The Nano isn’t the best looking car at the Show, not the most technically sophisticated or most dynamic; in fact in most categories the Nano is the opposite of what usually makes our “Choices” — but in reality this was one of the most important cars of the Show, and truly unique. It aims to be the 21st century “People’s Car;” to do for the masses of India what the Model T did for America from the early 1900s and the Beetle did for Europe from the 1940s — to put them on wheels at a price they can afford. In its cheapest form that means around $2,500, and while the Nano is basically equipped and low powered it will carry a family in a lot more comfort and safety, and with lower emissions, than the ubiquitous Indian motor scooter. So don’t underestimate the Nano — it could change a nation.
With its outer body removed, the Tramontana looks a lot like a modern F1 car scaled up by about half, and room for two in tandem in a deep-sided cockpit just like a single-seater racing car’s. Its monocoque chassis is fabricated entirely in carbon-fiber composite with a massively strong central section (weighing just 368 lbs) surrounded by eight impact absorbing crumple zones. Behind it you’ll find a 550 hp 5.5-liter bi-turbo V12 with a dashboard switch that can increase power on demand to 720 horsepower, and push the Tramontara to 62 mph in 3.6 seconds. It has racing-style pushrod suspension, carbon-ceramic brakes and electronic management systems, and the option of a detachable hardtop. The build quality looks superb, and so does the outlandish styling. You couldn’t fail to notice it.
In 1977 super-boffin M created a submarine Lotus for James Bond, in “The Spy Who Loved Me.” In Geneva, Rinspeed boss and self-confessed Bond fan Frank M. Rinderknecht showed us another wet-white Lotus — based on the Elise, and called sQuba. Powered on land and water by three electric motors (with “zero emissions” lithium-ion battery technology), it mimics 007’s car with two rear propellers, but adds two neat, swiveling jet-drive pods on its sides for easy maneuvering. Unlike Bond’s car, it doesn’t have a roof, and no air in the cabin allows almost neutral buoyancy once the vents are open and the cockpit is flooded — when it can swim at a depth of ten meters, with built in air tanks and masks for driver and passenger. If you choose not to flood the cockpit it’s equally happy to cruise around on the surface, and it looks like a lot of fun. Just remember to pack the waterproof tuxedo. . .
You don’t normally expect to see concept cars from Morgan, but they produced one in Geneva, and it stopped us in our tracks. Approaching their centenary, tiny Morgan is making the point that it believes in technology, and could spring some surprises in the future. The LIFECar shape has echoes of the 1930s, but bristles with very 21st century environmental solutions. Weight is pared to a minimal 1,323 lbs with aluminum construction and clever use of Morgan’s beloved wood as a structural element, and the car (proposed by Hugo Spowers of RiverSimple) is powered by a four-stack QinetiQ hydrogen fuel cell that converts hydrogen directly into electricity for four wheel-mounted motors, while emitting nothing but water. So far it’s just a concept, but they make the point that the key technology is already real, not dreamed of — and that, given the chance, Morgan intends to be just as innovative as ever.
Brabus McLaren/smart Combo
Meet the surf ’n turf of the motoring world — Brabus’s two-in-one package of one of the world’s wildest supercars and, well, a smart fortwo. Not just any SLR, either, but Brabus’s even quicker version with 650 horsepower and white carbon-fiber bodywork. And not just any fortwo, but Brabus’s Ultimate 112 version, named for the 112 horsepower from its turbocharged three-cylinder engine mated to a paddle-shift automatic transmission. Cosmetically non-identical twins with their white bodies and red interiors, the gull-winged SLR and open-top smart are a truly odd couple — the idea apparently inspired by the way big yachts often carry a small harbor-tender boat. The smart’s 106 mph maximum is almost exactly half that of the monster SLR, and its 9.5 seconds to 62 mph is a little way adrift of the Mercedes’ 3.6 seconds, but add the two together and Brabus will gift-wrap them for $1,063,500 total. It must be the greatest double act since Laurel and Hardy. (the smart is Stan, by the way. . .)