For Christian von Koenigsegg, design comes from the heart
We should tell you that the penniless inventor is a fictional protagonist from the 1975 stop-motion animation classic, Pinchcliffe Grand Prix. You already know that the creator of the world’s fastest car is Swedish automotive legend Christian von Koenigsegg.
When Christian was 5 years old, his father, Jesko, took him to see the quirky, colorful tale of a grizzled bicycle repairman whose plans for building an outrageous race car are brought to life by a pair of plucky birds and a helpful investor. The little movie ignited young Christian’s imagination, setting him on a course that would bring him to world acclaim.
Years later, the elder von Koenigsegg would help his son launch Koenigsegg AB, where the world’s most exciting, powerful, and beautiful sports cars have been conceived. In a poignant tribute at this year’s Geneva Auto Show, the company debuted a supercar fittingly named the Jesko.
“The car and the man, Jesko, they're both very determined individuals. They aim at the goal of what they are trying to achieve and then they go for it,” Christian explained. “My father was a gentleman, and a jockey as well.
“He won his first ever race when he was 16 years old, and I think this car is out for scalps in a way, lap times or top speed, and we basically aim to acquire them fairly early on in the life cycle of the car. From that perspective there are some similarities.
“When it comes to how my father shaped me as an innovator and entrepreneur, he probably is more of an inspiration on the entrepreneurial side because he was always an entrepreneur himself … but for me it was very natural. I grew up in an atmosphere of entrepreneurs. Both my mother and father were entrepreneurs, so to me that was very natural to do my own thing, make my own money, and start my very own company at a very early age of 19.”
Von Koenigsegg confessed that he’s not sure which parent inspired his desire to innovate.
“Maybe on my mother's side perhaps? But it's a general tendency to try to come up with solutions to make more of whatever I do, to have a competitive edge rather than copying what's out there.”
Like the lead character in Pinchcliffe, von Koenigsegg began as an avid tinkerer, tuning and building engines, and coming up with improbable inventions. In von Koenigsegg’s case, some of his inventions were flashes of brilliance that were simply too far ahead of the times. His father-in-law, a flooring manufacturer in Belgium, rejected Christian’s idea for snap together flooring that is a global standard today, insisting that if it had been a viable idea, it would have already hit the market.
“All of the inventions I’ve come up with have come from a sort of frustration with imperfection, and with what I saw in the marketplace around me. Or from the angle of, ‘How can I create something better to compete and become successful?’ One or the other,” he said.
Our conversation veered into a glimpse of his creative process. “When you really start thinking about it, you start analyzing: Why do things look this way today? Why don’t they look that way? You start bouncing ideas off each other and you ponder on it. One thing leads to another, and I start building an idea and check that idea in my head. Does it make sense? Can it be overthrown? Does it have any weak spots? I try to patch up the weak spots and keep on building.
“It's very much a step-by-step thought process where one thing leads to another, but it always starts out with either trying to solve a frustration or figuring out how to be competitive against what is out there. I've been dreaming about cars since I was 6 or 7 years old, so a lot of these thoughts were around cars.”
His urge to compete melds with a natural need for emotional expression. As legend has it, he designed the interior of the Agera to feel like the C1992 Mazda Miata he and his wife Halldora loved.
“Most of the creation here at Koenigsegg comes from emotional input; it’s a very emotional product in the end. The reasons to acquire a Koenigsegg come more from an emotional perspective than a practical one of course, so emotion comes very much into play,” he noted.
“It's a straightforwardness; no fuss, no frills, and an attitude of having what you need and making it efficient, lightweight, and ergonomic. Of course, in the end our materials are much more extreme and exclusive — lighter, stronger, and more high-end. The emotional approach is tailored to the driver. You only have what you need in the car and no extra unnecessary features that clutter up, add weight, or take up space.”
Beyond technical innovation, speed, and roadworthiness, the concept of beauty also plays a large role in his creative process. “I appreciate that you took notice of that because in the car industry right now I think beauty is a little bit forgotten,” he mused.
