Sbarro Astro, 1992


1992 was an important year for Franco Sbarro. It was the year he opened his first design school, Espace Sbarro, at Grandson in Switzerland. It was such a special event that he decided not to participate in the Geneva Motor Show because he did not have the time to create a new model. However, contrary to expectations there was a new Sbarro at the march 1992 show: the Astro.


The story of how this car was born is worth telling. In 1991, Frank Verkhauser, a Zurich ophthalmologist, contacted Sbarro hoping to commission him to build his dream car. Sbarro refused because he was completely taken up with creating the school but he agreed to meet with Mr Verkhauser. It was a decisive encounter: faced with a sick man the warm-hearted Swiss craftsman changed his mind. Mr Verkhauser had cancer and was exhausted by chemotherapy and was looking for a project with which he could be actively engaged. He wanted to have built a unique car powered by a Ferrari engine, aggressively styled and with cutting-edge electronics.


On the outside the car is characterised by a plunging, wavy line from a massive rear topped with a substantial aerofoil to very sharp front, typical of certain Sbarros e.g. the Ionos. This bulky rear section, especially in profile, is a great benefit when one realises the size of the rear alloys: an unprecedented 19 inches. The reason for the convoluted lines is that Frank Verkhauser wished to have three seats and plenty of room for luggage: there are boots back and front. The huge lateral air scoops provide cool fresh air to the engine. Notice the two micro-headlights unusually positioned just forward of the windscreen.


The inside is wonderfully bright mainly because of the sunshine roof and the light coloured leather trim. Note that Sbarro, in contrast to some constructors, has left the top of the dashboard dark so as to prevent annoying reflections in the windscreen. Mr Verkhauser, a fan of electronics, had a TSO satellite navigation installed: the type that is approved for instrument flight by the American Federal Aviation Authority. This is integrated into the central console with a Sony display unit, a video recorder, a retractable keyboard and a telephone. There is also a hi-fi system with CD player, the top of the range for this era.


In comparison to all the electronic extravagance, the engine seems quite ordinary. Even so, it is taken from a Ferrari 308 GTS and this V8 motor develops 275 BHP. Curiously the engine uses carburettors rather than fuel injection which was available. The rest of the Astro is classic sports car: rear wheel drive, manual five-speed gearbox, disc brakes all round but no ABS.


Even though the Astro is on exhibit at the Centre Espera, the owner drove it for many trouble-free miles proving that Sbarro can make a reliable as well as unique car. Perhaps it is not the most spectacular or the most well-known Sbarro but it certainly has a beautiful history: sometimes generosity and a big heart is more important and inspiring than technical wizardry.


text Philippe Calvet - translation Justin Bouverie




Sbarro ASTRO- 1992


V8 (Ferrari 308 GTS)


mid-engined, transverse


2926 cm3 - (81 x 71 mm)


four twin-choke Weber carburettors


275 BHP @ 7700 rpm


284 Nm @ 5000 rpm


Rear wheel drive


5-speed manual (Ferrari 308 GTS)


4 vented discs


OZ racing : 9x17" front, 12x19" rear


1100 kg (estimation)


wheelbase 2.34 m, length 4.20 m (estimated)

maw speed

230 -240 km/h (140-150 mph) (estimated)


Version française