The pursuit of pure aerodynamics is rarely pretty – as this unusual story from Croatia illustrates – in abundance.
The vehicle in a sorry state seen here, slowly decaying in an impound lot in Split, started out as a radical aerodynamic concept from Croatia that piqued the interest of both Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz. What is it, how did it end up here, and what happened to it? No, it has not been the victim of an unfortunate steamroller mishap although at first glance you could be forgiven for thinking that: it really was designed to look like this.
Lifelong Ferrari aficionado Zlatko Vukusic (he named the restaurant-café he owned after Enzo’s firm) dabbled in car design and specifically aerodynamics in his free time. Through contact with erstwhile Ferrari chief engineer Giotto Bizzarini in the early nineties, the Croatian was able to obtain an audition at Ferrari with Sergio Scaglietti. Upon being shown Vukusic’s drawings Scaglietti commented that he was like a modern day Leonardo da Vinci, although presumably in the sense of the audacity of his designs rather than their aesthetic qualities.
Vukusic claims that Ferrari expressed serious interest in his aerodynamic concept but that they could not come to an agreement over the price to be paid for his idea. Long before before negotiations with Maranello soured however, Vukusic had been able to arrange for a Ferrari 328 V8 engine and gearbox to be provided to him to produce a full working prototype. He decided to go at it alone and build the concept himself.
With Ferrari out of the picture, Vukusic turned instead to a Nissan Silvia (type S12). The Silvia’s body was not only (outwardly) fully reworked, the front-mounted engine was removed and the Ferrari V8 was installed in a mid-rear engine configuration. When first shown to the public at the 1994 Bologna Auto Show (the car would subsequently also be seen in Geneva and Frankfurt the year after) the highly unusual looks attracted their fair share of attention. Hardly surprising as this was not a car that anyone walked by without a double-take!
That unconventional front end had been seen before in a somewhat less radical form on the Marcos Mantis XP from 1968, but the Cosmopolit -for that is the name Vukusic had given his brainchild – continued the concave shape into the windshield and roof; Vukusic claiming the advantage of this unusual design was an extremely low coefficient of drag.
At the 1995 Frankfurt IAA, Zlatko Vukusic was approached by representatives from Mercedes-Benz. These discussions resulted in a 1:5 scale model of his design being evaluated in the Mercedes-Benz wind tunnel – and these tests really did take place. The results were quite impressive: it was shown to be 23% more aerodynamically efficient than any of Mercedes’ in-house prototypes at the time. In addition it also displayed excellent stability at high speeds.
Alas, here too negotiations eventually crashed. This time (according to what Vukusic claims anyway) because Mercedes-Benz wanted to go over his head and deal directly with the Croatian government, the aim being settlement of debts Croatia had with Germany. Vukusic refused to budge -he claims to even have been followed and intimidated by Croatian government agents in order to change his mind – Mercedes lost patience, walked away and that spelled the end of the Cosmopolit.
Because so much money was spent to bring his aerodynamic concept alive, Vukusic had accrued large debts, lost his beloved restaurant and ended up virtually penniless. The Cosmopolit was also confiscated and has been sitting in an impound lot for years.
Today, Zlatko Vukusic is still working on designs for an aerodynamic car but so far these ideas are limited to drawings and small scale models. In view of his earlier work some will say that is for the best, but (even though we may have reservations about the accuracy of Vukusic’s version of events) people who dare to be different, to be an outlier, deserve some respect. Aren’t there enough straight-laced, sensible but ultimately boring individuals (not to mention car designs), already?