“It's more important to be different if different means beautiful or not or efficient or not; being different seems to be almost more important. But I have a hard time creating anything, especially a car, if I'm not allowed to do it beautifully.
“It's almost like some car companies or car designers stay away from beauty because it's been done in the ’50s or ’60s or ’70s. I like to blend modern aerodynamics, modern ergonomic features, safety features and so on with beauty and maintaining beauty, because why shouldn’t a desirable, emotional car also be beautiful?
“People say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I don't agree. Beauty is beauty in itself. It's obvious to most people; most people agree if something is beautiful or not. I choose to infuse beauty because why not? I'm sure a lot of other car companies could choose as well, but they choose not to. Beauty is great to have as part of life and living and I want it to be part of our cars.”
Naturally, von Koenigsegg surrounds himself with the most creative minds in engineering and design to help bring his visions to life, and the pride in his voice and the kinship he feels with them as is evident in every word he speaks of them.
“First of all, the team we have for developing, designing and engineering our cars is really, really an amazing team. They come to us from all over the world. We’re probably less than 50 percent Swedish.
“Over the year almost on a daily basis we get CVs from very skilled, prominent, and passionate individuals whose dream is to be part of creating the ultimate car,” he explained.
“Getting to meet these people and bringing them on board has given us the opportunity to really create a small, agile dream team of extremely passionate individuals. Without that we could not do what we do here. The product wouldn't be the same. They saw the dream I had, the dream I started with, and they have a similar dream themselves. Now they’re here and we are creating this incredible dream together.”
While von Koenigsegg continues to craft his dreams of the perfect car, evolving with each step forward, a future where autonomous vehicles are the norm looms large, if in the far distance. Will generations to come understand the thrill of the hypercar, or the romance of driving a machine crafted for performance, luxury, and the ultimate connection to the road beneath it?
“I think it's more of a question if we are allowed to drive than if we want to drive,” he clarified. “If we're not allowed to drive on regular roads, which I guess eventually will happen, does it take 15, 20, or a hundred years? I don't know, but eventually it will happen.
“But then you have these wonderful racetracks where you can drive and experience the sense of driving. I think it will be the same scenario that happened to horses: They used to be our ‘cars’ in the past and we had fun with them, we race them, we take care of them, breed them. … I don't think you're actually allowed to have a horse on a regular road in most places in the world, and maybe that will be the case with the hypercar as well.
“You can take them to a racetrack as you would take a horse to a racetrack. Given that, and given the excitement behind the steering wheel of these cars, I do believe there's a long life ahead but in a different shape or form perhaps than today.”
Of the many unsolved problems that exist, breaking the surly bonds of Earth just might be on von Koenigsegg’s bucket list. After all, when the first inkling of inspiration comes from a delightful cartoon, anything is possible.
“It would be very exciting to figure out how to be able to overcome gravitation but in a more efficient way than just popping air with a propeller or jet engine or something,” he posited. “Or, on a fundamental physical level where you can kind of mirror whatever force it is to balance it out, and counteract it to get more of a hovering sensation in a more serene way than popping air. One way or another that might be possible, and that would be very exciting to see.”
Written by: Anne-Frances Hutchinson, BOSS Associate Editor
Koenigsegg manufactures exclusive super-sports cars for a select group of enthusiast customers. Space age materials and uncompromising quality both in finish and function make these cars among the world's best. They reach higher top speeds and are more powerful than any other series-produced car today.
The Koenigsegg headquarters lie in southern Sweden, near the city of Ängelholm. Formerly this cluster of buildings was occupied by the Swedish Air Force, and Koenigsegg’s new assembly hall used to be a hangar for JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets. Adapted to the needs of Koenigsegg, these facilities provide the perfect infrastructure for building high-tech supercars, with a modern office block adjacent to the assembly halls.
Headquarters & Production
Valhall Park, Angelholm, Skåne 26274, SE