Curvaceous lightweight from down under is a passion project par excellence. Richard Lane straps himself in

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Six laps in, semi-slicks simmering, confidence more than simmering, supercharged engine grazing its 8500rpm limiter with intensifying frequency, then the realisation.

Imagine the love child of an Ariel Atom and a Caterham Seven 620R. Pretty sweet – and pretty close what this new trackday blade from down under feels like.

Busy schedules and an 11-hour time difference have meant my only chance to chat to the Sydney-based twin brothers who built the Spartan, as it's known, is on the car phone during the long haul up to Anglesey Circuit the day before. Listening to Nick and Peter Pap speak passionately about how they went about making the ultimate joy-giving driver’s machine and clothed it in such an attractive pebble-smooth body is a pleasure.

I mean, it’s something we’ve all fantasised about doing, isn’t it? Clean-sheet design, styled just how you like it, with purity at the heart of the matter? That’s what the Spartan represents. And it’s why, as per the Paps’ proclivities, it looks akin to a Lola T70, is lighter than an S1 Lotus Elise and at times hits harder than a Ferrari 296 GTB. What would yours be like? Possibly not too dissimilar, I’d wager.

So it’s one hell of a concept, this gleaming, carbonfibre-clad Spartan, all curves and wing. It’s also one that germinated from a dune buggy the Paps made out of a wrecked motorcycle after they finished high school. Having an engineer as a father meant they knew how to use lathes and the like. From a young age, they were fixing up cars ranging from the Chrysler Valiant Chargers and Fiat X1/9s of the day up to a Lamborghini Urraco that Nick eventually bought, although the enterprise dried up following marriage and children.

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But they never forgot the buggy, whose “brilliance was lodged in our heads for decades”.

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Skip forward to 2007 and the idea was, at long last, resurrected. The Paps built a single-seater powered by the L-twin out of a Ducati 1198S, Peter (dry Aussie wit, ebullient) doing the styling and Nick (dry Aussie wit, laconic) doing the chassis. This 300kg chain-driven home brew used a Drexler differential and was the first of three eventual prototypes that culminated in a 275bhp two-seater propelled by a Honda K-series inline four taken to heights that would make the engine’s original host – a 2002 CR-V – pass out.

Now obviously we’ve skipped over a few details there. Details that anybody splicing round Anglesey at the wheel of this final, very-nearly-production-spec car couldn’t fail to notice. Its mid-engined accuracy; its predictability; its composure; and its ability to take just a hint of corner-shortening yaw on a trailing throttle through medium-speed bends but remain nailed down if you pull the same stunt through properly quick stuff. 

These attributes aren’t accidental. When asked about traction control, stability control, anti-lock brakes and the like, Nick’s instant response is a derisory “don’t need it”. Peter laughs. Turns out they’re both right, even with an eye-watering 657bhp per tonne to get you into trouble. Fifteen years to work it all out has helped, although the Paps admit that this is the kind of time frame that’s unavoidable if you’re self-funded (albeit with a government innovation grant) and have other things going on. 

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“It takes time to evolve,” says Peter. “You can’t bring something like this out in one year. It takes time because you need to make mistakes and have revisions, and both of us are very fussy.”

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What also helps is world-class engineering input. Nick was competent enough to design the double-wishbone suspension and the laser-cut-and-welded steel spaceframe to which it’s mounted, but the set-up was expertly honed by Andre Nader, who mostly works on cars you see in the Bathurst 12 Hour and Targa Tasmania.

Likewise aero: Sammy Diasinos spent years at the apex of motorsport with the Toyota and Williams Formula 1 teams, but his brief when formulating the Spartan’s punchy wing, splitter and diffuser package was to deliver lap times in the context of drivability and progressiveness. That’s why downforce peaks at 470kg, rather than the 800kg that was technically possible (and would have been 30% more than made by the McLaren P1). 

