For the latest classic car news, features, buyer’s guides and classifieds, sign up to the C&SC newsletter here
I’ve never been one for projecting human emotions on to inanimate objects, but if I didn’t know better I would swear that this car is angry with me.
It has spent the past two decades safely tucked up in a garage, for the most part hidden away from prying eyes – bar the occasional outing when its owner is back in the country.
And now it’s being dragged out in the rain and mud, starting with a spiteful growl and reluctantly crawling into the miserable late-winter gloom.
There’s usually no hesitation in grabbing the keys to something new, but this time I’m happy to let owner Brian Mcnally take the wheel to begin with.
Looking back as he follows us out on to the road, I can’t help but breathe in as the long nose swings out, barely missing the offside banking as the left-hand-drive missile is eased round towards us.
In an instant the menacing grille fills the camera car’s rear-view mirror and I feel six years old again, willing my old man to slow down and let the exotic by, hoping that its driver has seen my eager glances behind and will floor it past us and off into the sunset.
Ironically, six-year-old me wouldn’t have had a clue what was drawing up behind this time.
An F40, an XJ220 or even a 959 would have been instantly recognisable to an avid consumer of all things supercar, but you would probably have to flick through your ageing deck of Top Trumps to recognise that low, sleek front end bristling with lights and scoops as a Robert Jankel Design Tempest.
And to recall the reason why said well-thumbed card was so precious and coveted above almost all others: a claimed 0-60mph time of just 3.3 secs and a 200mph-plus top speed that beat all comers – on paper, at least.
Despite its schoolyard fame and subsequent immortalisation in the memories of many, the Jankel Tempest is a rare bird indeed.
Only around 35 examples were ever built, and almost all were sold abroad to impossibly wealthy clients.
Finding one in the UK – and there is only one – brings on the excitement reserved for the most scarce and exciting of exotica.
While a knowledgeable passer-by may guess that the Tempest has its roots in the Chevrolet Corvette C4 –and as we pull up during a brief break in the weather, one in fact does – you would be waiting a long time to meet someone who knew that the car was a resoundingly British creation.
The Tempest was conceived, sketched out and built on a small complex of farm buildings in Weybridge, Surrey, just an hour or so from the location of our photoshoot.
Following the failure of Panther Westwinds, founder Robert Jankel poured his energy into creating high-end bespoke vehicles for the super-rich, turning out everything from yachts to hunting wagons and fostering close relationships with the likes of Bentley and Rolls-Royce that proved the envy of many.
Jankel had Crewe’s ear, and his was the only firm outside the company to be supplied with engines.
Those units found their way into a number of weird and wonderful Jankel creations over the years, from the four-wheel-drive Bentley Val d’Isere to the official Silver Spur Limousine, of which the firm produced around 100 during its six-year run.
But it was the Gold Label – a Bentley Turbo-powered two-seat tourer – that would prove to be the inspiration for one of Jankel’s most intriguing machines: the Tempest.
The Gold Label managed to tick a number of boxes for Jankel’s customers, being much more manageable in town than the menagerie of hypercars that most owned.
It was the sort of car that was as comfortable cruising the streets of Knightsbridge or sitting outside Harrods as it was foot-flat on the open road.
The only problem was its price: taking more than 7000 man-hours to piece together, each souped-up Bentley cost a princely £450,000 – enough, at the time, to give even the most monied sheikh or oil baron pause for thought.
The Tempest, then, would be the answer to the Gold Label problem: a car of incredible power and performance, yet with the practicality to be driven through the city and at a price that allowed it to be shifted in reasonable numbers.
Like most of Jankel’s designs, the Tempest would be based on an existing model.
He saw in the L98 Corvette a chassis and powertrain that was capable of delivering the performance demanded while still maintaining comfortable road manners.
The starting point for each Tempest would be a brand-new C4, which entered the Weybridge workshops straight off the showroom floor before being stripped to its constituent components and assessed.
