By Kevin Wilson
The penny dropped when we spotted Henry Iovino and he asked, “how did you like my car?” We were at the coat check at Detroit’s Cobo Hall, preparing to leave the auto show without a real answer to our primary question about the Corvette-powered, Fisker Karma–based VL Destino: How did that happen?
Partners in the venture, industrialist Gilbert Villarreal and GM retiree Bob Lutz (hence VL), had just explained their plan at a press conference. The scrum of daily reporters still surrounded Lutz, listening to him explain—yet again—that such a car doesn’t violate the principles behind either the Chevy Volt he’d promoted nor the Karma itself because (surprise!) the principle behind selling cars is to build what customers want. Some want granola on yogurt, some want triple-chocolate torte, and guess who pays more for a luxury confection?
That doesn’t answer our question, though. Closer was Villarreal’s assertion that an engineer had suggested the idea over dinner—ersatz Mexican fare—last summer while discussing the bankruptcy of battery-maker A123. That engineer would be Iovino.
“I said, ‘what he ought to do is just drop a ZR1 engine in it,’ and it went from there.”
In the late 1990s, Iovino was a Corvette engineer who partnered with C5 designer John Cafaro under the name Skunk Werkes in a side venture to build what GM wouldn’t: a convertible 2001 Corvette Z06. With a vastly upgraded interior, a folding top built by ASC, and a cut-down windscreen for a speedster-look, the car had appeal but was pricey and the business didn’t fly.
A half-decade later, amid massive layoffs at GM, Iovino found himself on the outside looking in, so he started picking up jobs as a contract engineer. We ran into him in 2008 in Pontiac, Michigan, working in a shop where Fisker developed the Karma. In 2012, he was doing similar work for Villarreal on a proposed electric delivery van (with batteries from A123), making Iovino the answer to, “how did that happen?”
“I knew the Karma really well, and, of course, Corvettes,” Iovino said. When A123 went belly-up, a notion he’d harbored for years that the Karma would be a really cool luxury car if only it wasn’t a hybrid, found natural voice. “I call it the Bad Karma.”
Villarreal ran with the idea, tapping Lutz (already a partner in a luxury watch venture) to open doors with Fisker and GM, and Iovino went to work. “By the time it came together, building these two cars was a 60-day program. The power bulge on the hood is obvious but we also had to redesign the tail because the Karma doesn’t have exhaust back there, it exits up front.” Lutz penned a new signature grille that answers Fisker’s requirement that the new car look different from the Karma.
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Replacing the 2.5-liter four-banger with a V-8 was easy, but the four-cylinder was just a generator so Iovino had to put a driveshaft in the center tunnel where the batteries usually live, and a Corvette transaxle in back where the Fisker has electric motors.
“It’s instantly 1100-pounds lighter; I think we can get more weight out because of structure that’s only there to carry the mass.”
Iovino cut down the springs to get the ride height right for the two show cars. “We’ll have to recalibrate it all, get the spring rates and shocks right for the weight and the different distribution.”
There’s no telling yet how many people will pony up a projected $180,000 to $200,000 for a Destino, but Iovino expects it will be more than the four who bought his Skunk Werkes Z06.
Source: FULL ARTICLE at Car & Driver