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The most extreme cars you’ve never heard of: Part Two

Zenvo ST1 front viewFerrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, and Rolls-Royce make great cars, but what if you’re tired of these usual suspects of automotive excellence?

In the first part of this series, we took a look at the most awesome, yet obscure, cars from the United States and Canada. In Part Two, we’ll focus on the boutique carmakers of Europe.

Zenvo ST1Zenvo Automotive: Denmark has virtually no car history, but that just meant the designers of the Zenvo ST1 had a blank slate to work from, with no precedent to impede their creativity.

While most designers emphasize aerodynamics in order to achieve the highest top speed, Zenvo’s Jesper Jensen wanted to focus on how the ST1 would actually look. It may not have the slipperiest shape, but this Danish supercar really looks super.

Not that the ST1 isn’t fast. It will do 0 to 62 mph (0-100 kph) in under three seconds, and reach a top speed of 233 mph. That is the result of pairing a carbon fiber body (draped over a steel tube frame chassis) with a very powerful engine.

Like the car’s exterior, the ST1’s engine was a clean-sheet design. The 7.0-liter V8 is loosely based on a Chevy small block, but Zenvo constructs the entire powerplant in house. It uses both a supercharger and a turbocharger to produce 1,100 hp and 1,053 lb-ft of torque.

What about the name? Many car companies use their founders’ last names, or the moniker of a distinguished predecessor. Not Zenvo: the name just sounded cool, no matter the language. This Danish company clearly isn’t stifled by tradition, and the results speak for themselves.

Noble M600Noble Automotive: Lee Noble set up shop in the north of England in 1999 to build a world-beating car. That car, the M12, looked like it was built from a kit and had a Ford Duratec V6 engine from a Contour, but it still accomplished its mission.

The M12 and subsequent variants were fast and sure-footed, but Noble decided to move upmarket. The M15 was meant to compete against “entry level” supercars like the Porsche 911 Turbo, but not having a flashy badge made that difficult. Instead of giving up, Noble redoubled its efforts.

The new M600 still isn’t much to look at, but it is incredibly fast. It can accelerate to 62 mph in 3.0 seconds, and reach a top speed of 225 mph. That speed is achieved thanks to a 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 which, interestingly, is based on the mill Volvo uses in the XC90 and S80. However, unlike any Volvo, the Noble has 650 hp and 604 lb-ft of torque.

The M600 is also much harder to drive than a Volvo. Unlike a Ferrari, its onboard computers will not erase a driver’s lack of skill. However, the engine can be muzzled with a 450 hp “Road” mode for getting its pilot to the track without crashing.

Ariel Atom 500Ariel Motor Company: One look at the Ariel Atom explains why it could never be built by a mainstream manufacturer. Most carmakers emphasize lightness, but none of them are as fanatical about it as Britain’s Ariel Motor Company.

The Atom is more like a four-wheeled motorcycle than a car. The driver sits in a skeleton chassis and can watch the steering and suspension work from behind the wheel. They never have to guess how far away they are from the curb.

Consequently, the Atom only weighs 1,350 pounds; a Scion iQ weighs 2,127 pounds. With a 2.4-liter Honda inline-four, the Atom can accelerate to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds, and reach a top speed of 155 mph.

The madness doesn’t stop there, though. The Atom 500 is powered by a 3.0-liter V8 (actually two Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle engines joined at the crank) with 500 hp. This atomic Atom can do 0 to 60 mph in “under 2.3 seconds,” according to Ariel.

Caparo T1 front overhead viewCaparo Vehicle Technologies: If the Atom barely qualifies as a car, the equally absurd, and equally British Caparo T1 is a meta car. It’s supposed to be a roadgoing Formula 1 racer, and it takes everything to a new level.

Like a Formula 1 car, the Caparo has a pointy nose, tall rear wing, and a ferocious, mid-mounted engine that breathes through a snorkel above the driver’s head. Unlike any F1 car, though, it also has fenders and lights, so it is street legal in the U.K.

Power comes from a 3.5-liter V8, with 610 hp and 310 lb-ft. The small displacement means the T1 is not a torque monster, but the engine’s inclination to rev to 10,000 rpm is more in the spirit of a racing powerplant.

Since it isn’t encumbered by much bodywork, the Caparo only weighs about 1,035 pounds. That gives it double the power-to-weight ratio of a Bugatti Veyron. It also allows this winged wonder to hit 62 mph in 2.5 seconds, and reach a top speed of 205 mph.

Racecars aren’t all about straight line speed, though.The Caparo mimics an F1 car’s shape because that maximizes downforce, which keeps the car planted through corners. Caparo says that, at 150 mph, the T1 generates enough downforce to stick to the roof of a tunnel while driving upside down.

Spyker C8 Aileron profile view door openSpyker Cars: This Dutch company made headlines trying to resuscitate Saab in an unsuccessful bid to go mainstream. Now Spyker, named after a manufacturer of cars and airplanes that went bust in 1926, is back to doing what it does best: building zany sports cars.

Since 1999, Spyker has refined its C8, a baroque supercar with the body of a Steampunk airship and the heart of an Audi R8.

Actually, that V8 doesn’t have the Audi supercar’s direct injection, but its displaces the same 4.2 liters. It produces 400 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque.

The newest version is called the C8 Aileron and is available in hardtop or Spyder body styles. The main difference between the Aileron and the original C8 Laviolette is its longer wheelbase, which was needed to accommodate a six-speed automatic transmission.

The Spyker is more about style than performance. Yes, it’s fast, but its distinguishing feature is the way it does things. The exterior only hints at a decidedly baroque interior: everything is either chromed or engine-turned, and shifting is facilitated by exposed linkage that’s been beautifully polished.