The Venturi 400GT
You can’t really talk about obscure 90’s stuff without bringing up Venturi at least once. France’s answer to Ferrari, the company is mostly unknown outside L’Hexagone. As was the case with the Cizeta, most people my age met the Venturi name in the great Playstation based institution know as Gran Turismo and loved it ever since. From 1984 to 2000, Venturi manufactured sports cars and they were actually quite good at it. The models which really defined the company were the Transcup, a funky little folding hardtop convertible (which design wise was a blend of C4 Vette, Toyota MR2, DeTomaso Longchamp, Ferrari Mondial, Bitter SC and about 10 other cars) and of course, the Atlantique 300.
Now that was an amazing little car. The 300 doesn’t have a huge claim to originality when it comes to the way it looks, since pretty much its whole appearance is a simple case of watered down Ferrari features. However, this doesn’t mean Venturi got it wrong, not at all. The Atlantique 300 is beautifully composed, superbly elegant and extremely well balanced; as such, it’s been doing a wonderful job at standing the test of time, while many other cars of the same era just look a bit silly now. But the 300 wasn’t all looks and no substance; the car itself was actually very nicely made. Sure, the PRV (Peugeot, Renault and Volvo) V6 wasn’t exactly a nuclear reactor, pumping out under 300bhp, but let’s not forget that at the time, Ferrari’s 348 for instance was running with 2 more cylinders and yet, it would come off the assembly in Maranello with just that.
Of course the 300 was nowhere near supercar territory. Luckily, Venturi was looking to come up with something with a bit more…zest to take racing; Le Mans was calling. Naturally their solution was to seek Le Mans legend Henri Pescarolo’s advice, and then proceeding to pumping the 300 full of steroids, making it wide and low. After that, Venturi thought it would be wise to plant a huge wing at the back and slap two superchargers in the engine, for good measure. The 400GT was born. Now packing just under 410bhp, this Venturi was a completely different creature. Despite not being a true shock and awe kind of figure, as far as French cars go – minus the Bugatti Titans which kind of royally mess up the scale – it’s actually pretty powerful.
It’s actually a shame that France doesn’t come up with more performance cars, it really is. Sure, they’d never take a significant market share away from the Italians but they could use some more fun things in this department. Venturi was a wonderful start but sadly, today the company has a whole new focus towards electric cars, so beautiful, unique stuff like the 400GT is permanently dead and buried. Between 1994 and 1996, 13 series one 400GTs were made for racing homologation purposes, with an additional 2 (series two – a few cosmetic differences) being completed in 1997. On top of that, 10 Venturi Trophy were retired from competition and converted to road use. They never made a true name for themselves in racing but again, at least Venturi gave it a shot.
That’s what these small manufacturers are really all about, giving it a shot. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but whatever the outcome (and disregarding any massive debts or financial ruins that may ensue), automotive enthusiasts are left with a few truly precious gems to enjoy forever; the 400GT is most definitely one of them.
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