1978-1998 Vector

The Vector is a sports car with a long and scandalous history. See more classic car pictures.

Determined to put an American entry on the exotic-car map, Gerald Wiegart began planning the Vector in the early 1970s. It took him almost 10 years to get a working model on the road degrees -- and a little more than another decade to be acrimoniously ousted from the company he founded. Meanwhile, Vector faintly hangs on against the odds.

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Many people have attempted to manufacture cars in the past century. Most of these efforts have been long forgotten. Quite a few just fade away without anyone ever noticing.

The Vector has had every reason to join those lost marques, except for the fact that those behind the car and company refuse to give up the fight. Three teams have championed the cause and while there are admirers, only a handful have experienced America's only supercar.

Our story begins with a man and his dream. Born in Dearborn, Michigan, Gerald Wiegert studied at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit. He earned bachelor's degrees, with honors, in both vehicle design and product design from the Art Center College of Design in California.

According to instructors at the Art Center and later co-workers, he was a very creative and talented designer. While attending school, Wiegert became fascinated by aerospace and automobiles. These interests would direct the rest of his career.

Go on to the next page to learn more about Gerald Wiegert and the Vector.

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While visiting the 1971 Los Angeles Auto Expo, Gerald Wiegert -- designer of the Vector -- was disappointed with the vehicles on display. He and Los Angeles auto body man Lee Brown spent $50,000 and a year at Brown's Precision Auto Body Shop on Hollywood Boulevard to build a dramatically styled car to excite the general public.

When the car made its debut at the 1972 L.A. show, it supposedly featured a quad-cam Porsche engine and a tube space frame. To be dubbed the Vector, the production version, "with proper backing," was said to be powered by a 220-bhp rotary engine.

Wiegert planned for the car to weigh 2,200 pounds and sell for around $7500. He immediately formed Vehicle Design Force, located on West Washington Boulevard in Venice, California, to produce the Vector. During the next five years, Vehicle Design Force worked on various projects trying to raise money for the car.

Wiegert financed his dream by offering his design services to a number of firms. He helped design the Wetbike and Jet Ski watercraft, the "world's largest hot-air blimp," the Rocket Belt (a personal flying suit that appeared at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics), Edge Bicycle Fairing, and products for Airstream motorhomes, as well as being a consultant for the James Bond film Never Say Never Again.

Go on to the next page to learn about the early cars that Vector produced.

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Large air intakes positioned behind the doors left no doubt that the Vector W2 was powered by an engine mounted amidships.
Large air intakes positioned behind the doors left no doubt that the Vector W2 was powered by an engine mounted amidships.

The Vector concept evolved into the all-American supercar by 1977. An unspecified V-8 engine would produce between 600 and 800 horsepower and would be able to propel the car to 200 mph.

The car was touted to have the best of everything. Circuit breakers, for example, were built to military specification and cost as much as $15 each, instead of standard 15-cent circuitry protectors.

This car became known as the Vector W2 ("W" for Wiegert and "2" for the number of turbochargers). It first appeared on the pages of Automotive News in August 1977. The article announced the choice of a twin-turbocharged Chevrolet engine to power the car and the availability of a non-turbocharged version. The reported price of the W2 escalated to $50,000 by this point.

"The production cost is such that we have to charge more," Wiegert explained to Automotive News, "even though that limits the number of buyers."

Initial plans seemed adequately subdued. Only about 75 cars would be produced during the third year of operation, creating $868,500 of income. Production was just "waiting for more investment capital," a phrase that would become a recurring theme with Wiegert's firm. Automotive News estimated the investment needed to be $375,000.

After five years of fund-raising and planning, a running Vector model finally emerged in 1978. The first drivable W2 was the product of the recently formed Vector Cars. The new firm moved down the street to 1101 W. Washington Boulevard in Venice.

Auto enthusiasts got their next good look at the Vector W2 when it appeared as the cover story in the December 1980 issue of Car and Driver. The original running prototype, uniquely assembled with epoxy bonding and 6000 Monel Cherrymax aircraft-spec rivets, featured adjustable Koni spring shocks and an exotic de Dion rear axle instead of a fully independent design.

