On January 15, 2021, Jerry Wiegert passed away. If you struggle to recall that name or its significance in the world of supercars, it’s no surprise. But his car, the Vector W8 was not only an important part of the rise of supercars and eventually hypercars, the Vector is very likely to go down in history as the only independently designed, constructed and produced American supercar of the 20th century. Long before Tesla and decades before the SSC Tautara, the Vector did it all, admittedly on a slow burn, all while founder and designer Jerry Wiegert chipped away at the impossible odds, patiently building his lifelong dream.
To understand the context of the Vector in both design and automobile manufacturing perspective, we need to journey back in time to one of the darkest periods of American automobile manufacturing, 1974–1984. During this decade, regulations were choking horsepower from our cars, giant bumpers were violating designs, and platform engineering allowed for such marvels of branding like the Cadillac Cimarron. If this wasn’t enough, you could find equal oddity in the Neoclassical revival of grand ’30s cars by purchasing a white polyester suit, an ascot, and of course, a Clenet. So, it must have been all the more astonishing to the public when the April 1972 issue of Motor Trend featured Wiegert’s first prototype Vector on their cover, challenging dominant Italian design houses with this new all-American sports car.
Wiegert, having only recently graduated from college, was intent on building his own car. By 1976, when he unveiled the mockup of the newly revised design, the W8, I was just a wide-eyed 14-year-old attending the Los Angeles Auto Expo when I met Wiegert for the first time. Even at that age, I could tell that he was an exceptionally talented designer and a determined iconoclast who knew what he wanted. Though rigid and sometimes hard to connect with, Wiegert had all the makings of a determined creative, a touch of ego, a hint of arrogance, and of course, haunted by perfection.
Sensing my interest in the project, he handed me a brochure featuring the amazing statistics for the car. Within a week I had contacted him and convinced by father to take me to his shop in Venice, CA not far from our home. Upon arrival we toured the shop and marveled at the team constructing what would be the first and, for a long while, only prototype, eventually completed in 1979.
Encouraging my interest in car design, we sat down at two facing drafting tables and he handed me a sheet of paper, “Let’s draw some cars.” I drew some clumsy side views and became frustrated. “Can I have another sheet of paper?” I asked sheepishly. “Of course.” He said, sensing my frustration. “Take your time. Paper’s cheap…it’s the ideas that are expensive.” A phrase I would frequently repeat to my own design students decades later.
Over the years, Wiegert struggled to market and promote the Vector as technology improved and interests for a $100,000 supercar appeared to be more about dreams than realities. Vector Cars recognized this and leveraged that escapist ideal of a space-aged future selling thousands of t-shirts and posters, while giving out hundreds of brochures to legions of sports car dreamers. By the early 1980s, the prototype was seen in white, red, and eventually black, prowling the streets of LA often dramatically photographed with stick figured, big haired fashion models in tall boots and slick body suits eerily invoking Duran Duran videos that were soon to become the mainstay of then-upstart MTV.