French Fancies COTD: Venturi Atlantique

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As a child of the PlayStation generation and a scholar at the academy of Kazunori Yamauchi’s Gran Turismo my early opinions on cars were a little bit skewed. For one, all of my knowledge of the 911 came through independent tuning arm RUF who I became accustomed to in Gran Turismo 2. When I finally did see my first 911 near my junior school, I just believed it was a poverty spec CTR Yellowbird; underwhelming compared to what I drove around Apricot Hill.
Secondly to my mind, TVR built the most beautiful and incredible cars in the world. Nobody else even came close and the two tone paint finishes just proved to me that they were at the forefront of automotive achievement (I kinda still subscribe to this view).
Finally, (and possibly the worst part) was that I had little to no interest in Ferrari, I just did not get their appeal. As a child that knew nothing about licensing rights I just believed that Modena were too scared to enter ‘the real driving simulator’.
So anything Ferrari was just inferior to the Supercars available in GT2, and because of this you could only drive them in bargain basement arcade games like f355 challenge. In 1999, my 7 year old self would have taken the far superior Venturi 400 GT over a Ferrari F355 any day of the week. Even if it would be about 10 years until I could actually legally drive one.

The Venturi (or Ventury) story though goes back 15 or so years before my hours on the PlayStation, listening to Ash and Feeder on repeat. Unlike Monday or Tuesdays cars, this time, the founder was not a racing driver at all. No the Venturi can be traced back to two passionate stylists, who worked in the talented but now sadly defunct Heuliez design and production consultancy. This meant they already knew a thing or two about building cars.
Gérard Godfroy and Claude Poiraud set up their own skunkworks and in their spare time set about building a bastard hybrid out of Peugeot 205 GTI suspension and the Pug’s arch-nemesis’ Golf GTI engine. This ‘Ventury’ concept was hidden away in the back with the trade stands at the 1984 Paris motor show under the Godfroy banner. Despite being tucked out of sight while Ferrari were introducing their own Testarossa, the new car still managed to garner a considerable amount of interest. And thankfully some investment.
‘Manufacture de Voitures sport’ or MVS was swiftly set up and began looking into acquiring a French replacement for that unpatriotic German engine. The earliest Venturis used Peugeot 505 Turbo power before opting for the Renault 25 Turbo motor that Alpine was also using at the time. The cars no longer used suspension borrowed from the Peugeot hot hatch, opting for completely bespoke suspension developed by some of the finest Le Mans drivers France had to offer. Venturi seemed to have it all: the power, the engineering and a certain subtle style.

Skipping ahead to the COTD then, the Atlantique was developed in an impressive 6 months using what the company learned from the insane Race homologation special 400GT, which held the accolade being the first road car ever to be fitted with Carbon Brakes as standard.
This new Venturi roared into life in 1994. But this new Atlantique, despite its racing roots, was never going to be an out-and-out road-eating supercar. No, this car was diluted perfectly. The Atlantique was designed to be a dignified grand tourer, a car that could realistically be used every day and in every situation. This would be no small challenge, as, if anything, it’s about ten times more difficult to do than building a race bred supercar.
So, the GT went through a rigorous redesign. The wheelbase was lengthened to give better comfort and improve stability on the autoroutes, the suspension softened and then a lot of focus shifted to the interior fit and feel. The cabin was crafted in a way that had never been seen before in a plastic car, an area which usually tripped up many independent sportscars was actually on par or above what the mainstream could do at the time.

The power plant came from the Renault Safrane which meant that the Atlantique would eventually be granted the brilliant Bi turbo engine. This extra Turbo, however, was not utilised for out and out speed. No, it was actually tuned to give a more broad torque curve which improved drivability further from the earlier cars. The press all raved about the Atlantique, comparing it to the Ferrari 348 and Porsche 993. This independent was playing with the big boys. While it never sold in such vulgar numbers, the car should have scared the other independents of the time. Many stated the Atlantique boasted a nicer drive and was vastly better built than the contemporary and established rival from Hethal, the Lotus Esprit V8.

In fact, before the Grand Tour and the ‘old’ new Top Gear, Clarkson and Hammond were both big fans of the Venturi. Clarkson even went as far to say the most exciting cars around at the time were French, alluding to both the Venturi and Alpine A610.

Sadly, Venturi spent far too much time and resources on motor racing to jump on this enthusiasm. After over 15 years of production, only around 700 cars in total were believed to have been built. By 2000, the operation had gone bankrupt 2 times. A new owner was found who promptly moved the company to Monaco, which sounded promising but sadly Venturi continued in name only. This new outfit went on to build electric cars not really in the mould of the cars that came before them.
Nobody really talks about the Atlantique or Trophy anymore which is sad for me as I remember as a child of the nineties that the TV, Videogames and magazines I consumed back then all had me believing that they were some of the best sports cars ever made.

They don’t seem to come up for sale much outside of France now which is a shame as I’d love to own one outside of my ps1 memory card.

Jack Wood

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