Story: Matt Tuccillo
Photography: James Lipman
This story first appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of 0-60 Magazine.
I’m bearing witness to a four-way battle that’s happening all around me as I rocket down a rain-soaked runway in southern Sweden on a brisk Friday afternoon. Ahead are a few thousand feet of wide-open Swedish ex-military concrete. Behind, particles of rubber, a heavy, damp vapor trail and the most insane, concussive twin-turbo V8 exhaust crackle ever to be let loose upon the world.
My brain is losing a fight for self-preservation against my right foot, which tends to think only about what it wants—much like another body part. It’s also doing battle with a V8 engine that’s generating the kind of power normally measured in megatons. That fight is like a junkie chasing the dragon. Just a little more throttle and the motor will relinquish what I so desperately crave—more velocity. And for the title bout: motor versus traction. As I scream past 100 mph, the car’s toehold on the runway is in constant jeopardy by a monster wave of torque. Dear Koenigsegg Agera, please don’t kill me. I know we’ve only just met, but, well, I love you.
If there were 10 commandments for automotive enthusiasts to follow, one of the big ones would be “thou shall not worship false supercars.” A supercar should captivate every last bit of your attention—at all times, from behind the wheel or parked on the street. It should also be awesome, and not just in casual usage, but in the dictionary definition of leaving you awestruck. Finally, to be blunt, it should scare the living shit out of you. Following those guidelines, the list of actual supercars available for purchase these days is short. At the top of the pile are the offerings of a Swedish company that goes by the name Koenigsegg. Their latest creation, a continuation of the already ridiculous CCXR, is called the Agera. If you were ever in need of a supercar to worship, this would be a fabulous choice. I say this because I’ve been to the church of Koenigsegg. I’m a believer.
To get a grip on what indeed could be called Koenigseggism, one must direct their attention to the man himself, Christian Von Koenigsegg. With his shiny, smooth head and monogrammed shirts, Koenigsegg ghost logo embroidered on one cuff, he cuts an intense, visually intimidating figure. In truth, he might actually be the most affable man in the entire car industry, and one of the few automotive CEOs who rolls up his sleeves and gets elbow deep in every aspect of his cars’ production.
Earlier in the day, winging across the Øresund bridge from a temporary home base in Denmark, I’d been imagining what it must be like to possess the means to weave a supercar out of whole cloth. CVK joined the world of entrepreneurship at the age of 19, amassing a quick fortune from running Alpraaz, a Stockholm-based food-exporting business. By 22, an age when most young grads are anticipating an entry-level job and estimating car payments, he decided it was time to pursue a dream he’d harbored since childhood: to build his own supercar.
With his own sketch in hand, Koenigsegg formed that dream company in 1994. Eager to get moving, the managerial prodigy planned to complete a prototype in just one year’s time. In reality, it took two years—which, he tells me, was a frustrating goal for a young go-getter to miss, despite his having set a time horizon that might be considered breakneck even for a manufacturer 50 times the company’s size.
From there came endless months of testing, tweaking and finessing. Then, in 2002, the first production model rolled off a delivery truck and into the waiting arms of Koenigsegg’s first customer. That first car, the CC8S, knocked the world of fast cars on its copious ass. Weighing just 2,590 pounds, turning out 655hp from a supercharged V8 and topping out at 242 mph, the CC8S soon defeated the McLaren F1 to take a brief turn as the fastest car in the world. (That is, until the Bugatti Veyron showed up.)
That original, world-conquering car laid the groundwork for a succession of variations on the CC8S: the CCR, CCX and CCXR, with each model building upon the next in terms of engineering tweaks and horsepower bumps. Then, earlier this year, Koenigsegg showed up at the Geneva motor show with the Agera. Based on an updated version of the company’s original, in-house-designed carbon-fiber monocoque used in the CC8S, the Agera is massively impressive, even as a bare cockpit. This latest iteration features an evolved chassis tub that’s almost incomprehensibly stiff—65,000 newtons per degree of deflection specifically. It is this unit to which the rest of the car is mounted. It’s also where the fuel cell is buried.
