Riding Shotgun: the Spartan roadster

The Spartan. Born and bred right here in Australia as a true roadster, with no roof, no doors and just a small speedster-style windscreen. The car has been designed with a laser focus, to be quick, fun and offer the driver a huge adrenalin rush.

If you’re wondering how big an adrenaline rush, we put motorcycle racer, experienced ride tester and journalist Jeff Ware in the passenger seat for a shotgun ride with co-founder of the Spartan Motor Company, and old friend, Peter Pap. This is his story.

“I’m shaking after the most thrilling car ride of my life. Nothing has had my adrenaline pumping like this since I rode a 500cc two-stroke GP motorcycle.”

Designed and built locally by twin brothers Nick and Peter, the Spartan can only be described as a masterpiece – a modern take on a ’60s race car, bristling with technology, yet kept as analogue and pure as possible.

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It’s like a big supercharged go-kart with a lightweight carbon-fibre body and the least number of parts added, to make it as simple as possible. Only what is needed is there, and all of it is top quality.

Spartan roadster
Spartan roadster

The Spartan’s journey began 14 years ago, with the Pap brothers having built three prototypes since. The first was powered by a Ducati superbike motor, the second a supercharged Honda Jazz engine and the third, a Honda K24 sporting a K20 Type-R head.

The car we’re riding in is chassis 001/300, which has since been sent to its UK distributor Le Mans Coupes. It has a TracTive lift kit and will have lights fitted after our drive so it can be road registered there (it will be a track car in Australia, at this stage).

The 2.4-litre engine features forged pistons and conrods, an upgraded oil pump and baffled sump. It’s coupled to a Honda six-speed manual gearbox with stronger, customised ratios, designed to handle the 294kW the Rotrex supercharger helps produce.

It makes for a bulletproof package that reduces costs and maintenance for the buyer compared to the many supercars and hyper cars out there. The Spartan will also be offered in a naturally aspirated version, delivering 198kW of power.

Much like an F1 car, it features raw carbon-fibre body panels and quick-release fasteners. The chassis is a tubular spaceframe design that exceeds current FIA safety standards. It has an ambidextrous driving configuration too.

dash
Inside the cockpit of the Spartan roadster

That means the foot pedal unit and steering column are interchangeable from right to left-hand drive. The suspension is a highlight, and includes a TracTive Suspension ACE kit, a stand-alone damper package that wires into the TracTive control unit.

The TCU is a G-Force sensor that is constantly sending the dampers information about the attitude of the car. They can completely soften the ride over ripple strips yet stiffen up in an instant as the car builds load.

Think of them as a four-way shock that can be programmed to react to your driving style through a touch screen with five memory settings. The driver is effectively dictating the stiffness range that the dampers are permitted to work in.

If for some reason the G-signature of the car drops, i.e., there is slip, the dampers will soften to assist in re-establishing grip (and it does it in 6-10 milliseconds). The human brain of a trained athlete can react to external stimuli in around 150 milliseconds.

According to Peter Pap, the suspension was designed, engineered, and tested to allow for a ride that is supple, predictable and confidence inspiring right up to the limit, while delivering great feedback to the driver.

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Spartan roadster

With downforce of 299kg at 200km/h and 467kg at 250km/h, the Spartan’s front splitter, rear diffuser, and wing, along with underbody aerodynamics work together to provide excellent high-speed cornering adjustability to accommodate all driver preferences.

By altering a combination of front ride height, rear wing position (five settings) and rear wing gurney orientation it is possible to achieve a highly dynamic aero balance of 48 per cent, right down to a more stable and forgiving value of 32 per cent.

Out of the factory, the Spartan is set at about 36 per cent, but it’s the adjustability that will also ensure that the vehicle is desirable to drive at high-speed circuits independent of the weather or track conditions.

This writer has been fortunate enough to follow the many steps of the Spartan, having got my first terrifying taste of it back in 2012, when Peter took me around that secret private road on the NSW Central Coast, faster than I’d ever been at that place.

It was quick. Real quick. But nothing had me prepared for how fast it is now, another decade of development later. And so it was, with a little trepidation, that I climbed into the passenger seat, and the surprisingly roomy cockpit at another private test site.

Original roadster
From humble beginnings… the original Spartan roadster in 2012

After exiting the pits, Peter takes it easy for the first three corners so I get a feel for the traction – I can feel the grip through the seat, which is insane! He then proceeds to get into it straight away. Wow!

There are no driver aids here – no ABS, traction control or electronic nannies – just the connection between brain and accelerator. The car is pulling 2G through corners and Peter is braking right up to the apex and then slightly drifting it out.

From there he sling-shots the beast to the next corner. It’s the only car I have been in that springs off corners like a superbike or GP bike – the pick-up is instant and probably helped by the active dampers doing their magic. It’s violent. It’s tiring. It’s just pure anger.

On the front chute, the Spartan spins up in the first three gears. Madness. We go into one corner a lot hotter than the lap prior – I thought Peter forgot to hit the stop pedal, but he gets hard on the brakes and the Spartan washes off speed like it has hit a brick wall.

I’m puffing. I’m panting. I’m getting a sore neck! There is almost no pitching in the front, and I can feel the tyres gripping, and instead of the rear letting go while trail braking, they find grip and suddenly the car is catapulted forward like an elastic band.

Any other car would have slid out and then spun up completely under power, but no, the Spartan just slingshots off the corner with the nicest controlled drift. Holy moly. The active dampers are amazing in the way they work.

I can feel them doing different things at each corner independently, even from the passenger seat. There is a section at the back of this track that has multiple camber changes riddled with bumps, yet the Spartan is just carving through it like butter.

I’ve done many laps here on a superbike and the Spartan makes the bumpy bits seem like a freeway in comparison. Last time I rode here I tore the skin on both palms just wrestling the 132kW Suzuki GSX-R I was on.

That thrill still doesn’t come close to what I’m experiencing now! I’ve been in some fast cars, but the astonishing acceleration, braking and engine note of the Spartan, coupled with the open cockpit is the most amazing sensory experience imaginable.

It’s raw and exciting, and even truly overwhelming. I’m clapping like a lunatic on the last lap. What a ride. Pricing for the Spartan starts from $220,000. It can be ordered online. Just 300 units will be built, so if you’re keen and need finance, talk to CreditOne.

All images courtesy of Spartan Motor Company.

team Spartan
The Spartan team: (l-r) Peter Pap, Nicholas Pap, Nick Pap, Matthew Pummell (CAD designer), Benny Tran (BYP Racing – engine builder), Andre Nader (DNA – suspension), Greg Kerba (Sydney Composites – bodywork) and Sammy Diasinos (Dynamic Aero Solutions – aero design)
Jeff Ware
Jeff Warehttp://www.bikereview.com.au
Jeff Ware has been an Australian motorcycle journalist and publisher since 2001. He was the founder of Rapid Bikes Magazine, Knee Down Magazine, and Retrobike Magazine and currently heads up the team over at BikeReview. He's not a bad car journo either.

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