The cars we loved.
Of all the sports car companies from France, Venturi may have had the most promise. Despite nearly two decades in existence it never made more than a dent outside of France. That’s a shame because its creators, two former French engineers formed the company with the intention of building cars equal to Bugatti, Ferrari and Porsche. They succeeded partly, but few noticed beyond its home base of Coueron, Pays de Lorie. The company changed hands on numerous occasions, even ending up being owned by Ohio investors in the USA at one point. In the end the company ended up building very low volume exotic electric cars as part of an Monaco based company.
The Atlantique was Venturi’s main line car and was first created in 1984. In 260 trim, it was a mid-engined sports car that used a 3.0L V6 from the Alpine Renault A610. It wasn’t until the company was bought by a Thai investment consortium in 1996 that the Atlantique really began to make a name for hardly ten-year old company. The redesigned cars low drag coefficient of 0.31 was complimented by composite plastic bodywork, making it very lightweight. Contrary to the design of many French sports cars, the Atlantique had a derivative look that resembled the front of a late 90’s Toyota MR2 with the rear of a Ferrari F355. But like the previous car it used a V6 and 5 speed manual transmissions from one of Frances large auto conglomerates, this time Peugeot/Citroen.
The twin turbo 3.0L sent anywhere from 281 to 302hp to the rear wheels. With quad cams and sequential fuel injection, the Atlantique featured an advanced engine. The new Atlantique was intended to go head to head with the Lotus Esprit V8 on its home turf. Matching the Lotus in most respects, it was reviewed favorably by the European automotive press. Its build quality was considered better and it’s interior more lush and comfortable than the Lotus and was priced similarly. Speaking of the interior, as nice as it was, its dash resembled a spiffied up version of a 80’s Firebird, with squared edges and boxy center console. In a 1994 episode of Top Gear, the Atlantique 300 was dubbed one of Europe’s most entertaining cars due to its ballanced handling and lack of turbo lag. Despite the high praise from Jermy Clarkson, the Atlantique faltered in the British marketplace. The 300 was eventually withdrawn due to low sales. Sports car buyers wanted some degree of pedigree and racing heritage, both of which Venturi did not have.
To address the racing issue and gain exposure, Venturi had a brief flirtation with racing in the early 90’s that resulted in the 400 GTR. Developed in 1992 as a limited edition homologation special, the 400 GTR is widely considered the best performing French car ever. It was the first car in the world to have standard carbon brakes. With 408 hp from a V6, it was on par with most any early 90’s Ferrari. 0 to 60 was in 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 181 mph. It’s more aggressive appearance added the Ferrari F40 to it’s list of design influences with a prominent high rear wing spoiler.
Venturi developed other variations of the Atlantique including a few convertibles like the 210 Super Cup Cabriolet. The 210 series strongly resembled Ferrari F348ts even down to the 5 star Ferrari type rims. But like all other Venturi, it was a bit player, even in its homeland of France. The Atlantique was never able to reach mass distribution and as a result may have brought the company down. Venturi experienced ongoing financial difficulties that ended Atlantique production, resulting in bankruptcy in 2001. The Atlantique was a capable car, but did not have the brand recognition that buyers of upscale sports cars wanted, especially the rich who saw such cars as social and fashion statements. Had the Atlantique found its way to America, it likely would have changed the company’s fortunes and erased the perception of French cars as quirky and unreliable.