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Sbarro’s Challenge—This Go-Fast Four-Wheel-Drive Supercar Is One of a Kind

Posted in News: Features on October 4, 2019
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Contributors: Jerry Sloniger

With the aerodynamics of a doorstop, five liters of Mercedes-Benz power, and an estimated top speed of 186 mph, you might not expect this machine to also come equipped with four-wheel drive. In July of 1985, we learned about Franco Sbarro and a custom-built, super-fast, go-anywhere car that he called "Challenge." Whether he was referring to the arduous design and build process or what his customers would be faced with when deciding what to do with a four-wheel-drive supercar, is still up for discussion.

Challenge was the first of a 10-car production run, and we believe it to be the only one in the lineup with four-wheel drive. We were told that the first two Challenges were sold before Sbarro could lay the first strip of fiberglass on the body. The wedge-shaped design, among other things, contributed to Challenge's remarkable drag coefficient. At the time, a coefficient of 0.22 translated into bragging rights. For comparison, modern-day Wranglers and Hummer H2s have coefficients of 0.45 and 0.57, respectively. Another notable aerodynamic quality is the lack of rearview mirrors, which were replaced by interior video screens, relaying images to the cockpit from a camera on the vehicle's tail.

Sbarro built a monocoque fiberglass body to accommodate the car's rear-mounted engine and cooling system, and the shell was isolated from the frame via a 0.6-inch rubber gasket. The frame was custom-built, and MacPherson struts at each corner handled suspension duties. Topped by dual turbos, the V-8 sent 380 horses through the four-speed M-B automatic transmission and the BorgWarner center differential before hitting a Mercedes limited-slip differential at each end of the car. The rear wheels were Juhan-designed, dual-tire wheels, each holding on to a single experimental Goodyear low-profile tire. Sbarro designed his own front wheels and dressed them in more Goodyear rubber.

In comparison to the rest of the car, the lift-up wing doors seem a bit tame. In addition to the rear-facing video feed, the cockpit boasted a TV screen to the driver's left as well as a laser disc sound system, air-adjustable seat cushions, a burlwood dash, and an oversized sliding glass roof.

From our dealings with Sbarro's Challenge, we cannot confirm whether it proved its off-road prowess, though imagining all four tires slinging mud through a loose and muddy turn does bring a certain pleasure to our hearts. We do know that today the car lives in the Louwman Museum among more than 200 classic automobiles, located in The Hague, a city on the western coast of the Netherlands. Let us know if you have ever seen this rig, or any of its nine brethren, and expedite that email (and high-resolution image) if you saw it in the dirt! You can reach us at editor@fourwheeler.com with your tales of Sbarro's Challenge.

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