Brakes were massive Hurst-Airheart ventilated 12.2-inch discs at all four wheels, with the rear units mounted inboard. Pirelli P7 tires mounted on Center Line 15-inch wheels supported the front, while incredible 13-inch-wide tires kept the W2 planted at the rear.

To get the estimated 650 bhp from the aluminum-block, transverse-mounted midships engine to the ground, a modified General Motors automatic transaxle was used. Removed from a 1978 front-wheel-drive Oldsmobile Toronado, the Turbo Hydra-Matic 425 transaxle was rebuilt by B&M Automotive. A Gleasman dual-drive differential made clutchless manual gear changing easy for the three-speed gearbox.

The W2's dimensions and performance were amazing. Zero-to-60 times of 4.0 seconds, quarter-mile times of 11.0 seconds at 130 mph, and a top speed of 237 mph were very hard to imagine, even with an estimated curb weight of only 2500 pounds.

Fuel economy for this supercar was estimated at an impressive 15 miles per gallon. Delivery of the W2 degrees -- the price of which had now ballooned to $125,000 degrees -- was expected to start in the fall of 1981.

Go on to the next page to read about publicity for the Vector.

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The Vector made its public appearances in a variety of colors.
The Vector made its public appearances in a variety of colors.

Following the Car and Driver coming-out for the Vector W2, other magazines from all around the world joined the Vector parade. Publicity for the car attempted to keep financial backing coming in to the company, with no imminent signs of production cars.

By 1984, Wiegert had reorganized his company to mount another media blitz. "Vector: The World's Fastest Investment" headed a brochure advertising the company's product and need for capital.

In addition to the information quoted in the literature for the "production" car, the brochure carried an order form advertising Vector merchandise for sale: T-shirts, polo shirts, and flight jackets all included Vector logos. For product information, videotapes, posters, and three information packages ranging from $15 to $75 were available.

Still, the monetary problems continued. Vector Cars International (the company's new name) allowed the car to be hired for photo opportunities to increase its exposure and raise desperately needed cash.

As a result, the Vector was seen in advertising for Timex watches, Midas mufflers. Chevron oil, and Vantage cigarettes. It was also featured in the Tommy Lee Jones movie Black Moon Rising.

In 1987, Wiegert once again reorganized the company, this time as Vector Aeromotive Corporation. Now on North Marine Avenue in Wilmington, California, the organization seemed poised to actually build cars for sale.

AutoWeek magazine covered the Vector in an eight-page cover story. The piece used rave quotes from Art Center College of Design teacher Strother McMinn to describe Wiegert ("he has shown a kaleidoscopic arrangement of talents including sensitivity skill and he's somewhat of a businessman") and his car ("as a machine itself, [the Vector] has great potential.").

However, author Dutch Mandel compared the plant to Peter Pan's Neverland and Wiegert himself to P T. Barnum. Mandel summed up by stating that the Vector was "a long way from production."

Following the AutoWeek article, Wiegert and Vector filed a $5 million lawsuit for libel. The suit was unsuccessful, but it set a pattern for a number of cases that wound up helping to finance the Vector cause. Other actions included suits against R. J. Reynolds (unsatisfactory use of the Vector in cigarette advertising) and Goodyear (trademark infringement with their Vector tire).

On the next page, you will learn about the Vector W8.

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The W2 was followed by an updated version, the W8, powered by a 6.0-liter, 625-bhp V-8.
The W2 was followed by an updated version, the W8, powered by a 6.0-liter, 625-bhp V-8.

The 1990 Vector press brochure pushed hard to sell the car as well as the company. Instrumentation for the car, now known as the Vector W8, was listed as an "aircraft type menu-driven reconfigurable electroluminescent display monitoring all vital pressures and temperatures with both digital and analog display formats."

Standard equipment included Recaro seats and wool carpeting. Just in case the prospective buyer wanted to invest in the company listed at the bottom of the one-page flier was the company's NASDAQ symbol: VCAR.

