Donkervoort on the 'Ring
Lapping the 'Ring in the Dutch Wondercar
Even if its styling doesn't, the Donkervoort D8 GTO's name should make you smile.
Built in Lelystad, Netherlands, by Joop Donkervoort, the GTO is the ultimate expression of the Dutch carmaker's minimalist ethos, which old Joop has been refining since 1978. At only 1,543 pounds and packing 380 horsepower, the D8 GTO is (on paper at least) easily in supercar territory. In practice the D8 will hit 62 mph in only 2.8 seconds, according to Joop.
And though we haven't verified that claim, other versions of this car indisputably hold some of the quickest street car lap times around the famed Nürburgring, including a 7-minute, 14-second lap: some five seconds faster than the Corvette ZR1's best.
Experienced Donkervoort drivers know that top down is the only way to drive a GTO — even on the Autobahn. The turbocharged 2.5-liter Audi five-cylinder exhaling through a "free-flow" exhaust will otherwise resonate your eardrums directly out of your head. Even so, the engine is at its delicious best with this exhaust. Its sound, coupled with the muscular, intimidating appearance of the GTO, ensures that observers take this car as seriously at its looks allow. Possibly the best way to describe the GTO's styling is to say that it's in a league of its own. But the hardware is for real: a light steel frame clothed in carbon fiber and aluminum. Few machines making less than 400 hp are as potent.
Remarkably, it's not a teeth breaker. Each corner is supported by a set of magical ARC shocks from Henk Thuis. Damping is four-way adjustable and spring collars can be used to set the car's height. For today's mission, which includes both aggressive street driving and laps on the Nürburgring, the car's setup isn't GP-circuit stiff. A middle-of-the-road setting makes it both street-drivable and track-capable.
Even before exiting the highway we're somehow falling for the GTO.
Back Road Appetizer
Accessing the Nürburgring via the Autobahn is easy, but it's not the best way to get there. Our route includes a winding detour on route 257 through the Eifel forest. We rip a few powerslides through the Ahr Valley just to let the winemakers know we're coming.
Then we rapidly make our way toward Adenau. Here the road dives into the forest and winds through a pair of hairpins on a smooth descent to the small village. The road straightens a bit and if you know your way and are brave there's just enough room to hit 125 mph between the bends.
But there's no time for wine. We're here to knock out a few laps on the 'Ring. The dangers are real and we doubt the GTO is an easy car on the unfamiliar track, so we're not planning to break any records today. Plus, the GTO has never been here and it shows supreme confidence that Joop will allow us the first shot given this track's reputation.
Considered as nothing more than a winding road through the hills, the 'Ring is hardly intimidating. But paying 26 euros plus the presence of both motorcycles and other legit performance cars changes the atmosphere considerably. However you view it, though, there's universal agreement that it is the most beautiful circuit in the world.
We plan to soak in Adenau's picturesque atmosphere later by enjoying the terrace of Blaue Ecke with a cool glass of Veltins. But right now, it's time for a lap.
With belts tightened and helmet snugged, we floor the throttle and within 9 seconds witness 130 mph on the speedometer. Both the acceleration and the sound assault the driver's senses in equal measure. Turbocharger hiss pounds our ears like a Hammond organ wailing to swinging jazz.
The Borg-Warner five-speed is precise but demands deliberate movements. There's no power steering so, despite its weight, the GTO requires high effort at these speeds. Even without ABS braking it is easily metered.
In Schwedenkreuz, a blind, off-camber left-hand bend and a place where we certainly shouldn't be looking at the speedometer, we see almost 120 mph. But the GTO is extremely stable: more so than any other Donkervoort we've driven. In tightening corners and on-camber bends the steering effort required is still too high. It's enough to make us wonder what the car would be like with perfectly calibrated power steering.
Even so, the GTO's honesty here is endearing and its communication is flat-out ruthless. You can feel, literally, everything.
The GTO's structure is at least partially responsible for its steering response and immediacy. And in this regard the GTO is improved over previous Donkervoorts. Carbon panels are bonded to the welded steel space frame. And though at heart it's certainly a purist sports car, the GTO is available with traction control (our tester had none). Though wet conditions might merit its use, power delivery is easily managed on the dry track.
Throttle response remains sharp and, mercifully, the GTO's engine is extremely tractable. Genuine thrust is available between 2,000 and 7,000 rpm. Third gear will handle nearly every corner on the 'Ring. Wide latitude like this makes the GTO's limits far more approachable than we imagined and contributes to the car's overall drivability. It's so fast and accelerates with such ease that we find ourselves driving far quicker than expected. The last thing we want in a car this light is all-or-nothing power delivery.
Out on the open roads again we have a chance to explore the GTO's upper reaches. It's quick to hit 155 mph but acceleration tapers off significantly between there and 170. Even so, it's clear outright speed isn't its strength.
At the end of the day the GTO remains a bit of an enigma — but not for the reasons you might think. This day could have gone horribly, awfully wrong. Instead, however, we've found a bit of an ally in a small-production car that's about as far from committee-designed as anything can be.
Joop Donkervoort's creation is an amazing car to drive: tractable, largely predictable and insanely quick. We even managed several comfortable laps around a track known for destroying both egos and hardware.
more popular. The answer, we'd argue, can only be that it's just plain homely.
Portions of this content have appeared in foreign print media and are reproduced with permission.