The Nissan ZEOD RC – Is it all new?

As a break from discussing Formula 1 tyres, instead EngageSportMode examines Nissan’s new electric Le Mans challenger, and the craziest car you’ve never heard of.

Is the Nissan ZEOD RC really from the 1970s?

A couple of weeks ago, Nissan unveiled its new electric racing car – the ZEOD RC. Following on from 2012’s DeltaWing program which showed so much promise at Le Mans, until being cruelly punted off track, the ZEOD RC uses a development of the DeltaWing’s unique body shape. As you can see it the photo below, with an exceptionally narrow track at the front,  tapering to a wide rear, the ZEOD RC will look like little else on the race track.

Nissan ZEOD RC (courtesy of http://www.newsroom.nissan-europe.com)

Nissan ZEOD RC (courtesy of http://www.newsroom.nissan-europe.com)

But just how unique is the ZEOD RC’s design? Flicking through an old Autosport magazine, EngageSportMode came across an advert buried away in the classifieds section. The advert in question? This:

June2013-ESM 001

That right there is the Vigilante which, back in May 1994, was “a new All-American Exotic” and the “quickest STREET LEGAL vehicle” in the world, apparently. You have to admit, 700hp in a weighing less than the equivalent of 700kg would shift; a power to weight ratio of over 1000hp per tonne! Or about double that of a Bugatti Veyron. But look beyond the incredible statistics, and check out the design.

It’s all there; the narrow front track, the widened rear, the lights built into the back wheel arches. Granted the main body is some strange futuristic touring glasshouse, but you have to admit the concept is remarkably similar to the ZEOD. So just what on earth is the Vigilante?

Some digging around on the internet turned up this website which actually uses a different spelling -Vigillante. Ignore the horribly dated web-design, and you start to unearth details that the Vigillante wasn’t just some pyramid-scheme style prank in the back of a magazine. It was in fact the brainchild of a physicist, Bob Keyes, who worked for 30 years in the aerospace industry in America.

The late Bob Keyes had started producing three-wheeler in the 1970s as a response to the Arab Oil Embargo, using an 850cc Fiat engine to give a combination of economy and performance. By the 1990s, Keyes had decided the world need something resembling a road-going jet fighter, and thus the Vigillante was born.

It would be easy to rubbish the Vigillante as a crazy kit-car concoction, but the maths and science behind it would impress the designers of the ZEOD RC. With a honeycomb aluminium chassis and bodywork including exotic materials such as carbon fibre and Kevlar, this thing is a little more advanced than the usual. It also meant that weight of 1500lbs was achievable, in order to have the Vigillante classed as a motorcycle, not a car. Handy, as it allowed Bob to avoid worrying about seatbelts and airbags for a start.

But Keyes’ argument was that the inherent design of the Vigillante should mean you were less likely to crash. The aircraft tricycle configuration means most of the weight is over the rear tyres, giving them additional traction. It’s low centre of gravity also meant it could theoretically generate lateral g-forces of 3.27. For reference, anything of 1 g is usually considered impressive in a regular road car.

Sadly Bob Keyes died back in 2006, with one single prototype being the only Vigillante to come into existence. Top Gear tested it back in 1998, a a review proudly featured on the Vig’s website. It’s a shame Keyes didn’t live for a few more years, as he would have been able to see a major manufacturer using, whether intentionally or by chance, the fundamentals of the Vigillante’s design for a special Le Mans project.

Granted, the ZEOD RC is a four-wheeled, electric-powered, car whereas the Vig was a monster V8 powered tricycle.  In addition, the delta wing shape was seemingly chosen by Ben Bowlby for aerodynamic properties, but the inherent benefits of Keyes’ design must surely be present. So when you see the ZEOD fly silently by at next year’s Le Man 24 hours, spare a thought for Bob Keyes and the Vigillante.

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