The first production W8 emerged from the factory in 1990. Saudi Arabian Prince Khalid received the first car in September 1990, more than three years after Wiegert had originally promised.

Road & Track published tests of the W8 in its March 1991 and August 1992 issues. Numbers such as 4.2 seconds O-to-60 mph, 12.0 seconds at 124 in the quarter, 0.97 gs on the skidpad, and 218 mph top speed rank among the best ever published for a street car in R&T.

Although the 1991 price was "only" $283,750, the tab skyrocketed to $489,800 for 1992, ranking the W8 as one of the most expensive cars the magazine ever tested.

With a "mild" 7.0 psi of turbocharger boost and 365 cid, the Vector engine produced "a very civilized temperament at idle" while still dishing up much of the 630 pounds-feet of torque when prodded, R&T found.

Although an automatic, the unique transmission could be shifted manually with a precise ratchet action from the gear selector mounted in the frame rail on the left side of the driver.

Nobody could deny the strength of the Vector design. Nearly everyone who has had the chance to drive one described it as over-designed. The military-grade specifications were well beyond those of other cars on the road. Where more affluent automakers could afford to crash test a number of cars until a design is found to be sufficiently strong.

Vector used one car for front and rear crash testing. The Ralph Maloof-designed front and rear booms worked perfectly Had the electrical equipment not been disconnected for the test, the car could have been driven away from the crashes.

However, among the stories of those who placed orders for the cars, not all the endings were happy. Tennis star Andre Agassi insisted on purchasing one of the early W8 models in 1991. It was sold to him under the condition that he keep it stored until the company could make it emissions legal.

Agassi agreed to these terms but, "he couldn't resist and drove the dickens out of it," remembers former company director Barry Rosengrant. After only 10 days (and the car damaged from overheating), Agassi demanded that Wiegert take the car back and return his $400,000. For fear of bad publicity, Wiegert reluctantly obliged.

Automobile dealer Warren Person put a deposit down on the 10th Vector W8. When speculative values of the Vector began to rise above his agreed price, the car "was sold to the highest bidder," according to Person.

Wiegert, describing him as "a great guy" agreed with this assessment and said that Person should have received the car, but his salesmen told him to sell the car for a larger profit.

The 1992 New York Auto Show was the occasion for the introduction of the next Vector. The Avtech WX-3 was claimed to be powered by engines up to 1000 bhp. The price was announced to be $765,000. (Wiegert later claimed a $200,000 normally-aspirated model powered by a 300-horse engine based on the Chevrolet Corvette LT1 V-8 was to have followed.)

Go on to the next page to learn about the Avtech WX-3.

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Inside the Avtech WX-3, the aircraft-inspired dash and left-hand gearshift remained, but a sloping three-passenger bench seat replaced buckets.
Inside the Avtech WX-3, the aircraft-inspired dash and left-hand gearshift remained, but a sloping three-passenger bench seat replaced buckets.

The 1992 New York Auto Show was the occasion for the introduction of the next Vector. The Avtech WX-3 was claimed to be powered by engines up to 1,000 bhp. The price was announced to be $765,000. (Wiegert later claimed a $200,000 normally-aspirated model powered by a 300-horse engine based on the Chevrolet Corvette LT1 V-8 was to have followed.)

Meanwhile, Wiegert succumbed to pressure and reneged on his American-only financing philosophy later that same year. He teamed up with Indonesian-backed, Bermuda-based MegaTech Ltd. and the Sedtco Pty an Indonesia-based shipping, mining, and manufacturing conglomerate. The Indonesian financiers created V Tower Corporation as the holding company for their foreign automotive interests.

MegaTech was headed by Setiawan Djody and Hutomo "Tommy" Suharto. Djody a self-made millionaire, wanted to be Indonesia's first automotive tycoon. Suharto was a racing-car enthusiast and the son of Indonesia's premier. (Later, the two organized the $40 million purchase of Lamborghini for its racing, production, and engineering programs.)

This newfound cash helped Wiegert and his engineers further develop the car. This work led to the development of a V-12 engine.

