Gerald Wiegert, the entrepreneur born in the Detroit area who for three decades aimed to build an American supercar faster and sexier than anything out of Europe, died Jan. 15 in California. He was 76.
The Vector W8 was the most successful of Wiegert's automotive projects, but just 23 of the low-slung road rockets were built in the early 1990s. Wiegert, like the other automotive mavericks who came before him — such as Preston Tucker, Malcolm Bricklin and John DeLorean — faced insurmountable financial obstacles.
Born in Dearborn in 1944, the son of a machinist attended Detroit's College for Creative Studies, completed an internship at General Motors' Technical Center and then graduated from ArtCenter College of Design in California, according to an article in Hagerty magazine. In the 1970s, as he worked as a freelance designer, Wiegert began raising money to build an American supercar to take on those from Lamborghini and Ferrari.
After a few failed attempts, the Vector W8, which used a version of a dragster engine and a reworked Oldsmobile Toronado transmission, went on sale in 1990 for $400,000. The 625-hp, twin-turbo V-8 engine could propel the car to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds, and the car's top speed was rumored to be more than 200 mph. But the W8 suffered from quality problems, and production ended in 1993 when Wiegert ran out of money.
"Wiegert was a gifted stylist, but he had no production experience," former Car and Driver Editor Csaba Csere told Hagerty. "He wasn't an engineer. He wasn't a mechanic. He wasn't a former race car driver. He seemed to think a car was a collection of premium components, and everywhere you looked there were premium components, but he didn't understand how to integrate and develop them," Csere told the magazine.
Wiegert's other ventures included working with Toyota developing its Calty Design Research facility in Newport, Calif., designing water scooters and high-performance motorcycles. As for the Vector W8, when one sells at an auction, the price is usually in the $300,000 range.