I know what you’re thinking. ‘Here we go again.’ Just when we all thought it was dead, the Joss wriggles its legs.
We were thinking the same thing about the ambitious Aussie supercar maker. But then we spoke to Matt Thomas, the well-spoken engineer and Joss founder – and, after 17 years of having a crack with this Joss thing, one unbelievably tenacious bloke – who just told us through an entirely untamed grin that Joss has secured tens of millions of dollars of financial backing, all Australian.
The money will create $35m manufacturing facility to be built in Brisbane and engineering offices will be set-up in Brisbane and Alice Springs. Joss will have the budget to confidently headhunt the best automotive engineers and designers in Australia – and beyond – for its engineering offices and also for its Melbourne design studio.
Thanks to a new deal with Brisbane-based investment firm the Hatzimihail Group, Joss will finally have the monetary muscle to have a red-hot go at a world-class supercar. Yep, Joss has finally cracked the big time. The new deal means Thomas relinquishes majority share of the company to Alex Hatzimihail, the new CEO. But Thomas stays on as Joss’s chief technical officer and retains a 40 per cent stake.
It all sounds too good to be true and Thomas admits it still hasn’t fully sunken in. But he assures us it’s the real deal.
“I think the reality that these guys [the Hatzimihail Group] really are what they are has definitely sunk in,” Thomas tells MOTOR. “We did a lot of due diligence and realised how equipped the group was and that there’s even more and more potential and possibilities.
“It can take us to a level financially and business-wise we never imagined. It seemed all so distant before. We always said in our board meetings that we felt like we had all the parts but we just didn’t have the glue. And I think this is what Alex [Hatzimihail] is for us.”
Not that long ago, Joss seemed to be in danger of going the same way of Falcon and Commodore. “In one word I was starting to feel a little anxious,” he laughs. “I passionately wanted the company to stay here… So when I started talks with Alex I realised, oh my god, this is what we’ve been after for so long.” And indeed Thomas has toughed it out for a long time. He says a passion to showcase Aussie talent has kept him going.
“We were so successful decades ago with Frank Matich and Gary Cooper and also Bruce McLaren in New Zealand,” he explains. “The Southern Hemisphere was the pointy end of it, the world was struggling to hold us back. Since then we haven’t seen that sort of success and we’re desperate to show people we’re just as good as we were then.
“I think a supercar is symbolic of the technology that you have in the country so it’s not just about a vehicle, this is about showing what we can do.”
Now Thomas has the backing, he’s busy again working on its first car. He says it’ll be a track-focused, mid-engine, rear-driven supercar weighing under 1000kg. It’ll sport a tubular spaceframe chassis, an off-the-shelf turbo engine from a still-secret German car company with around 440kW/800Nm and a high-tech alternative gearbox from Australian firm Albins.
The goal is to equip it with locally-calibrated Bosch launch control and nail 0-100km/h in “2.5 to 2.6” seconds. It will get a new name, too – the Vanguard. Thomas wants to take it to the Nordschleife and nail a sub-seven minute lap. A Porsche 918 does a 6min 57sec. You can’t accuse him of lacking ambition.
“The beauty of a track car is that it builds the brand and shows people it’s real, it’s tangible and the level at which we’re going to base this company product-wise,” he explains. “And also it allows us to get a lot of data and feedback to come out with our production vehicle as a second step to that… We see racing as a proof of concept for us. We want to be a car company that’s based on racing technology that then feeds into our road vehicle. It’s a system that’s obviously used by Ferrari in the past because it works.”
Thomas relates a story about Ferrari that’s stayed with him because, he says, it shows there’s a place in the market for the Vanguard, despite supercar buyers these days being spoiled with offerings from well-established brands.
“I saw an article years ago in an English magazine,” he recalls. “It was about a 1950s motor show in Europe. It had a black and white photo of two Ferraris with the caption, ‘Ferrari, who are these cocky guys to think they can come along and challenge the likes of Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Bristol’. And you realise, jeez, they started somewhere too… So I don’t buy into the ‘why try because there are other vehicles in the space’. I think we can do something quite unique, quite different, something super sexy that just makes people want to buy it.”
Thomas says he’ll set the Vanguard apart with striking styling, an innovative powertrain and a focus on build quality and bespoke components. He wants Pagani exclusivity with McLaren P1 performance and sees a sub-seven minute ’Ring lap as bold but essential to selling Joss to the world.
“Somebody’s got to do it,” he says, nonchalantly. “This is a performance car. If we’re saying all these things then we need to back it up. We’re confident we will have the engineers, the know-how, all of the right partners, to do that. We will do it… I would suggest [in] approximately one and a half years we’ll be there.”
Despite the tight timeframe it’s not like Thomas hasn’t had a few years to think about what kind of car he wants the Vanguard to be – and what it’ll be like to drive.
“You’ll probably need an adult nappy for a start and air sickness tablets,” he laughs. “I like the idea of taming the beast. The Vanguard needs to be an aggressive animal that is driveable. So the interaction needs to be where you don’t feel like you’re going to lose your life at any moment.
"It needs to be classy, sophisticated, the right balance of technology, but jeez, when you want to give it some stick around a track it’ll work. I’d like to think that we have a philosophy that will get the right balance. It’s going to go fast, believe me.” After all the years of ups and downs, you know what, we do.