The Ryan Falconer-designed and built engine employed much of the basic structure of the ubiquitous Chevrolet 350 V-8 that Vector had used for 15 years. But while pictures and details were published, no running Vector was ever displayed with the engine.

Wiegert arrived at the 1993 Geneva Auto Show to find that the previous year's fees to show the Vector had not been paid. He paid the outstanding amount of $20,000 on his American Express card so that his cars would not be impounded. He displayed the Avtech WX-3 coupe and roadster at the 1993 show.

Updated versions of the W8, the new cars featured more modern, less angular styling, but continued to sport the Vector trademark scissor-action doors. These cars were offered at a price of less than $200,000 for the coupe and about $250,000 for a top-of-the-line roadster. It was announced, at this time, that the W8 was being phased out immediately.

The WX-3 was to be available with a number of powertrain choices. A transverse-mounted 6.0-liter V-8 featured two turbochargers. Optional engines were to include versions producing between 500 and 1200 bhp, including a 7.0-liter dohc 32-valve edition.

Although the 32-valve engine degrees -- estimated to be a $100,000 option degrees -- was mentioned in a number of car magazines, only a brief glimpse was ever shown in the sales literature.

Features for the Avtech remained in tune with Wiegert's idea of using nothing but the best that America could supply Based on the Oldsmobile Toronado three-speed unit, the Avtech transaxle used components designed and built exclusively for the Vector.

Enormous 13.5-inch ventilated disc brakes were used at all four corners. A three-passenger bench seat was used for the prototype, although the production model was expected to use two bucket seats.

Go on to the next page to read about trouble with the Vector.

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The early 1990s were a tumultuous time for Vector, with Indonesian investors being brought aboard and Wiegert being ousted from his own company.
The early 1990s were a tumultuous time for Vector, with Indonesian investors being brought aboard and Wiegert being ousted from his own company.

Wiegert remembers that after the Geneva show, two of his directors were going to be fired. While the show was going on, the soon-to-be-ex-employees of Vector were looking to secure their positions within the company. The pair convinced the Indonesian investors to keep them and remove Wiegert instead.

When Wiegert returned from Geneva, he found that the directors had laid off all 20 Vector employees. Chief financial officer John Pope told Wiegert that his options were to resign and leave, quit the presidency and become head of design, or be fired. Wiegert viewed this as a conspiracy to take his company

Wiegert changed the locks on the company's headquarters. Media reports claimed that Wiegert had barricaded himself in the building and hired security guards to keep out the board members; he was marked as the antagonist in this story The investors made a "fraudulent presentation to the press," stated Wiegert, "and my counsel told me not to talk to the press."

A court hearing was held on March 26, 1993, in which it was ruled that the directors had to show just cause for Wiegert's termination. "The judge indicated these guys [the directors] had no right to come in here without my permission," Wiegert told Automotive News in its April 5 edition. "Do the directors of Lockheed or IBM have the master keys to the headquarters?"

Pope's response in the newspaper was, "the contract [with Wiegert] means that Jerry can sue us for 90 days' pay (about $69,000), but he's going to sue us saying that there was no basis for his termination."

On September 14, 1993, the court declared that the stockholders own the company and that their elected board of directors had the power to manage the business. Wiegert was ordered to turn over the keys to the building.

Wiegert initiated a number of lawsuits with the stockholders of Vector. The company reported it had "dedicated significant resources and management time to this ongoing litigation." Among the suits between Vector and Wiegert were claims for unpaid rent, for breach of employment, and for the return of business assets to the company founder.

Claims the new owners were pursuing included litigation against Merrill Lynch, former Vector secretary David Kostka, and Tokai Bank of California, all for unapproved investment funds. The Indonesians found many problems with Wiegert's management.

Go on to the next page to read about the redesign of the Vector.

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The new owners of Vector also purchased Lamborghini and adopted its V-12 for use in a new Vector series. The M12 was first shown in 1996.
The new owners of Vector also purchased Lamborghini and adopted its V-12 for use in a new Vector series. The M12 was first shown in 1996.

