A Super Egg from Sweden
Text by Alexander Farnsworth 0707 48 82 32
A Super Egg from Sweden
Building the world's fastest street-legal super car and naming it after your self must be an act of supreme vanity. Alexander Farnsworth speeds along with Christian von Koenigsegg and finds a humble, soft-spoken carmaker that has defied all odds to fulfill his boyhood dream.
The Koenigsegg, or 'The Egg´ as the motor press so aptly calls it, is technically designed to reach a speed of 390 kilometers an hour although there is no race track in the world capable of handling such extreme speeds.
But that's beside the point. The Egg is the fastest super car in series production. It easily hits 340 km/hr and does 100 km/hr in 3.5 seconds on any road. After seven years of prototype work while living on loans, grants and some family money, Koenigsegg has sold one year's production of 10 cars at SEK 4 million a pop. No one thought this day would come.
"One of my strong points is that I tend to convert skeptics into believers," muses thirty-year old Christian von Koenigsegg in a rare moment of self-congratulation. "In the beginning, people thought I was crazy. To make a car so advanced in a country like Sweden was an impossible dream."
Extreme sports cars are usually associated with Italy or England, not Sweden. While Sweden has a car building tradition with Saab and Volvo, neither has ventured into the extreme super car market dominated by the likes of Lamborghini, Ferrari, McLaren, Pagani and others. And since both Volvo and Saab are currently owned by GM and Ford respectively, The Egg remains the only true Swedish car.
The Egg is a fire-breathing dragon. Low to the ground for aerodynamic reasons, sometimes red, and built with the most advanced carbon fiber materials available, the car packs a punch. Extreme and sexy, the car belongs on a James Bond movie set.
The car is assembled at a small thatched roofed farmhouse near Helsingborg in southern Sweden. Car & Driver magazine said it looked as though Pippi Longstocking had just moved out, a comparison that irks Koenigsegg as Pippi wasn't known for being tidy, organized, or business minded.
"Our 2,500 square meter facility was purpose built in concrete for automotive use. But it has a country look on the outside. It is only the small building next door that used to be a stable," says Koenigsegg defensively in an email.
Usually, Koenigegg is as mild mannered as his car is wild. He says he is a hard working family man. His Icelandic wife is marketing director of the company, but is currently on maternity leave with their 8-month old son. The Egg evokes a glitter and champagne lifestyle that Koenigsegg himself doesn't live, except of course when he is visiting a client/dealer in Dubai for example. But that's business.
According to his friend David Crafoord, an industrial designer who helped out with The Egg, the one thing Koenigsegg is passionate about is, of course, cars.
"You can't stop him," says Crafoord. "With Christian, you party till two in the morning and talk about nothing but cars. Then he brings you back to his office where he makes you watch a video from Jaguar's factory. And then it's more car talk till 5 a.m. He has enormous enthusiasm, and despite being a little green behind the ears at the beginning, he has shown an ability for innovation that few people have."
Only 30, Koenigsegg is already the boss of 22 employees. Bald and hairless from a disorder known as alopecia in which the body rejects its own hair follicles, Koenigsegg cuts an unusual profile on the Swedish business scene. In fact, the egg metaphor isn't so far off. He looks like one.
Profiled extensively in the Swedish press, usually as a dreamer, Koenigsegg is nevertheless a typical entrepreneur. His goal is to make money in one of the world's most established markets. And it looks like he is succeeding.
"Do you mind if we drool a little bit?" asks a deliveryman upon seeing The Egg at an emissions test facility outside Stockholm. "Not at all," answers Koenigsegg. As an aside, he says: "This car has to do this, otherwise I'd be worried."
A second-generation entrepreneur from a well to do family, (his mother makes hats for Queen Sylvia of Sweden) Christian von Koenigsegg started dreaming about building his own car when he was six. That is when he saw a film about a bicycle repairman who built a car to race at Le Mans. His dream was interrupted by normal teenage years in Stockholm and several years of business studies in Brussels. Then came a stint in the export/import business selling frozen American chickens to Estonia, where it seems he cashed out with a pocket full of money.
But the car bug festered. In 1994, he developed his first prototype. As word got around that a young Swede was building a super car to unseat the McLaren F1, the reigning speed champion, help from some very significant contacts was on its way.
First came a SEK 1.5 million grant from the Swedish Board of Technical Development, or Nutek. Then Kjell Nilsson, a former vice-president of Electrolux, signed on as chairman of the board. He opened doors to Swedish industry so that Saab engineers could fine-tune The Egg's supercharged 655 horsepower V8 engine. Volvo chipped in with wind tunnel and track time. Suppliers and engineers lined up to help develop Sweden's first super car.
"Strangers would walk in the door and say: 'how can I help? And they would write a check," says Koenigsegg.
Practical and pragmatic like most Swedes Koenigsegg drove every fast car he could get a hold of to find out what was missing, or what he could add. He pored over every car magazine he could read. Koenigsegg studied the super car market knowing full well that prospective buyers already have everything they wanted. The idea was to offer something no one else had.
"They may already have a Ferrari or two in the garage and just want an extra car with extreme driving qualities and better ergonomics. Or maybe they want a more discreet and understated car like ours. Not so flashy but with more technology. An Ericsson with a Nokia shell, if you will," says Koenigsegg.
Making the fastest car in the world was the first marketing hook. That required years of engine development. Next came the removable hard top which snuggly fits under the hood. Some Ferraris have this feature but it takes a mechanic the better part of a day to dismount it. On The Egg it takes five minutes, plus you take it along with you.
With speed and the removable hard top, Koenigsegg had a super car that was truly unique. With some clever marketing at the Geneva and Paris automobile shows, and a prototype viewing at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997, The Egg became an object of desire.
But why are cars so fascinating for Koenigsegg?
"Getting behind the wheel of a car makes you feel like God," says Koenigsegg unabashedly. "As the trees are flying past you, you are moving the world around you – not moving the car. You are in the center of the universe because you are moving the world around you at will with pedals and the steering wheel. You don't get this feeling of control when you ride a train or a bus. Of course, no one is ever in full control. Everything is chaos. But that's why the feeling is nice. And it doesn't hurt if it is the fastest car in the world either."
Alexander Farnsworth is a freelance writer and photographer based in Stockholm. He tends to ride bikes, buses and trains more often than cars.
Name: Christian von Koenigsegg
Born: Stockholm, 2 July 1972
Family: wife Halldora and 8 month old Sebastian
Profession: Super car manufacturer. Entrepreneur.
Education: Baccalaureate from the Scandinavian School of Brussels.
Career: Started an import/export business importing frozen chickens from the US to Estonia. "But chickens were not my passion," he says. Full-time working on The Egg since 1995.
Hobbies/interests: Koenigsegg says he used to have a lot of hobbies like sailing, skiing, and golf, but since he has been working 130 percent on his car the past seven years these activities have fallen by the wayside. He does however admit that he sometimes gets inspired to write poetry. None of it has been published yet.