1963 - Engagement in motorsport
Race on sunday, sell on monday - Rainald Holtmann was sure this would work for Wagner. But as the cars sold satisfactory, his intention must have been another. Holtmann was - like his son Klaus later - an obsessed engineer and he was ambitious.
in 1962, some modified Autobahns and Gepards did well in the 2000ccm class World Touring Car Championsship (WTCC 2000). For 1963, Wagner came up with a true race car - available for everyone who had $ 25.400 to spend.
This was significantly more than for the Gepard, but the Gepard was a road car, and this not, as it was called Rasanto for a reason. The chassis was the usual Wagner stuff, four double wishbone links, a monocoque as space frame would have been to difficult to produce and aluminium panels. The car had no radio and a sport interior, as it was an ascetic driving machine, but Rainald Holtmann complained about being “boiled” in a hot summer test drive, so the cars recieved a targa roof.
The power came from a race-tuned variant of the 2.0 liter Boxer, now returning impressive 154 horsepower.
100 kph were on the odometer after just 7,5 seconds, and 200 were no problem. Two DCOE Weber carburetors were a typical fuel system for mid 60s race cars. A surprising fact was that the engine had aggressive cam, high compression, but still two mufflers and no race parts as it had to be street legal to be put on sale - Wagner needed additional sales as compensation for the massive cost.
The mid-engined monster did not oversteer as hard as one might think, thanks to 235 “roller” tires on the rear axle, and 2:31,92 test track time were enough to impress, although the similar-priced Autobahn Mk IV was nearlly as fast and a little cheaper while being everyday usable.
The economy wasn’t great though, but 14,8 liter consumption were still low for a true race car. For that reason, it did not sell too bad, in fact, it won the 1963 WTCC and almost the 1964 one as well, but the competitors reacted and in the second half of the season, they came up with high-strung engines that were faster than the Wagner’s. But Wagner already had other plans for the Rasanto and left the 2000 ccm class.
1965 - overambitous
For the 1965 touring car season, Wagner started in the “A league” for ultra-performance cars. This was what the Rasanto had been built for, it just lacked a proper engine so it had to do some “warm-up” in the 2000 ccm class.
A-league meant that the race cars had over 500 horsepower and ran 300 kph. Even for a much larger company like CMT it was tough managing this, so it is almost miraculous that Holtmann’s team managed to get a respectable fifth place in the first race, especially considering that the car was just finished four hours before qualification.
On the standard test track, the Rasanto VR72 made an impressive 2:10,49 run! The car itself swapped four-speed transmission against a five-speed gearbox, and semi-slicks were fitted straight from the factory as it wasn’t designed to be driven onroad but to be sold to pivateers. 265 tires on the rear and 215 in the front were even larger. Two-piston disc brakes and semi-clad underbody as well as latest safety technology made it a strong rival.
But the most innovative was the engine, as Wagner mounted nothing less than a 7,2 liter V12 behind the driver.
To save weight, it was an all-alloy engine, and it had not just four valves but also dual overhead camshafts - a true masterpiece. Forged internal parts were even boring considering it already came with fuel injection - the complex carburetor systems were prone to failure, and so Wagner did choose the best of the best as the MFI system was definitely more reliable at equal power, and the throttle-per-cylinder layout allowed for excellent response. To at least make a legal use on public roads possible, Wagner had to decide between a race intake or race manifold. As the ultramegahyper-complex engine was something even Holtmann himself didn’t trust, he left the performance intake and installed a race manifold. To meet governmental restrictions, one muffler was left in the exhaust system.
The engine delivered 548 horsepower which was at the top of racing cars back then. It was enough to propell the car in 4,5 seconds to 100 kph and get a maximum of 293. With 21,2 liter consumption, it wasn’t too addicted to fuel which was a benefit on 24-hour endurance races where the Rasanto VR72 scored even a win in LaManche with its long highspeed passages.
The GT series saw Wagner Rasantos in second, third and sixth place. For $ 64.300 it was only accessible for millionaires, but some tourist drivers really bought it for their racing ambitions, and it was definitely a collector’s item.
1967 - Gone too far
Wagner had neither the engineers nor the money to improve the car for 1966, and they kept their second place only with luck and fortune despite having good drivers. The “consumer cars”, the road-going models, saw no change since 1961 and the Gepard could get some improvements for sure. The sales of the cars dropped a little, while the expenses for the racing team skyrocketed. The successor, the “b”, was not much more expensive and was popular among privateers, but the limited production resources and the massive development costs made these cars a giant loss for Wagner.
The 556 horsepower VR72b wasn’t really much faster with a test track time of 2:10,19. No wonder, as 4,4 seconds to 100 and 294 kph top speed were not really much more and the use of gas dampers did not as help as much as planned. As the car became a little more reliable and needed now “just” 20,9 liter, the success in La Manche had been followed a second in 1967, but for the 1968 season the dominance of the VR72b would be broken.
Broke was also Wagner, now selling most of the company to CMT which hold a 2/3 interest in Wagner since early 1967. Rainald Holtmann had to leave the CEO chair for Christoph Martin Thandor, and most Wagner employees, like Klaus Holtmann and many other engineers, were integrated into the CMT developement centers. In return, CMT would help Wagner to get back on their feet in road car business.