Fisker Tramonto and Latigo

Brian Konoske

In terms of quality, the car is all but flawless. The fit of panels, the gaps between them, the surfaces of the body, the paint . . . all are as close to perfect as the human hand and eye can make them. The interiors are superb, with hand-fitted leather stretched over a larger percentage of the cockpit than in almost any production vehicle. Machined metal elements replace the plastic shift paddles, seat adjustment buttons, and other details of the base car, and the impression is that the cars cost more than they actually do. The Tramonto transformation costs $128,000 more than the base car, which can be a V-6 (in Europe), a V-8, or a V-12, as you like. You can obviously go up from there, adding select visual features or electing to adopt the Performance Plus package from Danish tuner Kleeman. Should you so choose, you can have really exotic hides, from alligator to ostrich. You need but ask.

The typical Tramonto will run owners about $300,000, a princely sum that gets you an exclusive vehicle with absolutely none of the twitches, creaks, flaws, and eccentricities of small-volume cars. The Tramonto remains as defiantly practical as any Mercedes SL. Should that be too much, and the desire to have the only car of its kind on your street is overwhelming, you can own a Fisker Latigo CS coupe for just $200,000. It will be a rebodied BMW 6-series coupe with a V-8 engine, or you can spend a bit more and base your Latigo on the M6, with its Formula 1-like V-10. The Latigo was on the stand in Frankfurt, and a short run in the prototype last August confirmed that it is fully up to the standards of most car manufacturers, although Fisker, while driving it back from Laguna Beach to Dana Point, remarked that it had a long way to go to meet his requirements.

There is no real limit to the base chassis that might be chosen. Just as coachbuilders in the 1930s, at the height of the art, carried out their work on myriad chassis, Fisker Coachbuild can work with any underlying base that will support a $128,000 upgrade. The Bentley Continental GT? Check. The Chevrolet Corvette Z06? Check. The Jaguar XK, the Porsche 911, or the upcoming Audi Le Mans? No problem. Any car with the underlying qualities that would make a wealthy individual choose it as an expression of his or her own taste and knowledge will be fair game. It is easy to see that Fisker could make the loathsomely pudgy Lexus SC430 into a desirable car. If he needs or wants to make an SUV, there is the Porsche Cayenne just begging to be made attractive. Of course, he could rebody a Lincoln Town Car, too, but the likelihood of selling just one, let alone the 150 units that the company considers necessary for a profitable continuing existence, is virtually nil.

No, like the coachbuilders of yore, Fisker and Koehler are condemned to work only with the finest basic vehicles, cars able to support the additional cost of a no-compromise, ultra-high-quality refit. They set one up on a surface plate, scan its contours, then strip the skins and scan it again, finding and noting the three-dimensional coordinates of each attachment point. Then, working from the digital database thus established, they can transform one of Fisker's sketches into numerical information for the tooling fabricators, making sure not to infringe on any space occupied by existing elements nor to consume the space left for pedestrian safety between the original skin and the hard bits beneath.

None of what Fisker Coachbuild is doing would be possible without computers, CAD drawings, multi-axis scanners, and mills. Modern tools are wonderful, but one must know how to use them to maximum effect, and it is here that the long practical experience of the tight little team excels. (Apart from Fisker and Koehler, the only other officer of Fisker Coachbuild is Cristina Cheever, vice president of marketing and communications, who has a decade of experience in the automobile business.)

There will be others wanting to exploit the insight and enterprise of this team, but it has a head start, a small but well-informed investor group behind it, and an order book with enough customers to assure profitability from the first project. It is always hard to predict the outcome of new automotive ventures, but based on the skills, knowledge, and driving desire of its instigators, we think that Fisker Coachbuild will do just fine.

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