Clocked in Texas at 210mph on America's Cannonball Run, the Koenigsegg CC8S is built of the best of all worlds

I cannot imagine an Enzo Ferrari or Ferruccio Lamborghini delaying a meeting because they had to drop the kids off at school, but so it is with the latest man to lend his name to a supercar, a 31-year-old Swede called Christian von Koenigsegg.

As it turns out, when I finally arrive at the Koenigsegg factory at a former air force base in southern Sweden (a hastily arranged alternative to their 18th-century farmhouse factory, burnt down in February), Mr Koenigsegg has cancelled due to a stomach upset. It is, I am assured by his quiet, diligent staff, the first time they have known him miss work. Already the day is an anticlimax, like visiting a Christmas grotto to find Santa gone and only his little helpers left.

It does not help either that, despite my pleas, I will be allowed only to drive the one running car they have in the air base. I will be lucky to get out of third gear. Oh, and it is raining; in mid-August.

But I am still excited. The Koenigsegg CC8S has been causing a stir. First came an infamous entry into the resurrected trans-American road race, the Cannon Ball Run, with a 22-year-old Englishman at the wheel. The Los Angeles Times says the car was clocked in Texas at 210mph, four times the speed limit.

Next came an appearance on Top Gear where, despite breaking down at the end of the day, the car went faster than its rival, the Italian-built Pagani Zonda, and even brought a smile to the face of that notorious curmudgeon, Jeremy Clarkson. They took 26 orders, at £320,000 each as a result, almost double annual production.

But what ought really to set the knees knocking in supercar strongholds from Modena to Stuttgart is Koenigsegg's claim to be the world's fastest production car. So far, the CC has "only" officially achieved 375kmh, but they plan to try and squeeze out the last 25km/h at a test track in southern Italy this year to break the magical 400km/h barrier.

And, bearing in mind the CC is lighter, more powerful and has superior aerodynamics to the present titleholder, the McLaren F1, I would not bet against them.

The CC is powered by a 4.8- litre, 655bhp, V8 engine. The block is Ford, but built in Italy. This car is self-build taken to the extreme. A swift tour around the factory does little to dissuade me from this view. What little activity there is looks more like Meccano work (adding doors made in China, wheels from England, and so on), than the forging in the smithy of the soul that you experience when you visit Ferrari. As the 25 workers quietly, Swedishly, tinker with leather and carbon fibre, there is an almost eerie sense of something, or someone missing from this vast, laboratory-clean aircraft hangar.

I asked one executive what his countrymen made of this utterly un-Swedish exercise in conspicuous consumption "The people here were very sceptical at first, as I would have been, but things are changing." When I called Mr Koenigsegg the next day he told me: "There are many things that are Swedish about the car, such as its minimalist, functional design. Nothing is just for looks."

He says he was inspired by a Norwegian animation he saw when he was three. "It was about a bicycle repairman who built his own racing car. Strong impressions when you are a child stick with you.'

Having made his fortune in frozen food, in 1995 Mr Koenigsegg set about realising his dream of building a supercar when he was 23. "I was more of an inventor than an engineer but I started out with like-minded friends who shared the same dream," he says.

He developed the car's "out-and-up" hingeing doors from a Volvo concept, despite being told they were impossible to make ("They still sort of can't be done," he says, mysteriously). His other innovations, like the CC's removable roof and unique suspension, have been "adopted" by Porsche and Pagani respectively. The chief engineer, Christer Flodman, says: "He has a very technical side and he also has this attitude that says nothing is impossible. He is always pushing you forward."

Mr Flodman is unconcerned about supposed rivals, such as the forthcoming Bugatti ("I wouldn't say that was a threat") and dismissive of Lamborghini. "The Lamborghini is a steel-framed brick, not a rival. It doesn't have as good driveability as our car. Koenigsegg customers are not buying a name, they are interested in the car. They probably have four Lamborghinis already."

Has he driven today's Lamborghini? "Actually not." As for the Swedes' car credentials, Mr Flodman is equally confident. 'In Sweden, we nurture our cars, we keep them garaged and use them on Sunday afternoons. Italians have knowledge about cars, about the names and horsepower, but not the mechanical knowledge. There isn't the ground -roots motor sport we have here."

Mr Koenigsegg shares this straightforward view of what it takes to build a supercar. 'Technically and performance-wise, the car is a match for Ferrari, but our main rival is Pagani; we are similar sizes, our cars are a similar price and have similar performance, apart from top speed."

But Mr Koenigsegg backtracks rapidly on claims that the car will do 400km/h, blaming a "trigger-happy journalist" for starting the rumour. "But it's not completely impossible that it might go that fast," he adds quickly.

THE TELLTALE TEST

You enter the CC bottom-first over a wide, carbonfibre sill, and wiggle down into leather-trimmed seats, padded with Tempur, a substance designed by Nasa to absorb g forces on astronauts' derrieres. Ahead is a vast savannah of suede and leather sweeping out to a windscreen shaped like a helmet visor.

Pressing a few buttons ignites the engine into rough, lumpy life. It sounds like a truck with a holed silencer, menacing, ominously powerful, but hardly orchestral.

As I zoom up and down for the photographer it is apparent the CC suffers from all the familiar old supercar problems: heavy controls, poor visibility, harsh ride and awkward access. It is petrifyingly quick, with almost shocking thrust, but it is too wide, low and long for comfortable road use.

Inside there is little of the Zonda's extrovert design or the Ferrari Enzo's race bred intent. Outside, it looks part bird of prey, part wild salmon.

Undoubtedly gorgeous, but understated and not a little derivative. The rival Dutch-built, Audi-powered Spyker, though dismissed by Mr Koenigsegg as a poser's car and not as quick, is a more innovative, eye-catching design, for much less money.

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