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Wiesmann Challenge Thunderball EV Prototype Fuses Previous and Future




As the world’s large OEMs throw about nine- and even 10-figure sums building new EV architectures, a small German company seems to have quietly stolen a march on all of them. Because while there are plenty of fully electric sedans, SUVs, crossovers, and even supercars for global buyers to choose between, there aren’t any roadsters beyond restomods of existing cars. German maker Wiesmann hopes to deliver the first since the original Tesla Roadster, with the car you see here.

The first incarnation of the Wiesmann company, founded in 1988, offered possible proof of the existence of the German sense of humor. The brand’s retro range was clearly inspired by British coupes and roadsters from the 1950s and ’60s, even featuring a radiator grille closely inspired by Jaguar’s “toilet seat” of the period. But while real English sports cars from this era had fragile electrics and weepy engines, Wiesmann used modern BMW powerplants. And from 2003 onward, it built its cars on an advanced bonded-aluminum chassis similar in principle to the one used by both Lotus and Aston Martin.

Yet Wiesmann ran out of road in 2013, the company falling into bankruptcy. British-Indian entrepreneur Roheen Berry later bought the brand and its assets and soon after started development work on what was meant to be a new Wiesmann roadster that would carry on the tradition of its predecessors with BMW V-8 power. That car was already largely engineered when Berry decided on a radical change in direction, switching the new model to an electric powertrain designed to get ahead of forthcoming European bans on pure combustion models.

Which is what brought us to Germany to experience the company’s prototype. Although close enough to production spec that we could drive it, the new car doesn’t have a name yet. It is known internally as Project Thunderball, but the vigor with which James Bond rights-holder EON Productions guards its intellectual property means that will have to be changed ahead of customer deliveries. How about calling it the Revenant?

wiesmann project thunderball ev prototype

Wiesmann

The Wiesmann’s new EV powertrain has been adapted to the core structure of what was meant to be the V-8 car. It uses the engine compartment and what would have been the transmission tunnel to house a T-shaped battery pack developed by Roding Mobility. This operates at 800 volts, supports fast-charging, and is actively cooled using a water-glycol mix. It has a claimed 83 kWh of usable capacity, and Wiesmann is targeting a 310-mile range on Europe’s WLTP testing protocol. Roding says the battery pack weighs 1100 pounds, only about 110 pounds more than the combined weight of a V-8 engine and transmission.

Drive comes from two mid-mounted permanent-magnet synchronous electric motors, with both driving a common shaft which then turns a conventional limited-slip rear differential. These are axial-flux motors instead of the usual radial-flux, a configuration that delivers better power density despite a relatively low maximum rpm (for an EV motor) of 9000 rpm. Peak output is claimed to be 671 horsepower, accompanied by 811 pound-feet of torque—sufficient to make Project Thunderball quicker than any of Wiesmann’s pre-bankruptcy offerings. And that list includes some cars powered by a turbocharged version of the E60-generation BMW M5’s V-10.

Sadly, the prototype struggled to deliver a high percentage of its muscle for more than brief periods. Repeated requests for acceleration soon delivered the sensation of the powertrain derating, which can be likened to running into an unseen slick of molasses. I certainly didn’t feel anything like the promise that the finished car will be able to blast from zero to 60 mph in less than three seconds and from zero to 125 mph in under nine. Performance should improve as the car gets to its finished mechanical specification, and it already features a display within its instrument pack that shows how much power and torque is available at any time.

Even at well under full strength, though, Project Thunderball was quick enough to stick with a keenly driven V-8 powered Wiesmann MF4 over a route of German country roads. Yet despite the empirical equivalence, the EV felt much less dramatic, lacking an exhaust soundtrack and without the punctuation of rising revs and shifting gears. Beyond wind noise, the prototype’s defining soundtrack was a whine from the single-speed reduction gearing, which definitely suited the car better than silence (or artificial noises), but it does make for a very different acoustic experience than one provided by exploding hydrocarbons.

wiesmann project thunderball ev prototype

Wiesmann

There is plenty of promise too. The tallness of the battery pack means the Wiesmann has a higher center of gravity than an EV with an underfloor pack, but it also means the car handles like the company’s earlier sports cars and also keeps a seating position that puts its driver’s derriere just inches off the ground. So although the prototype lacked the ultra-keen, roll-free responses common to EVs with underfloor battery packs, the discernible lean under cornering loads and the amount of weight up front made reactions feel similar to its combustion sisters. Like them, it favored a relatively gentle arrival into a turn and was then willing to be pushed to the point at which the rear tires started to run short of grip.

Despite its lack of a multispeed gearbox, Project Thunderball retains paddles behind its steering wheel to facilitate adjusting the levels of regenerative braking from the rear motors. There are five levels and although even the strongest doesn’t slow the car exceptionally quickly, it does allow for one-pedal operation.

While the prototype’s powertrain required more polish, the rest of Project Thunderball was impressive. The carbon-fiber bodywork looked great up close, retaining many of the visual traditions of earlier Wiesmann models while being less obviously retro—although the substantial slatted radiator grille is now serving form rather than function. The hand-stitched leather interior feels special too—with the array of driver-directed analogue dials now repurposed to report on the powertrain’s charge and temperature levels. Beyond a lack of elbow room, with nowhere on the door to naturally rest an arm, the Thunderball felt both roomy and comfortable. Our biggest ergonomic complaint is the low-mounted touchscreen, which proved almost impossible to see in direct sunlight. Too bad it also controls heating and ventilation settings, as well as infotainment.

While none of the products from Wiesmann’s first iteration ever officially reached the U.S., we’re told Project Thunderball will indeed be undergoing full federal-type approval for sale over here. European deliveries are due to begin in 2024, with Berry saying that the majority of the first batch of 100 cars destined for Europe already have deposits, despite anticipated pricing of 300,000 euros—around $320,000. A Venn diagram of sports-car buyers, rich people with a love of traditional design, and enthusiasts with an aversion to engine noise might not include much overlap, but Wiesmann has it covered.

Specifications

Specifications

2024 Wiesmann Project Thunderball

Vehicle Type: dual mid-motor, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door convertible

PRICE

Base: $320,000 (based on 300,000 euros)

POWERTRAIN

Rear Motors : twin axial-flux permanent-magnet synchronous AC, 335 hp, 406 lb-ft

Combined Power: 671 hp

Combined Torque: 811 lb-ft

Battery Pack: liquid-cooled lithium-ion, 83.0 kWh

Onboard Charger: 22.0 kW

Peak DC Fast-Charge Rate: 300 kW

Transmission: direct-drive

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase: 102.2 in

Length: 174.8 in

Height: 50.6 in

Cargo Trunk Volume, F/R: 6/4 ft3

Curb Weight (C/D est): 3900 lb

PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)

60 mph: 2.6 sec

100 mph: 7.0 sec

1/4-Mile: 10.1 sec

Top Speed: 155 mph

EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST)

Combined/City/Highway: 92/90/95 MPGe

Range: 250 mi

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