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Six wheeled supercar the picture of power and panache

posted 8 Jul 2011, 08:22 by Mpelembe   [ updated 8 Jul 2011, 08:28 ]

The Covini six wheeled supercar is turning plenty of heads as it tours the world ahead of a 2012 launch. The limited edition, customised vehicles will retail for one million dollars. Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton was keen to get a look at the six-wheeler but says he's happy with four.

The UK's recent Festival of Speed at Goodwood saw plenty of supercars but one model was particularly eye-catching. The Covini C3A is a supercar with a difference - it has six wheels.

The Covini family have been designing this dream car for some five years and they plan to go into production in 2012. Meanwhile six prototypes are turning heads wherever they go.

The Covinis argue that four front wheels offer better traction, higher cornering speeds and more effective braking. It's a car designed for performance enthusiasts.

Safety advantages include increased control in case of a tyre blow out and additional braking power. The front wheels are 16 inches in diameter, the back wheels are 20 inches. While the front tyres are smaller than those used by the average road car, the total area is greater offering increased grip.

In terms of comfort the designers say that four front wheels mean less unsprung weight on each, which they argue makes for improved suspension control and thus increased comfort.

Developing the C3A has been something of a labour of love, as co-designer, test driver and son of lead designer Ferruccio Covini, Gianluca Covini told Reuters.

''This car was born by the mind of my father about 20 years ago. Then in about the late '90s I find some investors and I start to produce this prototype with which we made some testing and development. Now we find Carugati Eugenio who is helping us financially and we want to start serious production of this car,'' said Covini.

As well as safety and drivability, a key watchword for the Covinis is "exclusivity". At one million dollars a pop that's probably a good thing, but however many people join the queue next year the Covinis have committed to producing only 20 vehicles per year.

The exact price tag depends on the client's custom specifications. But the relationship is two-way, the Covinis see their customers as partners in developing the design of the vehicles both inside and out. They hope to build on customer feedback to keep improving the design.

The designers have been working with the Universities of Milan and Cologne to develop unique suspension and steering systems. The only real example of a six-wheeler is the Tyrrell P34 Formula One car from the 1970s and technology has come on leaps and bounds since then. The Covinis found themselves on the cutting edge of car design.

''You don't find in any other car this suspension system because other cars have got only two wheels on the front so it's different. We have dampers inboard on the front, and double wishbone on both wheels and then a special steering wheel system that guarantees a different angle for all the front tyres dynamically conditioned. So it's something new, something we have to study,'' said Covini.

Tyrrell's P34 six-wheelers came first and second in the 1976 Swedish Grand Prix but the technology was outlawed by Formula One's Federation Internationale de l'Automobile. The Covinis hope one day to get six-wheelers back on the track as they plan to launch their own race series.

As a test driver for tyre maker Pirelli, as well as for the family outfit, Gianluca Covini knows a thing or two about the quality of the driving experience. This is foremost in his mind when he is at the drawing board.

''It has good handling. Amazing handling. I'm a test driver so I tried to make this car very enjoyable to drive. So very little understeering, controllability in the power oversteering and I tried to do my best to make this car very enjoyable to drive,'' he said.

The Audi 4.2 litre V8 engine produces nearly 500 horsepower, and the vehicle weighs in at 2500 pounds. This combination means it reaches speeds of 300 kilometres per hour (190 miles per hour).

It's hardly a green drive and while it may be light the power of the drive means it only manages about five kilometres per litre. But the company has pledged to give some ten percent of the cost of the car to charities such as injured drivers' support groups and environmental causes.

The head-turning C3A is certainly a new kid on the automotive block and even F1 legend Lewis Hamilton hasn't had a look yet.

''I've not seen it,'' he said as McLaren Test Driver Chris Wood told him it looks good. Hamilton may be intrigued but he's no convert. ''I'll pretty much stick to four-wheelers it's all good,'' he said as he got into his more conventional McLaren MP4-12c for the supercar run.

So it may not be everyone's cup of tea but the C3A has a growing fanbase and once it hits the roads next year its popularity will surely grow. Maybe it's the design of the future maybe it's a gimmick. Time will tell.