Interview of Raphaël van der Straten



Raphaël, where did this idea come from to set-up the VDS GT 001 project and for you to become a car manufacturer?


First and foremost it’s a return to the roots!
During three decades, my grandfather, Count Rodolphe van der Straten Ponthoz, experienced an incredible adventure by brilliantly promoting the Belgian national colours in the four corners of the world.
He hired racing cars and finally opted to build one bearing his own name: the VDS 001, which performed brilliantly in the Can-Am races at the beginning of the ‘80s. This saga, with those red-blue and white striped muscle cars always fascinated me.
Somewhere in a corner of my mind I always told myself that one day I would follow that same path, a question of perpetuating a certain family tradition.

That day has now come …


Between gently pondering over your dream to build your own car and officially presenting same, a fair amount of water has flowed under the bridge. How did the project materialise ?


The initial idea was to produce a Vertigo with a different “touch” (a.6). When talking to Tony Gillet, I asked him whether it was possible for someone like myself to build my own body. This is when I started drawing cars again, something I hadn’t done for years. And in all honesty I don’t rate my sketches very highly !
Tony then introduced me to Charles van den Bosch, to whom I gave a few ideas and requirements. Very quickly he came up with a few projects that were quite unconventional and which up to a point I liked. Then one day, in a series of sketches, the one that was to become MY car appeared. That was it, it couldn’t be anything else. Charles had managed to reproduce on paper something I had in my head. And then came Patrick Bataille, who had studied the project’s feasibility and produced a 1/1 scale model.

Then followed a lengthy period of styling tests, proposals, some small dilemmas regarding the car’s details (lights, grill, exit for the exhaust, etc.). Patrick had succeeded in making the project three dimensional. As for Tony Gillet he was the conductor, it was he who introduced me to all the people that have allowed me to make my dream come true today.


What were the project’s main guidelines ?


I was looking for a car with a neo-retro styling, which had to be aggressive, racy, and somehow inspired by my passion for the American GT cars. A question of wanting to emphasise the continuity of the VDS adventure.
The radiator grill had to be of the inverted type, similar to the 1970 Mustang. My father, Hervé van der Straten, had beeSuch a car was even entered, by my grandfather, in the 24 Hours of Spa in 1971 for Serge Trosch and Martin Birrane. Once again we come across this notion of continuity.
Somehow this VDS GT 001 is a bit like daddy’s car …
I wanted it to be different, seeing I never really enjoyed driving the same car as everyone else. Which was at times reflected by the choice of rather astonishing cars in competition, with notably the BMW M5, then the different Ford Mustang FR500 GT3 and GT4. This VDS GT 001 resembles me.
In a certain way it is a rather personal project, perhaps even egocentric ….which nonetheless I hope to share with as many people as possible! The car could well come straight out of a Michel Vaillant strip cartoon, which would please me no end. I want to link this car to two “objects” :
In the first place the Empire State Building for what it symbolises. When one has seen the Empire State Building for real, it is impressive and you cannot forget it. It’s one of the most imposing New York monuments. I would like it to be the same for the VDS.

The second object is Andy Warhol’s Marylin Diptych. Each VDS will be a work of art. A common base, but each car will be unique …


Technically, the choice fell on an existing structure, as in the deep entrails of this VDS GT 001, one comes across that of the Gillet Vertigo so dear to Tony Gillet…


As you can imagine, building a car costs an enormous amount of money. So why try to be more catholic than the Pope, when an excellent base existed! However, this VDS GT 001 is not just simply a bodywork dropped onto the chassis and mechanics of a Gillet Vertigo.
We started out on that basis, with as initial mission to adapt it to my project. The carbon chassis was in fact lengthened by some fifteen centimetres.

I would dearly have wanted to fit an American engine, a big V8 under the bonnet, but this wasn’t possible. We therefore decided to go for the 4,2 litres 8 cylinder engine of Maserati origin, which is also to be found under the bonnet of the Vertigo .5 Spirit. It produces a lively 480 bhp, for an overall weight of a little bit more than 1000 kilos. Pure pleasure guaranteed …


What are the plans regarding the commercialisation of this VDS GT 001 in its road-going version ?


The intention is to build a limited series of 22 models, with the essential particularity that they are all personalised! Basically, being able to acquire the VDS with everything in it that one really wants to own. A unique Supercar, a work of art created as one single, unique model so to speak.
The future will tell whether I got it right … The most important part now will be to present the car here and there, in order to awaken the taste buds and the curiosity of all aficionados of exclusive machinery.
I must add that the car will be built upon request, and based upon the client’s specific requirements.


And what about the competition side ?


The ultimate project would be to enter the VDS GT 001-R in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This will necessarily take a bit of time. Its racing career will take off at the 24 Hours of Dubai, in January 2013, going out from the principle where the car is directly able to be homologated in the SP2 Class of the 24 Hours Series organised by Creventic.

The team will be made known at a later date, based on proposals from the partners. Following that everything will be implemented to allow us to enter the car in the 24 Hours of Spa. This VDS GT 001-R is in the same vein as the Ascari KZ1. I therefore hope that she will be able to integrate a category specifically reserved for the Supercars that do not originate from the mass series. Discussions are in progress …


The story’s sequel; after this presentation, what will be the next step ?


First and foremost we will be continuing the development of the VDS GT 001-R, which will be competing in the 24 Hours of Dubai. José Close will be offering his experience to the team around me, with in the first instance a series of tests scheduled at Mettet and Chambley.

At the same time the road-going version will be going from the 1:1 scale model state to one of a fully fledged car, and its commercialisation can start.


It’s a rather crazy adventure, isn’t it ?


On reflexion, it probably wasn’t reasonable … but that’s why it was worth taking on this adventure.
This 4th October is an initial step, and as such an important and highly symbolic one since the launch of the project, in fact with my first sketches made some thirty months ago. This motivates me even more for the future …