The fast and the curious
If anything signified the exclusivity of Top Marques Macau, it was the two-metre-tall bodyguard shadowing an Indian nobleman at the Asian launch of the Knight XV. Then there was the vehicle itself - an armoured luxury SUV that resembles a supersized Range Rover-cum-Humvee on the outside but comes with an interior and price tag worthy of a Rolls-Royce.
Conquest Vehicles' Knight XV was one of the unlikely stars of Top Marques Macau, the first Asian spin-off of a Monaco exhibition that began eight years ago and is now one of the principality's most prestigious annual events. It was conceived as a showcase of limited edition supercars but has grown over the years to include exhibits of glittering watches, bespoke jewellery, art, yachts and property.
It has become a marketplace for the super-rich, and the event was just in time for a spot of Christmas shopping. The exhibition, which ran from Thursday last week to Sunday at The Venetian Macao, also capped a trio of car-related events in the enclave. It followed the previous weekend's 58th annual grand prix and came less than a month after the China Macau International Automobile Expo.
At a height of 2.5 metres and weighing almost 6,000kg, the bespoke Conquest Vehicles' Knight XV looks menacing in shiny black with big chunky door hinges. A standard model with a pre-tax price of US$629,000 features a ballistic-hardened steel body and glass windows that would deflect rounds fired from an AK-47.
Targeted at those who probably have a good reason to be security-conscious, the vehicle is fitted with night vision cameras front and rear, and roof-mounted search lights. Customers prepared to pay more can get an armouring upgrade so that their six-seater will withstand even mortar fire. Interior options include a cigar humidor, 27-inch flat-screen television and either a PlayStation or an X-box.
Seth Feller, a vice-president of the Canadian company, says a recent buyer is the head of one of the United Arab Emirates.
'Ultra-high net worth clients have two mandates. One is security and the other is stepping into a vehicle that speaks to their affluence,' Feller says. 'Some want to make a statement when they arrive somewhere.'
After finding a niche in the US and Middle East, Conquest has now teamed up with Blossom group as a distributor for the mainland. The company initially planned to build just 100 Knight XVs.
The real draw to Top Marques is the limited-edition supercars that draw in the hard-core collectors. It would not have been complete without the appearance of the fastest road car, or at least the fastest convertible. So the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport, the latest Veyron variant, was a welcome addition.
With a huge 8-litre, 16-cylinder engine that produces 1,001 horsepower and 1,250Nm of torque, the Grand Sport is capable of reaching 407km/h with the hood up and the first 100km/h in 2.7 seconds. The Veyron Super Sport holds the speed record, at 431km/h.
Bugatti has a showroom in Hong Kong even though it makes only left-hand-drive Veyrons, whose primary registrations are forbidden in the city. So the target is purely buyers from the mainland, where the Grand Sport is priced at 39 million yuan (HK$46.7 million), including tax.
Till Scheer, head of Bugatti for Hong Kong and the mainland, says the first Grand Sport in his region will be delivered soon. The carmaker has received four mainland orders for Veyrons in recent weeks.
'Some look on it as a piece of art to collect. Some look on it as an investment,' Scheer says.
Only 150 Grand Sports are being built, and 80 are already spoken for.
Also not to be missed was the Pagani Huayra, which was launched in March at the Geneva Motor Show. The successor to the Zonda, of which only about 150 were made, the Huayra bears familiar twin circular headlights and elegant wing mirrors shaped like eyes, but is an otherwise more futuristic and flamboyant design.
Improvements in the jet-inspired aerodynamics have given the Huayra some control flaps at each corner in lieu of the Zonda's rear spoiler. The gull-wing doors are another new feature.
The highly stylised interior is rich in plush leather, carbon fibre surfaces and sculpted aluminium, which is used throughout the dashboard as well as on the pedals and the handbrake.
Pagani spokesman Luca Venturi says the carmaker hopes to build about 40 Huayras a year production facilities are expanded. Powered by a modified Mercedes-Benz AMG 6-litre, twin turbo V12 engine that produces 700hp and 1,000Nm of torque, the Huayra is expected to cost about US$1.4 million before tax.
But serious collectors will not be put off by the price.
Another marque with a futuristic design fashioned on a jet fighter is the SSC Tuatara. With a bubble dome roof and windows, the Tuatara is the latest model by Shelby SuperCars of Washington state. It replaces the Ultimate Aero, which held the record for fastest road car before it was broken by the Veyron Super Sport. The first Tuatara will be available in January 2013.
Motorsports veteran GTA Motor of Spain exhibited its first street-legal car, the Spano, which also debuted this year in Geneva.
A windscreen that morphs seamlessly into the glass roof, with separation achieved by using horizontal bands that can be switched from fully transparent to opaque, is among the innovations featured in the Spano.
There are no door handles, and this creates a clean design. Push the GTA badge on the panel behind the driver's side window and the door pops open. The fuel cap is also hidden behind part of the panel.
The Spano has a V10, 8.3-litre engine that gives it 820hp and 960Nm of torque. It will sell for about Euro570,000 (HK$5.9 million) before tax when it debuts next year.
'We will only make 99, to keep it exclusive,' says GTA spokesman Alfred Kuijer. 'We have already had 30 to 40 people express an interest in buying one.'
Top Marques also bills itself as the world's only 'live' car show, because it offers potential buyers the chance to ride in a supercar. For insurance reasons, that means being in the passenger seat. The Macau government provided organisers with a two-kilometre test track for VIPs to ride in models including the super-fast SSC Ultimate Aero, an electric La Barata from Australia, a Ferrari California, a Maserati GranTurismo Stradale and the loudest rascal of the pack - a Lamborghini Gallardo.
I rode in the highly tuned Gallardo that had been raced at the grand prix the previous weekend by Hong Kong driver Mak Hing-tak. Stripped down to bare essentials to reduce weight, the car soon got hot inside without an air conditioner. The V10 engine is tucked behind the seats. It didn't waste time picking up speed. From a pedestrian 60km/h, it shifted to an exhilarating 140km/h in barely two seconds.
Macau was Top Marques' premiere event in Asia. But the official programme was less than half as thick as the one at the Monaco show. Next year could see the event notch up a gear.
John Hardyment, president of organisers Bayshore Pacific Exhibitions - which had 10,000 to 15,000 visitors over the four days - says attendance was comfortably within expectations.
'A lot of exhibitors, particularly among the supercars, came for the first time, and the Venetian wowed them,' he says. 'What was encouraging was that I had a walk around with exhibitors, and most of them said they would be back. A number of exhibitors who didn't show this year for various reasons - they thought it was a bit of a gamble, budgets were already allocated or they wanted to wait and see - visited the show. They said they would be coming to show next year.'