BACK In the 1970s, the Italians – mainly Ferrari and Lamborghini – had the supercar game sewn up. The USA didn’t even have a competitor, and there were no signs that the Big Three were interested in entering the fray.
First published in the April 2021 issue. Street Machine
This led a young Gerald ‘Jerry’ Wiegert to give up a promising career as a design consultant for Detroit car companies to pursue his dream of building his own all-American supercar: the Vector. With its scissor doors and twin-turbo V8 power, Vector’s stealth fighter saw car posters adorn countless bedroom walls around the world. Precious few vectors were actually produced, but that didn’t stop them from being objects of attention.
Photos: Evan Klein and SM Archives
Weigert died on January 15, closing the door on one of the craziest chapters in American automotive history.
Writing anything about Weigert’s biography is a tricky business, but we do know that he was born in 1944 in Dearborn, Michigan. His father was a machinist by trade, and when Weigert was in grade 10, he and some colleagues had a ‘re-power’. 54 Chevy with Oldsmobile J2 Tri-Power, makes a fearsome B/GAS destroyer.
Weigert studied design, interned for GM and later worked as a consultant for each of the Big Three. He eventually turned down a full-time gig at GM, because — as he told Hagerty magazine years later — “Honestly, I didn’t want to be a yes man.” Instead, Weigert went his own way in 1971 and set up his own design house, named Vehicle Design Force.
He created a fifth-scale model that would become Vector and then worked with Lee Brown of Precision Autobody to build a full-size prototype. The car had no engine, but possible candidates at the time were either a Porsche flat-six or a Winkel rotary.
Weigert had a passion for fighter jets, reflected in his Vector styling and his pioneering use of aerospace technology in road cars.
Despite being little more than a fiberglass shell, the boldness of the design saw the Vector hit its cover. Motor Trend In April 1972, the project gained international recognition almost immediately.
Nevertheless, Weigert fell out with Lee Brown and was forced to give up ownership of the original concept car by 1977. Determined to remain independent from that point on, Weigert restarted and began work on the Vector W2.
A pre-production W2 appeared on the cover of Car driverDecember 1980. The inside-wax story about the W2’s racebird engineering, 650hp twin-turbo V8 and mind-boggling looks, but no road tests.
Wiegert supposedly put a lot of miles behind the wheel of the W2 – apparently because he couldn’t afford a tow car and trailer to take it to shows and exhibitions while scrambling for financial support.
The car’s interior featured aircraft-style instruments and switchgear, leather Recaro seats and a high-end sound system including a 10-CD sticker. The W8’s shifter was integrated into the 12-inch-wide driver’s side sill. Up top is a removable moonroof.
Claims of top speeds in excess of 200 mph were never verified, but were an integral part of vector hype and myth. However, the W2 never entered production, and Wiegert began work on the even more ambitious W8. To fund this, Weigert renounced his independence pledge and started a new, publicly listed company. This meant he had to answer to both the board and shareholders, but it also allowed Wiegert to raise the funds to unveil an updated, production-ready version of the W8 in 1989.
The first two buyers were a couple of Saudi princes. The rich and famous — including tennis star Andre Agassi — lined up to buy Vector for $400,000. The handmade production line was slow and could not keep up with demand.
The fit and finish of the W8 Vector has been described as impressive by road testers, and features high-grade materials – contributing to the car’s eye-watering purchase price. The W8s ergonomics were also generally praised, aside from rear vision issues
What buyers got for their money was certainly the most advanced supercar of the day. At a time when the old guard relied on traditional steel construction, no electronic assistance and a 400hp engine, the W8 featured crazy tech like a Kevlar and carbon fiber body with honeycomb aluminum fenders and a semi-monocoque chassis. .
The W8 packed a six-liter aluminum Rodek block, loaded with good gear like TRW pistons, Carrillo forged steel rods and a forged crank. Bolt-ons include dry-sump oiling, AFR cylinder heads and intercooled Garrett turbos running 8psi, for a dyno-proven 625hp on tap. However, if you’re up for something spicy, you can turn the boost knob up to 14psi and have 730hp at your disposal!
The W8 engines were built by Shaver Specialties, known for making top-line sprint car engines.
Wiegert wanted the Vector to be the most modern and well-appointed supercar on the market, with the best technology. W8s feature electric Recaro seats with pneumatic lumbar support, surround sound audio, F/A-18 fighter jet switchgear, electroluminescent gauges, military-spec wiring, aviation circuit breakers, Alcon four-piston brakes, NASCAR hub carriers. and had aircraft-like features. – Quality accessories.
The W8 also gained attention for claiming a top speed of 242 mph. While the car didn’t live up to its bold marketing, one tester clocked a top speed of 193mph. Other performance measures were unremarkable. Road and Track reported in its April 1991 issue. At Pomona Dragway, 0-100 km/h was dispatched in 3.8 seconds and the quarter mile was destroyed with a 12.0 @ 118mph. Road and Track It also recorded 0.97 grams in the skid pan test, the highest number the magazine has ever recorded for a street car. Out on the road, the Vector had the usual supercar issues around driver vision, but was apparently unflappable and manoeuvrable in LA traffic. Car driver Tested a pair of W8s that same year and achieved similar performance figures, despite one car overheating and the other gearbox problems.
One of the M12 vectors powered by the Lamborghini Diablo, produced when the company was under Indonesian control and based in Florida. In the style of Pom Peter Stevens, only 14 examples were built.
In all, 21 W8s were built – at least a partial realization of Wiegert’s vision.
The successor to the W8 was to be even wilder – the Avtech WX-3 coupe and WX-3R roadster. A prototype of each was built in 1992, with the coupe powered by a 1200hp mill. Price? An eye-watering $765,000.
Weigert needed more investment, and in 1993 he allowed an Indonesian company called Megatek to buy a controlling stake in Vector Automotive. After initially pouring some much-needed cash into Vector, MegaTech pulled its funding, while ousting Wiegert on a deal he had arranged to buy the troubled Lamborghini company from Chrysler.
Driveline-wise, the W8 was a pure American hot rod, powered by a 6.0L, twin-turbo, dry sump, Rodek-based small-block shaver. Dig the braided lines and anodized fittings!
Without money for wages and bills, the company was in dire straits and the board voted to fire its founder. Weigert refused to relinquish control and locked down the Vector headquarters in LA (which he owned outright, along with the patents for the Vector cars) with armed guards.
Megatech moved production to Florida and released the Vector M12, which used many parts from the Lamborghini Diablo – a slap in the face to Weigert’s made-in-America ethos. Production began in 1995 and only 14 cars were completed.
If you want to see Weigert and his creations in action, check out the dedicated episode on Motor Trend’s Seduced By Speed series on Demand.
In 1999, a court ruling returned the Vector name to Wiegert, along with 15 semi-trailer loads of cars and equipment. While he never released another production car after the W8, Jerry Weigert continued with the Vector concepts. At the 2007 LA Auto Show, it debuted the prototype WX-8, said to be a blown 7.0-liter V8. Wiegert once again promised impressive performance figures, including low 11s during the quarter and 270mph when tuned for top speed.
As of late 2018, Wiegert was still actively promoting the WX-8, promising a choice between a 10-liter, twin-turbocharged and a hybrid electric/V8 mashup. It wasn’t meant to be, but you have to admire the man’s vision and his relentless, grinding desire to make his dreams a reality, no matter the obstacles.