I wrote recently about a couple of blessings we had at Koenigsegg these past few weeks. The first of these was some time spent with our first Koenigsegg prototype – the very first Koenigsegg car ever.
Blessing #2 was in the form of a visit from a guy named Michael Bergfelt. That’s a name few would have heard of in relation to Koenigsegg but Michael actually plays a key part in the company’s history.
Christian described the first days of the company in part 2 of our Q&A session – The Early Years. He describes his first business – an import/export business that sold whatever goods it could find a market for – everything from plastic shopping bags to frozen chickens. This company was the main vehicle used to raise seed capital to fund Christian’s dream to build supercars.
Michael was Christian’s partner in that first business and his initial partner when he started Koenigsegg. He left the fledgling car company a couple of years later, after the arrival of his son, Oscar. He had a young family to support and Koenigsegg was making no money at the time as there were still a few years of development left before production could start. Michael has had a successful career running several companies of his own since his Koenigsegg days but with Michael in Stockholm and Christian in Ängelholm – and both of them very busy – opportunities for the two of them to catch up have been rare.
Below: Halldora von Koenigsegg with a young Oscar, circa 1996.
One such opportunity was in September this year. Of course, I couldn’t resist the chance to sit down with Christian and Michael over dinner and listen in as they reminisced about those early days.
I asked Michael what he thought when Christian first approached him about the idea of building exotic sports cars:
“I thought it was a great idea. I wasn’t interested in cars, so much, but I was very interested in the question of how we could get this business off the ground. How do you build a factory for this? How do you find and then deal with your suppliers? For me, the question as to how you develop a business like this from scratch was very interesting.”
They had some basic sketches for the car that Christian had done some time earlier. These were refined a little and Michael started writing the business plan for the company – “It was very, very basic”.
They knew that they needed more money and the Swedish government had an agency that could lend money to technology-based start-up companies. Naturally, they applied. They were met by a 50-something lady who looked nothing it all like a car enthusiast but she turned out to be exceptionally helpful.
“At the time, the government to did not provide financial support for start-up car companies. There was no hope. But somehow, we managed to do it.”
Halldora von Koengisegg chimes in: “Micke knows how to charm the ladies….”
Michael: “We showed her our drawings and told her that we planned to build this car. She suggested that in order for the application to have a better chance of success, we should say that we were a car design and development company, rather than a car company. And, well, we were designing and developing the car first, I suppose 🙂 “
That was August 1994 and the loan added 2 million Swedish crowns (appr €250,000) to the money they’d managed to put away from the import/export business. It was all gone a year later – probably sooner, really – as they worked on scaling up the prototype from the initial drawings and small models.
They had a debut showing for the car lined up at a local track meeting when plans were somewhat forcibly changed without Michael knowing.
Michael: “The car was almost done. Then he (Christian) goes to the workshop early one morning and starts cutting into it!! I’d booked two more shows – one in Geneva and the other….. wherever it was…. and I had to cancel them because he cut the car up!”
Me, to Christian: “You cut the first car up?”
Christian: “Well…… I modified it (laughs)”
So what really happened?
Christian had done preliminary sketches of what he wanted and industrial designer, and childhood friend of Michael, David Crafoord, turned Christian’s sketches in to a scale 1:5 model, adding his own touches. They then engaged a contractor to scale up the 1:5 Koenigsegg model to full scale. However, it turned out that the scaled-up model, which was made by hand, did not match the 1:5 scale model as well as the small Koenigsegg team had hoped. It was only at the last minute that Christian decided he couldn’t live with it. So he decided to change it.
They’d budgeted their funds to last for a one-year build – “that was stupid, it was never going to be enough” – but the car took two years to build, primarily because of the modifications made as the car was brought up to scale from the drawings. This was the first of those “do or die” moments that came to be a regular feature of the company’s early history.
Christian: “We had to find a way to finish it as economically as possible. When you look at that prototype today you’ll see there are things on the extremities that are pretty rough. They’re nowhere near as finished as we would have liked them. That’s because they were built last when we had no money left and we just had to get the car finished. The car ran well and the chassis was really, really good because it was done early in the piece, when we had the resources to do it right. It’s just when you go to those final items that it’s not quite what we’d have liked it to be.”
The conversation turns from the car to the various highs, lows, left-turns and other challenges encountered along the way, such as…..
The employee in the early days that liked to carry two canvas bags around every where with him. The bags housed his two pet snakes.
Halldora: “You should only start a company like this when you’re young. It’s the only time you can do it. We had this completely optimistic marketing and sales guy who could sell anything to anyone (Michael) and this nerdy inventor (Christian) – what a great combination! There’s no way we could start this company at our age in 2015 but when you’re young, you can do anything – and you don’t care if it’s hard.”
The time before they started building cars when Christian got into a car accident…. and wound up nearly buying a hotel in Greece from the person in the other car.
The time a Singaporean journalist stumbled upon Koenigsegg’s skunkworks and ended up writing a very positive story about the prototype and taking some beautiful photos of the car. He sold the story to 20-or-so car magazines around the world. Koenigsegg made the cover of most of them. Which led to…..
….A guy who read that story in one of those magazines and called to ask if he could do some work with Koenigsegg. He was from Chicago and had just married a Swedish girl. She insisted that they live in Sweden so he moved and had to find some work. His name was Jim Glaser and he was the composites manager for the Newman-Haas Indycar racing team. Thus began Koenigsegg’s intense learning curve in the expert use of carbon fibre. Jim Glaser stayed for just over two years before Newman-Haas called him and almost tripled his salary to get him back.
The first years involved a lot of communal living and work at the first Koenigsegg factory in Olofström. Friends would come and stay. As long as they had a roof over their head and food in their belly, they would work at near to no cost. One such friend was a gem cutter, who ended up being one of very few Koenigsegg modellers. He also made a Swedish flag out of lapis lazuli that sat atop the gear knob in an early car.
As mentioned earlier, Michael left Koenigsegg a few years after the company began. He had a new son at the time, Oscar, and Koenigsegg was yet to fully develop a first car, let alone sell one. Michael had to find paid work in order to look after his young family. He’s since started and worked in several companies and currently runs his own media, marketing and design company.
In a curious twist, his son Oscar is now 18 years old and recently started work at Koenigsegg. It’s as if life has turned full circle, but one generation removed.
While he was in town, Michael had a tour of the factory with Oscar. Christian also took him for a ride in the One:1 on the Koenigsegg test track. To say he came away smiling would be an understatement of major proportions. The company’s definitely changed since its beginnings in a small workshop in Olofström!