Or, as Jankel colourfully put it: “We buy the whole car and immediately chuck half of it away.”
The bodywork was the first element to hit the skip, replaced by a sleek, muscular silhouette comprising glassfibre and Kevlar panels, with a long, pert nose, gently flared arches and a neat, almost Germanic rear.
No fewer than six vents pierce the sides, along with two on the bonnet, each serving to draw cold air through the brakes or deliver it to the engine bay and feed the supercharger.
The hood folds away neatly beneath the rear deck, but you have to put it there yourself – not something you can imagine playboys wanting to wrestle with outside Limelight or the Wag Club.
Jankel was a past master in bespoke offerings, so it was possible to specify your Tempest with the Corvette’s original LT1 engine in either factory 300bhp or 370bhp supercharged trim.
But those with the deepest pockets could opt for a top-of-the-range version such as Mcnally’s car, with the ’Vette’s V8 also thrown out, replaced with an animalistic creation of 535bhp.
Jankel looked to the USA for the Tempest’s premier powerplant, turning to the company that had originally built Lance Reventlow’s Scarab engines: TRACO.
With the founding ‘Whizz Kids’ Jim Travers and Frank Coon having recently retired, by the 1990s the Los Angeles firm was cementing a reputation for itself as a builder of historic race engines powering, among others, Penske’s 1968 Trans-Am Camaro and Bob Lee’s McLaren M20.
Jankel simply sketched his desired power and torque curves on a piece of paper, and by its second attempt TRACO had matched them.
The result was a handbuilt 6358cc monster based on GM’s four-bolt competition bow-tie block mated to a hefty Vortex supercharger.
It produced a full 165bhp more than the factory LT5 and a physics-defying 608lbft – enough to propel the Tempest from rest to 60mph in less than four seconds and on to a top speed in excess of 200mph.
It also sported water injection from Aquamist, an intriguing feature that sprays water into the cylinders to prevent preignition.
It was a trick Jankel picked up as an aircraft engineer while stripping Spitfire engines, and it had the added benefit of protecting the highly tuned Chevy engine from the low-quality fuels found in places such as the Middle East.
All of that power is sent to the enormous 9.5in-wide rear wheels via the same six-speed ZF manual gearbox that found a home in the Lotus Carlton, sharing the tall final-drive ratio as fitted to Luton’s potent saloon.
The suspension is in many ways an evolution of old technology, with simple yet effective front and rear transverse monoleaf springs allied to trick adjustable gas dampers, which can be controlled from a central dial within the cabin.
There are three settings – Touring, Sport and Performance – which vary the ride from soft and doughy to positively rigid.
Braking comes via all-round ventilated discs with Bosch electronic three-channel ABS, and there’s even traction control – if you specified it.
For a firm that once created a Bentley fitted out with fabric depicting raunchy Eastern dancing girls and a Rolls-Royce entirely plated in gold, an interior options list that included imitation ostrich hide seems positively restrained.
Other elements proved a bolder choice, such as the Max Power-style under-car neon lights and a loudhailer/siren – the latter possibly an off-the-shelf item from Jankel’s armoured-car back catalogue that proved too tempting to resist.
Imagining a real-world scenario where anyone would use either feature leaves you scratching your head, but Mcnally assures us that the megaphone works beautifully for ordering drinks as you arrive at the pub.
Other features, such as the eyeball-searing 800W headlights, make a bit more sense.
Spending much of his time in Asia, Mcnally has used the Tempest for little more than high days and holidays, and over the past 20 years fewer than 10,000 miles have been covered on the roads of Kent.
The winding, narrow, tree-lined lanes surrounding Sevenoaks are far from the ideal place to test a 200mph supercar, especially in the middle of an epic British downpour – but in fairness, when Jankel first dreamt up the mind-boggling Tempest little England was probably far from his thoughts.