Unlike most cars, where there’s a separate tank located somewhere behind the bulkhead, Von Koenigsegg realized he had dead space within the occupant tub that could be utilized for fuel storage. So, after collaborating with some aerospace types, the company developed a uniquely shaped aluminum fuel cell—coated in a special rubber compound to protect it from abrasions that could lead to damage or leaks—that fits tidily inside the hollow portions of the monocoque that surround the passenger area. This frees up valuable space in the front and rear of the car, while also helping to lower and centralize the center of gravity (gasoline weighs roughly six pounds per gallon). Slick.
Von Koenigsegg takes considerable pride in his company’s technical autonomy. Tricks such as the fuel-tank location are all in a business day, as design, development and testing are all handled in-house—even for often-outsourced gear like engines and turbos. For example, when company boffins decided to ditch supercharged forced induction in favor of variable-geometry turbochargers during the evolution from CCXR to Agera (specifically for the upcoming Agera R, the regular Agera will run fixed geometry units), it was agreed they’d develop their own turbines, rather than hit up a supplier like BorgWarner (à la Porsche). And unlike, say, Pagani (coincidentally, a marque also on the short list of true supercars these days), whose Zonda uses an engine borrowed from Mercedes-Benz—and don’t read that as a knock, because it’s a damn fine screamer—Koenigseggs get power from a bespoke engine block that’s cast for the company by Grainger and Worrall in the U.K. and then shipped back to Sweden for machining.
Sure, it’s a choice bean-counting types might consider unnecessary for such a small-volume manufacturer— Koenigsegg builds roughly 15 cars per year—but with his cars going for around $1.5 million, Von Koenigsegg considers it a moot point. Keeping it all at home also gives engineers full control over how much, and how, power is made, a critical consideration with boost in the equation, and when building what may become the fastest car in the world.
The Agera model I’m about to wedge myself into is a one of one. Despite the fact that it looks, feels, runs and drives like a factory-finished customer car, it’s still a test-and-development mule with 2,600 miles on the clock. That means two things. First, while it’s equipped with the new, turbocharged motor, it’s still running the CCXR’s 4.7L block. Production Ageras will sport a new 5.0L unit for the turbos to blow; yes, because surely the one thing Koenigseggs lacked was horsepower, and when it ships, this one will be solidly in the 900s. Second, as I mentioned, this car is a one of one. In other words: Don’t. Stack. It. No pressure.
An anxious morning of waiting for the prototype to be prepped for non-test-driver driving—and for lovely, wet Scandinavian weather to pass—has finally culminated in us springing the car from the Koenigsegg corporate headquarters. The company’s HQ is in a repurposed aircraft hangar at a shuttered Swedish air force base, the former home of squadron F 10 Ängelholm, whose mascot is that ghost logo Koenigsegg models wear on their back engine-bay windows.
We head down some meandering countryside roads to an ungated back entrance of an abandoned runway Koenigsegg leases from the Swedish government. While some manufacturers have their own tracks for testing, and others rent time on regular ones, Koenigsegg’s solution is to secure an abandoned runway. That’s plenty convenient for working up a car that’ll do the zero-to-60 hustle in 2.9 seconds and, in theory, top 250 mph. Although the fastest anyone has gone here is in the upper 180 mph range, because this very stretch of abandoned runway intersects a live section that’s blocked off by a mere chain-link fence, which arrives very quickly when you’re hurtling toward it at 264 feet per second.
As I stand shivering in the Ängelholm chill, staring down the wet tarmac at a tiny vanishing point far in the distance, Von Koenigsegg explains that the runway surface sees so much regular moisture that there’s actually an algae bloom growing on the surface, making it extra slippery when wet. Lovely.