In the 22 years from the initial concept to the final Vector W8 that rolled from the factory, only 22 Vectors had been built. Buyers included a Texas millionaire, a Southern California real estate investor, a Japanese car collector, and former National Automobile Dealers Association president Ron Tonkin.

With the four unfinished W8 models sitting on the factory floor and orders for the new model in hand, business plans were reorganized. Included in the company's new direction were plans to reengineer the car for export sales.

To separate the new management from the old regime, the car had to be renamed. The visually stunning Avtech WX-3 became the Avtech Super Coupe, or Avtech SC, but Wiegert even laid claim to the Avtech name.

The company redesigned the car. The all-American supercar would now be powered by an engine from MegaTech's Lamborghini. It was less expensive to use the stock Italian powerplant than to design modifications to upgrade an American engine and meet emissions regulations.

Robert Braner, vice-president of marketing since 1990, became president and CEO after Wiegert's dismissal. The company relocated to Centurion Parkway in Jacksonville, Florida, where corporate cousin Lamborghini USA was based. Production moved to a closed Navy air base in Green Cove Springs, 25 miles from Jacksonville.

Braner announced in late 1994 that 12 Lamborghini-powered 1996 Avtech SC coupes would be produced by the end of the 1995, with at least 48 more following in early 1996.

In the 1997 model year, 200 Vectors were to be produced. In April 1995, Braner left Vector to concentrate on his new position as president of Lamborghini USA. David Peter Rose was appointed to head the corporation.

The development of the new model, which had begun in the summer of 1991, stretched to the end of 1995. The new Vector model made its first public appearance at Detroit's North American

International Auto Show in January 1996. Now called the M12, two of the super-cars were on display. A redesigned exterior covered a virtually all-new car.

The new design corrected a few serious flaws in the car. After placing a WX-3 in a wind tunnel, it was found to be aerodynamically sound, but would have left the engine starved for air. Much of the aero-space engineering was replaced by more production-oriented equipment.

"We kept the air conditioner and a front cross beam from the original car. That's it," Rose told Car and Driver.

Go on to the next page to learn about second generation Vectors.

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The new Vector could reach speeds up to 190 miles per hour.
The new Vector could reach speeds up to 190 miles per hour.

From a peak of more than three-quarters of a million dollars. Vectors had become reasonably priced, relatively speaking. At its introduction, the Vector M12 was announced with a retail price of $189,000.

With this lower price and improved assembly methods, Vector made known that it intended to build 96 cars in the 1996 calendar year, with the two display models already sold. Future plans included a subsidized lease and a 1997 run of 144 cars.

Riding on 18-inch diameter wheels and huge Michelin MXX3 tires, the Vector's acceleration to 60 miles per hour came in at under 4.5 seconds. Top speed was to be more than 190 miles per hour. Since the Lamborghini Diablo with the same engine recorded similar numbers, there was no reason to doubt the performance estimates.

Some very capable people were hired to lead the Vector into full production. lan Doble, chief engineer for Vector, had worked on the 1990 Lotus Elan and dohc V-8 for the Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1. Jim Router, who developed the McLaren Fl and Jaguar XJR-15 race car, reengineered the suspension for the new M12.

Michael Santoro, having just designed the 1995 Chrysler Cirrus and Dodge Stratus, was employed, along with McLaren Fl designer Peter Stevens, to draft a new exterior and interior.

After all of the reworking, the M12's wheelbase stretched five inches longer than that of the WX-3 to accommodate the new powertrain. A glass and carbon fiber/epoxy composite body covered the semi-monocoque chassis and chrome-moly steel roll cage.

Double-wishbone suspensions at the front and rear supported the car with the aid of coil shocks. Brembo supplied the brakes for the M12, which were identical to those found on the Lamborghini Diablo.

Instead of the transverse Chevrolet-derived V-8, a longitudinally-mounted Lamborghini V-12 engine powered the M12.

Transferring the power to the rear wheels was a rear-mounted (as opposed to the forward-mounted transaxle in the Diablo) five-speed manual ZF transaxle; a decided change from the previous automatic and semi-automatic three-speed transaxles.