The dynamic cherry on top was delivered by Barton Mawer. An ex-Formula 3 racer with the kind of supernatural feel that leads to a person becoming one of Yokohama’s prized tyre testers, he specified the roll centres, camber settings, toe and so on. He also advised on the parameters for the Tractive ACE semi-active suspension, which is, according to Peter, “probably the single best thing we put on the car”. A seven-axis accelerator in the cockpit informs individual damper response, with the valving reacting in a single-digit-millisecond time frame. That’s why the Spartan doesn’t use anti-roll bars and why it should be surprisingly versatile. It will ultimately have five modes, from Wet to Race.

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So that’s the canvas. And here at Anglesey, it’s one of the most entertaining that we will experience all year. The Atom-Seven-cross personality stems from the Spartan’s light, unassisted steering and housefly direction changes against a backdrop of forgiving handling that lets you bully the controls and enjoy mopping up the resulting lawlessness.

On Yokohama Advan A050s, traction is never an issue (if anywhere, it’s here where the Can-Am cosplay veil slips) and the car’s understeer balance fades into perfect neutrality as the rubber warms up. Of course, as with all top track-day cars, commitment is required to enter the Spartan’s window of adjustability. Yet get into that window and you will find no nasty surprises lurking – only a lovely Quaife diff.

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However, just as much as its 1960s-inspired styling, 700kg kerb weight or handling, it’s the Spartan’s hair-raising powertrain that delights. The engine is a 2.4-litre Honda K24 inline four, but in truth only the fundamentals remain, everything else being strengthened. Even at 460bhp, courtesy of a Rotrex supercharger, reliability should be fine. Servicing, too. 

“In testing, we had it squirrelled up to about 560bhp,” says Peter. “Yeah, quite the animal,” he then adds quietly, matter-of-factly, apparently reminiscing out loud. Hilarious. 

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Evidently the bar for something being considered an animal is set a touch higher in Australia than Britain. Makes sense. I mean, grizzly as a cornered badger can be, you would rather face one of those down than a big red ’roo, wouldn’t you? Even with 460bhp, the Spartan is so savagely quick, and it pulls off that old supercharger trick of giving you 90% of the throttle responsiveness of a naturally aspirated engine but with all the torque you can handle, seemingly anywhere in the rev range. 

Nick explains that, having developed a ’box for the atmo Spartan, a rethink was in order when forced induction was introduced, because the engine was ripping through each ratio before you could blurt your favourite expletive.

Coming out of ultra-quick Church corner in fourth gear, pointing slightly downhill, pin the long throttle and honestly the guy in front would need something like a Ferrari SF90 Stradale to escape the Spartan’s beady eyes and puckered barracuda mouth. And in the corners? You'd murder the poor bastard. 

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Yet even here the Spartan pulls off another feat of impressive duality, allowing you to unleash epic pace with confidence. Tillett buckets help, bolting you into the car’s structure (although lateral knee support could be better; this car will pull serious g-forces), but the long gearshift, on its CNC-machined plinth, moves accurately and near-seamlessly. Fluffed shifts are rare. With 10% more resistance, it would be perfect.

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Power delivery is also super-linear, of course. Turn the wick up on an Atom’s turbocharged Honda four and it can catch you out, but not so here. The Spartan would be dreamy even in the wet. And even with the pedal box currently set up for a shorter driver, heel-and-toe shifts are easy enough. With a custom driving position, as owners will have, the man-machine interface will be about as flush as it gets on four wheels. The Atom is a touch crisper and grittier still, perhaps, but less fun-loving and fluid in general.

Australia’s answer to the Atom, or indeed your typical Radical, will be imported by Le Mans Coupes of West Sussex. The Paps plan to build 300, slowly at first because the carbon bodies are so labour-intensive, with pricing at around £126,000.

Yeah, big money. But also a pretty remarkable achievement. And road legal in the UK. There’s a level of easy-access finesse in the dynamics that’s uniquely Spartan, quite unlike anything else. It really is a sweetly conceived and beautifully executed effort.

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Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering.