BBC Autos

The Roundabout Blog

Australia builds a world-beater

About the author

A BBC correspondent based in Sydney, Phil has sniffed out stories in every corner of Australia and beyond, into the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, to the car-clogged heart of Jakarta and the usually tranquil streets of Samoa (which suffered brief chaos when drivers were ordered to switch from the right hand side of the road to the left). He drives a family-friendly Mazda.

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Inspired by mythic Greek warriors and powered by a high-revving Honda engine, Australia’s featherweight sports car, the Spartan, has entered the production stage.

For seven years, twin brothers Peter and Nick Papanicolaou from the Sydney-based Spartan Motor Company nurtured the prototype of their two-seat supercar, which has matured into a bona fide stunner: 55lbs of flowing carbon fibre wrapped around a laser-cut tube-steel space frame. With no doors or roof and a cockpit devoid of creature comforts, the Spartan is a minimalist’s delight, a car that, says Peter, aims to summon the spirits of the ancient soldiers of Sparta, who were transformed from men into machines when they strapped on their armour.

“It is super quick, so in the wrong hands it would be pretty scary,” he said. “The car is a retro version of a Sixties racecar, similar to Le Mans cars. We wanted that curvy look with no hard edges.”

While the 1,100lb prototype (pictured here) made use of a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine from Honda’s humble Fit hatchback – marketed in Spartan’s native Australia as the Jazz – which was then supercharged to a fairly fearsome 235 horsepower, production Spartans will up the ante with Honda’s esteemed K20A Type-R engine, matched to a traditional six-speed manual transmission. With no forced induction, this 2-litre four-cylinder unit cranks out 250hp; opt for the supercharged version and prepare to wrangle a terrifying 400hp. The standard model will blast to 60mph in about three seconds, on its way to a 149mph top speed.

“We wanted to make the car as light as possible so that it could feel like a big go-kart,” said Peter. “We wanted a car that had a bit of drift so that you could play with it on the track to put a big grin on your face.”

Peter’s passion for motorcycles helped drive the development of the Spartan, and above all, he wanted his sports racer to deliver superbike thrills on the track. In fact, the project initially called for a 1198cc Ducati V-twin engine, but reliability issues scuttled that plan. The Honda power plants – the prototype’s supercharged 1.5-litre Jazz engine and the production cars’ 2-litre Type-R mill — were fortuitous finds: refined, flexible and unwaveringly dependable.

Peter added that in Australia the Spartan is suitable only for racetrack use. “But in countries like the UK, where the laws are easier, it can be registered for road use,” he added. “We will look at a lighting kit for that.” Production will be limited to 300 examples, a nod to the mythic battle of Thermopylae, during which 300 Spartan warriors held a narrow pass in eastern Greece for three days against the vast and formidable Persian army.

With a growing parade of boutique supercars — large, heavy, complex two-seaters with outsize power and price tags to match — competing for the attention of discerning speed freaks, the uncomplicated Spartan, priced at A$79,000 ($80,700), pushes the performance envelope from a different direction. Lightweight, nakedly mechanical and supremely nimble, Australia’s elemental sports racer might just be the ultimate supercar for Spartan times.