Go on to the next page to read about continued problems for the Vector.

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With all of the plans for the Vector in place, it seemed that car would finally reach "production volume." Advertisements began running in Automotive News for dealer representatives. Sports Car International and Road & Track offered favorable test drives of the production models. Plans for two new models and even an IMSA race car were initiated.

Fighting a self-described uphill battle, Vector aimed toward highly unlikely production levels. The company itself estimated the world's exotic sports car market at about 3500 cars each year. Ferrari sells 3000 annually worldwide. Lamborghini and Aston Martin build more than 200 cars each a year.

With various other manufacturers making up most of the remainder, the potential market for a company without a grand historical lineage was nearly insignificant; definitely not the volume Vector expected to sell.

The signs were not good by March. After a costly two-month delay the first M12s were delivered. Vector had established only three dealerships by this time. These outlets provided the foundation of a planned 15-dealership network worldwide. Part of the contract required that dealers carry a minimum of two cars, instantly creating a backlog in unfilled purchase orders.

After only eight cars, the trouble was deeply rooted. In July, Vector production was scaled down. The company reduced its workforce by 70 percent. Braner returned to Vector as a consultant to assist in another reorganization.

By November, Vector had completely stopped production, laid off another 25 employees, and was looking to V'Power to infuse more money. Stock prices of the little automaker had plummeted from $.91 in March 1996 to $.03 in November.

In an ever-shrinking supercar market, the Vector Aeromotive Corporation looked as if it would never reach the exclusive level achieved by such marques as Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati. Vector acknowledged its market position and stated that it would have to suspend operations with three unfinished 1997 model M12s sitting on the factory floor.

As time wore on, even the small investors were getting anxious. Claims of disconnected phone lines and padlocked gates reverberated around the internet.

People holding stock purchased at prices over $1 a share debated what to do with pieces of paper worth only five and 10 cents. NASDAQ dropped the stock from its small-capitalization market listing because it failed to meet the exchange's capital requirements. Then hope arose once again.

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In January 1997, Vector found a new savior. A holding company called Trade-Link International, Ltd., was formed in the Bahamas to revive Vector as the cornerstone of a "luxury lifestyle product" company. Also included in this project was Stuart 51, a manufacturer of replica World War II aircraft.

TradeLink was incorporated as American Dream International Limited and announced a restructuring of the board of directors. California-based entrepreneur and TradeLink Chairman Waldon Randall Welty, former Lotus Cars board member Timothy J. Enright, and ex-director of parts and service of Automobili Lamborghini USA David P Kordeck replaced outgoing members of the Vector board.

Rose continued as Vector's president and Enright was elected chief operating officer and secretary.

With a further announcement that two cars had been sold by August 6, the directors planned two more cars to roll out of the newly reopened Vector facility and a total of 15 to be built by year's end. In the agreement between V'Power and American Dream, this production schedule was confirmed, with Lamborghini agreeing to supply 15 drivetrains over the next 12 months.

Streamlining continued. To save additional costs, the new company relocated its headquarters to the Florida manufacturing site. Rose resigned, leaving only a handful of people to carry on the torch.

This chapter of the story ends the way that a number had before, anticipating the emergence of the beautiful Vector butterfly from the cocoon it has called home for more than a quarter-century.

Proving that producing an automobile is a difficult venture. Vector Aeromotive seems poised to follow the lead of the Tucker, Kaiser, Frazer, Bricklin, and DeLorean into oblivion.

While none of the earlier makes lasted as long as the Vector, even the Tucker's paltry 51-unit model run demonstrates more success than the Vector model run of fewer than 35 cars. Even with the current effort, Vector's more than 25-year run remains a small footnote in the postwar American automotive scene.

Wiegert's removal from power has historic parallels to Ransom Olds's separation from the company that bears his name or William Durant's two exits from General Motors.

Like Olds and Durant before him, Wiegert would not let this setback stop his entrepreneurial spirit. He currently operates the AquaJet Corporation, building the high-powered Jet Bike watercraft in the same Wilmington offices where he once built the Vector W8. Wiegert vows to return to Vector some day.

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