Then it’s time. I make my way to the waiting Agera, and once I’ve gotten over the delight of operating those dihedral-synchro-helix doors—which operate with featherlight effort—I sink down behind the steering wheel and bask in the glory that is the Koenigsegg cockpit. The Agera is a leap forward over the outgoing CCXR in multiple aspects: The car is 80 percent new, with more than 3,000 new parts designed for it. Most notably on the inside, the analog gauges from the earlier models have been replaced with a full LCD setup. The future is here and it’s 1,080p bright.
Once situated in the leather bucket, my eye wanders to the aluminum circle in the center console that’s glowing a faint red. Indeed, it’s the start button. Dizzy with anticipation, I move my foot to the brake pedal and give the button a solid push. The cabin instantly transforms from supercar to bomb squad disposal tank. The bespoke, twin-turbo cam V8 living over my right shoulder absolutely tears to life, wreaking havoc on the hearing of anyone within earshot. It sounds more like a Fourth of July celebration than a kicking over. And then, once settling into idle, the note turns surprisingly industrial.
My focus shifts to the runway ahead. Earlier Koenigsegg models could be had with a manual gearbox, but the Agera runs a new twin-clutch SuperSynchro Clutch System that packs one dry clutch and one wet clutch. Highly sophisticated stuff, but it means shifting this monster is handled via flappy-paddle arrangement. Pull back on the right-hand paddle and it will bang into first. Pull back on both at the same time and you’re back in neutral; one more on the left paddle and you’re in reverse.
Ready to launch, I toggle into first gear, take my foot off the brake pedal and—stupidly, I may add—bury the throttle to the floor. The LCD tach shows the revs rocketing from the left side of the screen to the right as forward progress begins. As quickly as it starts, though, I’m interrupted by a staccato percussion from the rear of the car, as the traction control cuts in to mitigate the absolute lack of the stuff. A pull on the right paddle and I’m instantly in second gear, where, momentarily, before getting into the peak of the powerband, there’s another moment of violent acceleration, followed again by the traction control kicking in. Acceleratus interruptus. Damn this weather!
It’s at this point I realize the only thing I can do to go faster is to back off a bit and short-shift my way up through the gears. That is painful, because the exhaust note hammering out from behind the car under full-throttle load is the most sinfully violent V8 burble and bark I’ve ever heard, be it racecar or street.
As my time with the car ticks by, the slick surface of the runway begins to air out a bit. Perhaps the back and forth are blowing it dry. It’s now that the entirety of the design starts to shine through. Grip in the dry is nothing short of epoxy-like. Then, as we head out to regular B-roads, the Agera composes itself perfectly. It’s docile, even. You could easily daily drive it in comfort, say, if you were made of money and enjoyed pocketing the stares of strangers (in fact, I’m told that there’s a German client who does just that with an earlier model). The spring and damper rates offer a firm, yet not crashing, ride over most imperfections, and assuming you can find a bit of dry pavement in a corner, the sheer amount of mechanical grip generated by the 345/30/20 Michelin Pilot SuperSports—specially developed for Koenigsegg—out back will slingshot you through the apex before you’re aware that you’ve arrived at the next. In fact, in testing, the Koenigsegg team has logged a 1.25 G during skidpad testing—which, if you don’t believe, you could verify for yourself via the G meter found in one of the many interface layers of the center console system.
After a solid session of thrashing Christian Von Koenigsegg’s latest brainchild over the country and down the runway, it’s time to retire back to the former air force hangar. Once there, I bid CVK a farväl and get back into my econobox rental. It’s quite the sobering moment; I feel like Louis Winthorpe III in Trading Places. There will be no four-way battle on the drive back to Denmark, just a fight between my mind—replaying scenes of runway burns in the Agera—and my eyes focusing on the road ahead, as the rental car attempts to bore me to death.
It’s not over yet! Check out our video of the Koenigsegg Agera below.