Like the majority of his creations, the sports car was always destined for warmer climes, and particularly the straight desert roads extending like tendrils from thriving, oil-rich cities in the Middle East such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
That one made it back to England – or never left – is quite remarkable, but the history file of Mcnally’s car provides some clue, with Jankel himself reputedly a former owner.
According to Mcnally, his is the very same car that drove the model into the record books when a 0-60mph dash of 3.89 secs was set at MIRA, as evidenced by a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records certificate sitting in the glovebox.
That’s some way shy of the claimed 3.3 secs from period brochures, but still quick enough to outpace almost everything on the roads of early ’90s Britain, from Ferrari F40s to Lamborghini Diablos and Porsche 959s.
A feat of David and Goliath proportions, then, and what made it possible was that fabulous engine. The larger-than-life Kevlar bodywork was always going to divide opinion, but adoration of the Tempest’s TRACO-tweaked V8 is unanimous from all who experience it.
It’s clear to see why as soon as the pistons are in motion. Put simply, it’s a beast: a swirl-polished, forged, heavy-duty masterpiece of engineering.
Even at idle it sounds aggressive – much more so than a period Corvette – with the noise of its crisp, threatening idle amplified by boxy twin pipes and roaring cooling fans hard at work.
A recent outing to Brands Hatch necessitated the fitting of a new clutch, and even though it’s still being bedded in the operation is lighter than you might expect.
As is the steering, which even at manoeuvring speeds requires none of the hacking and heaving at the wheel of many contemporary supercars.
It really is a doddle, so user-friendly that even your grandmother could drive it to the shops – provided she could fold herself into the figure-hugging sports seats.
Better tell her to go easy on the gas, though, because when you put your foot down the Tempest’s character changes in a flash.
Such a vast torque figure makes for a relaxing drive in low gears, but bury the throttle and the turn of pace can be frightening, especially in the wet.
Period road testers came close to embarrassing themselves even in third gear, and with roads slick with rain, mud and rotting leaves, the 315-section rear tyres flirt with the limits of adhesion with the taps not even a quarter open.
You need nothing short of a runway or derestricted autobahn to make full use of the performance, but the beauty of Jankel’s everyday supercar is that you don’t need to hit maximum speed to achieve maximum enjoyment.
The TRACO engine is electrifying throughout the range, whether laying down elevens at Santa Pod or popping to the shops on a lazy summer afternoon.
While the ability to rival now million-pound machines is a nice talking point, at its core the Tempest is simply a hugely accomplished roadster that has been polished and perfected, from its world-beating performance to its luxurious interior appointments.
The only catch was price: at just over £120,000, the Tempest was cheap for a supercar but eye-wateringly expensive for a Corvette, especially when the ‘King of the Hill’ LT5-engined ZR-1 could be bought for around £38,500.
Those who did take the gamble proved the lucky few, and the dwindling number who still have them today are luckier still.
Images: John Bradshaw
Robert Jankel Tempest
- Sold/number built 1991-’93/c35
- Construction galvanised steel chassis with glassfibre and Kevlar body
- Engine all-alloy, sohc 6358/6665cc V8 with tuned-port electronic fuel injection and blueprinted supercharger with water injection and liquid-cooled charge intercooler
- Max power 535bhp @ 5800rpm
- Max torque 608lb ft @ 3800rpm
- Transmission six-speed ZF manual or four-speed GM automatic, RWD
- Suspension independent, at front by double wisbones rear multi-link; transverse monoleaf spring, anti-roll bar, adjustable dampers f/r
- Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
- Brakes vented discs, with servo and anti-lock
- Length 14ft 8½in (4483mm)
- Width 5ft 11in (1803mm)
- Height 3ft 10¾in (1186mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft ¼in (2443mm)
- Weight 3269lb (1482kg)
- 0-60mph 3.3 secs (claimed)
- Top speed 200mph+
- Mpg 10
- Price new £121,171
- Price now £100,000 (est)*
*Price correct at date of original publication