Rise of the Falcon F7

One Man's Quest To Build an American Supercar


  • Falcon F7

    Falcon F7

    So what do you think? Does the Falcon F7 look like a proper supercar? | August 07, 2013

19 Photos

As the world reels from shrinking economies, one Detroit man has found an opportunity to build an incredible supercar almost in his backyard.

Jeff Lemke, a 41-year-old car nut, spent 12 years building composite body panels that Dodge Viper owners could buy to keep rain and wind out of their admittedly leaky sports cars. It was a good business, but in 2009 Lemke decided to do something a little more ambitious. He decided to build his very own supercar.

That car is the Falcon F7, a midengine aluminum monocoque sport coupe powered by a 620-horsepower V8. And in true supercar fashion, it promises a 200-mph top speed and a price of $245,000.

So far, Lemke and his team at Falcon Motorsports in rural Holly, Michigan, about an hour outside of Detroit, have built and sold only one production car. But they have an unpainted development car and a chassis mule that runs, too, so the dream is still alive.

Supercar Dreams
"When I was designing the car I had a big poster of the Ford GT hanging in my office for inspiration. It's beautiful," Lemke says. He took his mind's images of all of his favorites and blended them into a single car. "I knew what I wanted and I just drew that. People can see each of those cars in the design of the F7."

While Lemke was in engineering school, he had the youthful, wild dream that someday he would be designing future Corvettes. "I knew some Corvette engineers, and they said it didn't work like that. They told me someone would assign me to make door locks. I didn't have time to do that. I wanted to start right away."

There's an advantage Lemke had: The Detroit area school system teaches its pupils about the successes and methods used by famous denizens such as Henry Ford and GM's Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell to create cars. "I took the Henry Ford approach: If there is something that I can't do or I don't know, I'm going to find somebody who does and get it done."

Local Knowledge
Lemke started the design in 2009: "I laid out this car in foam. It was during tough economic times, and a lot of companies were willing to do work on the body and other parts of development just to keep the lights on. The styling and surfacing was done by the community of experts in the area. I could never have built this car anywhere else," he explains.

"It's easy to find an expert in body surfacing here. There so much expertise in Detroit, I couldn't have built this car if there wasn't the expertise. When people saw where I was going with it, so many guys at OEM companies donated their time, and they told me, 'I just want to be part of it.'"

Lemke's original plan was to build a midengine version of the Corvette, on a hydroformed steel frame, he says. Fate, however, changed Lemke's mind toward more modern sports car design.

Racecar Roots
It started when a local racecar builder offered to participate in the project by providing an aluminum tub and suspension. His name was Fran Hall and his Superlite SLC sports racer dominated the unlimited class in the NASA regional racing series in 2011. Lemke was surprised when Hall offered him an SLC chassis after seeing Lemke's original steel-based design, then called the Mach 7, at the Detroit auto show.

The new car, called the F7, weighs just 2,800 pounds and rides on the same 105-inch wheelbase as Hall's racers. Overall length is 174 inches, 3 inches longer than a Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2, while the Falcon F7 rides 2 inches lower. The F7 is also 3 inches wider than the Gallardo, following the ages-old mantra in the Detroit car-building business of aiming toward "longer, lower and wider" cars.

The engine is the 7.0-liter, small-block V8 from the Corvette Z06. Lemke adds a unique carbon-fiber intake manifold, and the engine sits exposed through a hole on the top of the engine lid behind the driver. Power travels through a Ricardo six-speed transaxle to the 20-inch 335/30 rear tires. Front wheels carry slightly smaller 275/35 20-inch tires, while encompassing 15-inch rotors. Rear rotors are 14 inches in diameter; brakes are four-piston Stop Tech calipers.

Doesn't Feel Home Grown
We've driven hand-built concept cars and prototypes that well-meaning engineers have built in their home garages, and the hand-built Falcon F7 is well beyond any of these results in terms of construction and performance.

The F7 we drove (the first and only production model) feels much more refined than even the original Dodge Viper, the V10 400-hp sport coupe developed on a shoestring by then-Chrysler boss Bob Lutz.

In reality, the original Dodge Viper had little aerodynamic finesse, and would lift its nose at speeds where a Porsche 911 Turbo was not even in its power band. The Falcon F7, despite its aggressive gaping shark mouth design, does not lift. And because of that, 200 mph is attainable, according to Lemke. We didn't drive it that fast on public roads, but we did pass 100 mph and it felt solid.

Launching to 60 mph is said to take just over 3 seconds, and it feels controlled throughout. The tweaked 7.0-liter pushrod V8 power plant generates roughly 620 hp and feels happy to rev, especially since it has less car to move. A Corvette Z06 weighs about 400 pounds more than the 2,800-pound Falcon F7.

With the enormous 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sport tires, limits are very high for a street car. It takes a conscious effort to break the rear tires loose, even using full throttle. On this first production car, there is no assist for the brakes, so the pedal requires considerable effort. Braking assist is planned for future F7s.

Sounds Like a Supercar
The best part about going fast in the Falcon F7 is the sound of its V8. It's much louder than its Corvette counterpart, yet the engine sounds so balanced and harmonious that you feel it wants to rev far beyond our 5,000-rpm cruising speed.

The electrically assisted rack-and-pinion unit is from the Fran Hall racecar, and is likely too light for track use. We found that it has plenty of road feel; it's just that the efforts are very low — you can drive this car easily using only a thumb and forefinger of each hand.

