Not for the faint hearted

David Booth explores the outlandish creations of Spyker, the small Dutch car manufacturer with the big ideas.

Masters of overstatement: the Spyker Aileron is a new, third member of its quirky line-up.
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David Booth explores the outlandish creations of Spyker, the small Dutch car manufacturer with the big ideas. CALGARY, ALBERTA // Have you ever heard of Spyker? If not, you're in the majority, a not unsurprising state of affairs considering that the Dutch company has sold but 253 cars since it opened its doors in 2001. Yup, 253. An average of 32 per year. That's not to say that Spyker is some parvenu with no lineage or pedigree. The company originally started building horse-drawn carriages in the 1880s, was the first company to build a six-cylinder, four-wheel-drive car and joined forces with an aircraft manufacturer along the way to bankruptcy. Resurrected in 1999 by wealthy Dutch entrepreneur Victor Muller, the company now has three hand-built C8 models, all priced at around Dh1 million - the Spyder convertible, a hard-top version called the Laviolette and the all-new Aileron coupe.

The Spyder was the first of the species, my tester, in fact, a 2006 model with 15,000 very hard miles on it. The first impression of the Spyder is one of impeccable craftsmanship worthy of an obsessive machinist. My next thought was that it's obvious that whoever penned the exterior suffered a teenage obsession with getting noticed. The extroverted exterior seemingly has scoops, intakes and aerodynamic lips - all beautifully sculpted in polished aluminium - everywhere. Its radical shape could not scream "look at me" any louder if it wanted to.

That's nothing compared with the interior which boasts deeply quilted leather (often seen in truly outlandish hues), toggle switches for every possible electronic function and an acreage of milled aluminium not seen in a car's dashboard since the Roaring Twenties. The coup de grace is a shifting linkage that looks like a hi-tech version of the articulated linkages found in aircraft of yore. I'm not sure it makes shifting any more precise, but it is part and parcel of an interior package that is completely unlike anything else in the car industry.

But there's far more to the Spyder than just outrageous looks. For one thing, it boasts an all-aluminium space-frame not unlike the one that renders the Audi R8 so robust. Indeed, so rigid is the Spyker's basic undercarriage that, in hardtop Laviolette form, it requires an amazing 25,000 Newton-metres to deflect the chassis but one degree (that, dear friends, is a stoutness equal to anything from the big boys).

Suspension-wise, the Spyder and Laviolette owe much to open wheel racers, all four corners being cushioned by double wishbones controlled by inboard, rocker-arm-actuated Koni shocks. It makes, as one might guess, for a wonderfully communicative handling. Despite having the sourced-from-Audi engine situated fairly far rearward in the framework, the Spyder steers neutrally thanks to a rear track wider than the front and asymmetrical 19-inch tyres (265-millimetres wide in the rear and 235-mm in the front).

Without a racetrack to test its outer limits, there's no way of knowing whether the Spyder outhandles a Porsche, Ferrari or even a Corvette, but this much can be said; the steering is almost perfectly linear despite its lack of power boosting and the stability at any speed is truly amazing for a car this short and light (about 1,250 kilograms for the ragtop Spyder, a slightly heavier 1,275 kg. for the Laviolette). That's all fortuitous because the Spyker has not a hint of the electronic driving aids that so burden most modern supercars; the back-to-basics chassis absolutely needs to be controllable. Perhaps even more amazing is that the racing-derived suspension hasn't resulted in a bone-jarring ride; I can think of all manner of mass-produced sports cars with far worse damping.

I am less enthused with Spyker's decision to provide no power boosting for the Spyder's brakes. I get that it's all part of the company's purist image but despite the use of humungous six-piston AP Racing front brakes and 356mm discs, the brake pedal still requires some serious quadriceps work to get maximum power. Considering that its price tag limits the clientele to the aged (if not quite yet infirm), requiring this much fitness from its owners might be a sales limitation.

A huge part of the C8's everyday practicality stems from Spyker's sourcing of its engines from Audi. Originally seen in the previous generation S4, the 4.2-litre V8 in both the Spyder and the Laviolette has been boosted to 400 horsepower thanks to Spyker's own intake and exhaust plumbing as well as judicious remapping of the fuel injection. Thanks to that reworked exhaust - which can be had with an electronically-actuated bypass gizmo - the Audi V8 is much more rippin' and roarin' in Spyker guise. I'm not sure it's quite legal, but it sure is melodious.

Nonetheless, one doesn't buy a Spyder or Laviolette for its straight line speed; any number of sports cars - many costing much less - can out accelerate the Dutch demon. But the high-revving Audi provides what purists would call adequate power. Any more power than this would require any number of digital monitors to make it driveable, ruining that whole visceral I'm-completely-in-charge-here feeling. Besides, any car that can spring to 100 clicks in just 4.5 seconds and top out at 300 kilometres an hour cannot possibly be found lacking.

For someone who wants his (or her) motoring in its purest form and who, virtually be definition, has a fleet of more practical, everyday rides - the Spyder is Spyker's most basic model with its hardtop sibling, the Laviolette, only slightly more civilised. Indeed, in response to critics and customers alike who've said that both are just a little too back-to-basics, Spyder is working on a new, third member of its quirky line-up, the Aileron. Designed as a grand touring sports car, the Aileron boasts both an automatic transmission and an audio system.

However, before you start thinking the tiny Dutch firm has sold out its purist principles - Nulia tenaci invia est via or "for the tenacious, no road is impassable" - be forewarned that said audio system consists of an amplifier, an iPod hookup and a singular dashboard button that serves as the volume control. No radio faceplate or six-disc CD changer for Spyker. And the automatic transmission is really just about the car's only other concession to civility.

So, even though with its stratospheric price tag it competes with the Aston Martin DB9s and Ferrari 599s of the world, Spyker sees grand touring slightly different than the rest of us. The doors are still gull-winged, entry best suited to the nimble and the performance exhilarating not to mention extremely aural. Powered by the same 400 horsepower version of Audi's 4.2-litre V8 and the Spyder and Laviolette, the heavier (1,425 kilograms) Aileron isn't quite as responsive as the company's shorter wheelbase C8s. On the other hand, the longer wheelbase does allow for the incorporation of that ZF six-speed automatic, a feature the company thinks is essential to broaden its customer base. It's an overall impressive package that could, however, now stand a few more ponies since it weighs almost 200 kilos more than the Spyder.

Spyker also took the time to design an all-new chassis for the Aileron. Unlike the shorter Spyder and Laviolette, the Aileron's front and rear tracks are the same width, the double wishbone suspension is a more traditional production car design (similar to the Lotus Evora's) and the brakes do enjoy a modicum of power boosting though, to be blunt, they still require Arnold Schwarzenegger's quadriceps to get maximum whoa power. The chassis also seems a little more "nervous" than the two smaller cars, requiring more attention from the driver to maintain a line through a corner. One item beyond reproach is the Aileron's styling, inside and out. Externally, the Aileron still incorporates Spyker's manifold scoops and inlets, but the overall shape seems a little more mature. Inside, you'll still find a gorgeous combination of acres of milled aluminium, quilted leather and those aircraft-quality toggle switches Spyker claims cost Dh185 a piece. If I don't sound as enthusiastic about the Aileron as the Spyder and Laviolette, it's because, in trying to civilise its rough edges with the more "accessible" Aileron, Spyker has charged into a segment occupied by some much larger car makers - Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin - whose budget almost ensures their end product will always be more polished. The Spyder and Laviolette, on the other hand, face little direct competition, the perfect situation for a niche brand.