Concepts and Prototypes : Wolfrace Sonic (1981)

Keith Adams tells the story of 1981’s most amazing motor show car of them all – the six-wheeled Wolfrace Sonic supercar concept. Who would have thought that selling alloy wheels could be so sexy?

Wolfrace Sonic (2)

The Sonic was the brainchild of the alloy wheel manufacturer, Wolfrace. The company’s boss, Barry Tracey, wanted to create an eye-catching concept car to showcase its new range of Sonic alloys – you might recognise the ‘pepper pot’ style, which was used in the Ford Fiesta XR2, Capri 2.8 Injection, and MG Metro 1300. It approached famed hot-rodder Nick Butlers Auto Imagination to come up with the car – and, boy, did he create something rather special.

Butler’s background was in engineering, having trained at Hawker Siddeley at Dunsfold and Kingston. He cut his teeth on the incredible Harrier Jump Jets and Hawk aeroplanes, working on stress analysis and flight testing. In 1976, he left to follow his passion for special cars, setting up Auto Imagination.

Nick Butler’s amazing creation.

His closest brush with series production was with the 1980s Gold Cirrus – a sort of latter-day Rover V8-powered AC 3000ME, but with decent handling.

Wolfrace Sonic on Autocar
Wolfrace Sonic made the cover of Autocar in August 1981

The Wolfrace Sonic was an amazing car. Powered by a pair of Rover V8s, controlled by a clever drive-by-wire system, the two-seater was certainly blessed with plenty of potential performance. Underneath the Batmobile-style looks, there was a spaceframe chassis, with rear-wheel drive through a Jaguar rear axle and differential. But for most people, the main talking point was the six-wheel configuration similar to the 1977 Panther 6.

Autocar magazine featured the car in 1981, and it made regular appearances on the motor show circuit for a couple of years before disappearing out of view.

It was seen again in 2010, when the original car (two were eventually built) went up for sale for a cool £1 million…

Sold in 2015 for rather less money

In March 2015, the original Sonic was sold on eBay for a rather less astonishing £18,100. According to Wolfrace, the car was a no-holds-barred, big budget project made for around £100,000. It was sold to a private collector by Wolfrace in the 1990s and went on to feature in the opening of the British Grand Prix. It was even sprayed red for a feature in Playboy magazine.

When it was sold in 2015, it was because the then-owner could not keep up with the inevitable maintenance of such a complex vehicle. Sadly, the car had been in storage since around 2005, and had declined into a state of disrepair, needing a full restoration to get it back to its former glory.

We’re still waiting to see if the Sonic will make a return to public life…


Keith Adams


  1. 6 wheels seemed to be a 70s experimental thing, such as the 76-77 Tyrell.

    Even the Bedford VAL bus (as seen in the Italian Job) had such a setup.

    What was the advantage? Increased surface area for steering and braking?
    Why did the fad die out? Purely aestethics?

  2. I absolutely adore the Sonic, Nick’s website is a rather interesting read too, lose a few hours in the one day…

  3. Wonderful concept- however, might be a little tricky pulling out of junctions without the assistance of a third party, as you’d need a longer neck than a giraffe’s otherwise…

    Could conceivably be more viable these days with the advent of small reliable video cameras.

  4. at 1
    the 6 wheels 2 on the front are better to improve the handling beacouse the section of 4 maybee smaller wheels like the tyrell ones are much bigger than the section of 2 “normal” wheels of other cars…but tont forget that there is a wiliams F1 project with 6 wheels but this time with 4 wheels on the back

  5. As far as I remember the Tyrell was an aerodynamic thing, but the Bedford VAL could have been an axle loading thing. The smaller wheels used could have made loading easier, but could compromise the legal weight limit on a single steer axle. So they fitted two.

  6. The VAL used much smaller than normal rims, 16 inch, when coaches and buses were using 22.5 inch rims, so no doubt axle loading was the key

  7. The Tyrell P34 racing car meets one of the aircraft this gentleman designed in the past? Did anyone ever try the six-wheel concept on a regular sedan or hatchback in an attempt to showcase the practicality of layout?

  8. Well to keep you all up to date we sold the car to a guy via ebay and he is havingit proffesionaly renovated and will then use it to show of big time.

  9. Having followed some links and looking at an old Chris Goffey/Tiff Needell Top Gear test drive, the Gold Cirrus might merit an article sometime?

  10. At the advertising agency I worked at we shot this car in its red livery, still have three 35mm slides I took as back-ups at the time on my desk here in the States. turned a lot of heads in the small village where we shot it, unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to get in it.

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  1. The story of the Wolfrace Sonic show car on Below The Radar

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