The F7 tracks straight, something we wouldn't always expect of a car bred from racing components, and bumps don't need corrections through the steering wheel. Body roll is minimal as you'd expect from a race suspension, and although wheel travel is short, the F7 is not too harsh on the street. Suspension isolation is much better than the racing version of the chassis, and that tuning is deliberate, says Lemke: "I wanted to be able to have a conversation with my wife while I'm driving."

Like the supple ride, the seats are not racing stiff, either. Still, the passenger seat is squeezed into a narrow channel between the door and an exposed brace for the A-pillar roll hoop, so it doesn't allow much room to move around. Lemke says the exposed roll hoop is meant to add to the race-bred character of the car.

Business Plan
Here's the tricky part of building a supercar in your backyard: Lots of people have tried it and failed. "I want to get a few more cars on the road so people can see that it's real," Lemke reveals. "People say this is just a concept car, but I don't want to rush it to production if it's not ready." To get ready for production, Lemke sold the first car with a lifetime guarantee to a New York enthusiast. As Lemke develops improvements and refinements to the first car, he is adding them to the customer's car without cost.

However, Lemke is not going to sell future Falcon F7s as turnkey automobiles. "We have a manufacturer's license, and we discussed selling completed cars for a long time, but we will sell it as a component car, with the buyer titling the car [as a home-built machine] and participating in the development." Ferrari uses a similar, but much larger, program of leasing race-bound production cars to customers and then capturing on-track data for development.

Lemke expects to build up to 10 production cars in 2013, and then up to 25 in 2014. There is also an "investor" option that allows a potential buyer to give $250,000 to the Falcon company and participate in the car's development. After three years, the customer can take delivery of a new, un-driven car plus an interest incentive, or get the $250,000 back with interest and no car.

"I have people come up to me on a regular basis and say, 'You are living my dream.' The risk factor and the stress of building more cars are overwhelming. Guys tell me, 'I can't believe you did this.' It's not easy. I love the public enthusiasm and that's what keeps me going."

Comments

  • noburgers noburgers Posts:

    The engine bay is beautiful, interior attractive except for those industrial door pulls. Exterior just looks too much like a kit car. I probably cannot mention company names, but there is a "factory" supercar kit available that would get you you the looks and performance for a fraction of this boutique car (but definitely not the overall quality). It has to be a tough financial decision to buy a very limited production car at this price.

  • pommah pommah Posts:

    With the maturing of computer aided design and the ability to make composite parts with very little investment $ (the tool can be carved out of foam instead of milled out of steel) it seems to me the ability to have a "cottage industry" automobile manufacturer is easier than ever. The "factory" company mentioned by noburgers is a proof point. To me though the "super car" market is just saturated. Most people with $250K to spend on a car want to do so to be seen in a Ferarri or Lambo or Aston. Why not say, $100K for a finely crafted, near-bespoke, elegant but understated, Q-ship that you can drive spiritedly without attracting attention? A car for people who know better. I drive an old Saab because the cops let me drive on by while pulling over the BMWs and Camaros et al. The last thing I want is attention.

  • duck87 duck87 Posts:

    Thanks for the article, a nice thing to see on a Thursday morning. The exterior actually looks really good for fit and finish (from the photos), it isn't until you look at the interior/wiring/small details where the "kit car" bit becomes clear. I'm not going to criticize, this car is amazing work especially in North America (where building and selling a car isn't easy). Holly isn't too far from me, I'd be interested in learning more about the company

  • shatner shatner Posts:

    Good job overall, the builder should be proud to drive one. But I can't see many people buying one considering what you can get for that much money.

  • agentorange agentorange Posts:

    Love the looks.

  • bobert2013 bobert2013 Posts:

    The dials, gauges and switches look like they are for a car used solely on the track: function over appearance. The rest of the interior is a mix of racing car and TVR. Perhaps I'm color blind, but is the car brown or is that some kind of dark orange? There needs to be a reason someone would pick the F7 over a McLaren MP4-12C or a 911 Turbo S. Noble has had to contend with the same issues. Perhaps a call to them would help. Hopefully they wouldn't mind sharing their pitfalls and successes.

  • speed12sil speed12sil Posts:

    So it sounds like a heavily tweaked Superlite SLC, with different engine and shell/interior? The SLC are not bought by the rich to show off as it doesn't have any cachet. This is even worse. Why would people with 250k to spend on a toy buy this over the MP4-12C or the 458, or even the far cheaper 911 turbo S?

  • falconf7 falconf7 Posts:

    Thanks to the author for publishing this article on the F7. Although the basics here are correct, much of the information is outdated. There are two versions of the car (F5 and F7) and starting price is $139,000. The comparision details can be found on the website www.falconf7.com . The factory is currently building cars 5 and 6 with more orders pending. Although the SLC inspired chassis made for an excellent race car, a new much more refined chassis for real world driving has been developed utilizing a carbon fiber/kevlar monocoque compsite tub and revised Penske suspension. The new chassis also has incorperated a very stiff structural tunnel that houses much of the fuel cell allowing the seats to move rearward for a roomy cockpit. Also new for 2014 is a completely new dash design that is more sleek and aggressive that is fitting for a GT car rather than an all business racer. The car pictured here in the article was a great start, but since this time there have been major improvements and refinements to the vehicle that take things far beyond production car #1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCS0dl7nbhs&feature=share&list=UUJUUQlRTXX7tROwfxwz5PBA

  • falconf7 falconf7 Posts:

    More information can be found on the F7 facebook page including sneak peeks of the new designs. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Falcon-F7/124666464267347

  • appliance appliance Posts:

    As a labor of love any criticism is besides the point - kudos for what you've done. Enough sincerity and on to the snark: Though I like the flag embellishment , that antenna is really big.

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