready for road tests, and Lutz’s personal Destino wasn’t available since he wasn’t in the office.)
VLF’s second offering is the Force 1 V10. Based on the current Dodge Viper, it not only gets a new body and interior, its V10 motor is tuned to make an extra 100 horsepower, for a total 745 horses and 638 lb-ft of torque. The Force 1 V10 also gets active suspension, and can be optioned with an automatic gearbox, both features not available on the standard Viper.
While there was a Force 1 in mid-build and some chassis on the production line, none were anywhere near complete—couldn’t drive this one either.
However, VLF’s third offering was ready to test, and it’s just as exciting. Called “the Rocket,” it’s Fisker’s take on what the ultimate Ford Mustang could be. Developed in conjunction with Galpin Auto Sports – the largest-volume Ford dealer in the world – it gives a standard Mustang 5.0 GT a complete makeover—new bodywork, new wheels and tires, a mighty 2.9-litre supercharger from Whipple, and an interior trimmed in the finest leather.
In sum, the Rocket can be considered an exotic-spec Mustang, one that won’t look out of place parked at the yacht club alongside Ferraris and Bentleys.
The Rocket was first launched as a coupe, but at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours event in Monterey, California made its debut in Rocket Speedster form. Fisker still calls the Speedster a “concept car,” as certain details need to be reworked—the tonneau cover for the folding convertible top and rear seats is currently too long and doesn’t allow for much front seat movement, for example.
But this “concept” was drivable, and while it didn’t have the supercharger installed – making do with the standard Mustang’s 435-horsepower 400-lb-ft 5.0-litre V8 – its custom exhaust sill made it sound mighty exotic.
There’re a lot of exotic materials in the Speedster, too; all of that gorgeous bodywork you see – the hood, nose, flared arches, and tail – is made from carbon fiber.
Biting into the sirloin
As Fisker handed me the key, he said, “the suspension is not where production cars will be, and there will be other changes also,” cautioning me it was a concept and that I’d be the first journalist to drive the Speedster. “Oh, and it’s the only one in existence and it’s very, very valuable.”
No pressure then, as I hit the less-than-ideal roads around Auburn Hills. While this part of Michigan is no stranger to prototype and pre-production vehicles – pretty much every North American car brand or tire manufacturer has a facility nearby – the sleek Rocket Speedster still garnered a lot of attention.
It inspired more than a few double takes, confusing passersby with what at a glance may seem like any new Mustang but turns out to be so much more. Given the thumbs-ups I got from local traffic, I’m guessing they liked what they saw—the spectacular California Sunset Red paint helped.
From behind the steering wheel, it looks like any other current-gen Mustang, albeit one dressed up in nicer materials. While Ford offers a good range of options for the Mustang, VLF can take things to a new level, refitting the car in any feasible material, and any colour—they’ll literally tailor-make a car for you.
That applies to the powertrain also, where you can leave it factory-spec or for an additional $15,000 US can add the blower.
While the Speedster concept was naturally aspirated, I’ve also previously done some wheeltime in a Whipple-supercharged Rocket Coupe, one also fitted with CorteX Racing suspension – developed specifically for the Rocket – and 15-inch Brembo cross-drilled brakes.
Both the Rocket Coupe and Speedster were wearing 275/35/R21 at the front, and 325/30/R21 (Pirelli P ZERO) tires at the rear, which means these cars can actually put the power to the pavement. With
725 horsepower on tap and over 600 lb-ft of torque, hook up the Rocket neatly and it’ll take you from zero to 100 km/h in under 4.0 seconds, while the top speed is around 300 km/h—it could go faster, but its 3.73-ratio gearing favours acceleration rather than speed.
With the full package, the Rocket Coupe goes like—well, a Rocket. The ride quality and body composure is greatly improved over a standard Mustang thanks to that CorteX suspension, and the Brembos (six-piston at the front, four-piston at the rear) are simply spectacular, among the best I’ve ever encountered.
Couple that with its stunning looks and custom interior, and the Rocket truly is an exotic muscle car. It also has an exotic price tag—the Coupe starts at $109,100 US and can go up to nearly $160,000 with all the option boxes ticked.
The Rocket Speedster, still in development, doesn’t technically have a price tag right now, but I think it would be fair to assume a loaded version would not leave you much change from $200,000 US.
That’s serious money – the kind of money that’ll buy you some European mid-engined machinery – but if you’re looking for the ultimate muscle car, VLF might have the answer.
What’s next for VLF? The firm had something else in development at their facility, a top-secret project it was undertakin for another company. Will it show up at the 2017 North American International Auto Show in January? You’ll have to wait and see.