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Four-Wheeled Aviation Artistry

I first took notice about six years ago at the highly acclaimed McCall’s Motorworks party hosted by automotive aficionado Gordon McCall. They sat in the corner of the hangar at the Monterey Jet Center quietly calling for attention. A black one and a burgundy with loads of chrome trim and mesh accents. Surrounding them were elegantly dressed people pinching a wine glass with one hand and reaching for the hors d’oeuvre tray with the other. Hard as they try, it was impossible not to resist taking multiple glances at the metal and glass artwork. Like me there was a certain feature everyone wanted to take a closer look at, the chrome shifter.

Sure, it could easily have been the brush-swirled instrument panel dotted with aluminum toggle switches or the vintage-aero vents reminiscent of a turbofan engine. But it was the unique thinking of leaving the shift column and linkage assembly viewable to all that caught my eye and became the redundant question to which Spyker representatives learned quickly to respond.

Both automatic and manual transmission shifters are of an open-air design showcasing the linkage which is normally covered by a boot in more traditional vehicles.

“Most people are afraid of it.” Says Spyker representative JP Clinging, “But we simply explain to the customer it’s no different than any other shift assembly available on vehicles today. We just decided not to cover it up.”

What was then known as ‘Car & Cigars’ has become the official kick-off celebration for the famed Concourse d’Elegance week on the Monterey Peninsula. Each year Spyker has been present alongside a plethora of business jets, nostalgic racers and those vehicles predicted to be amongst the finest examples presented by weeks end at Pebble Beach.

Spyker’s unique aeronautical appearance was born in 1914 when the company merged with the Dutch Aircraft Factory N.V. Like many aviation to automotive adaptations such as the Studabaker’s jet engine intake-like nose to the Cadillac’s aerodynamically flowing fins, Spyker set the pace beginning with its prop and wire wheel logo. From there, aviation was in the car’s blood.

Ahead of its time, this early Spyker motor coach was put to the test during the Peking to Paris rally.

In 1898 two brothers, Jacobus and Hendrik-Jan Spijker, both coach builders in Amsterdam, founded the automotive business whereby bringing the first 4-wheel drive and 4-wheel brake equipped vehicle to market in 1903. In 1907, they took second place after entering their vehicle in the grueling Peking to Paris race earning them great notoriety.

Following WWI, the automotive industry stalled and Spyker was forced to merge with the aviation industry whereby producing 100 fighter aircraft and 200 high-performance aircraft engines. Despite the merger, Spyker continued building a limited number of performance and luxury-based vehicles until 1925.

It wasn’t until October 2000 that Spyker reemerged as a cutting-edge automotive manufacturer with the limited production C8 ‘Spyder’ followed a few months later by the C8 ‘Laviolette’ coupe. By June 2005, Spyker was finally allowed to bring the C8 class of vehicles stateside following emissions testing by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The instrument panel of the Spyker Aileron showcases guarded switches, analog guages, brushed aluminum panel and turbine-esque ventilation ducts.

I got the chance to meet up with the folks from Spyker at esteemed Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley, CA. Though I had heard rumors of my being allowed to drive the car, I really didn’t expect it to actually happen.

They had a nice collection of Laviolettes bustling around along with the original “Peking to Paris” Spyker. A few minutes after I had arrived at Bernardus, the new C8 Aileron coupe coasted up the lengthy driveway humming a well-tuned throaty beat announcing its presence.

Compared to the original C8 Laviolette and the convertible C8 Spyder, the Aileron has a 6-inch longer wheelbase and front track increase of 6.1 inches for better road handling. Many of the ‘shark gills’ have been removed for a cleaner style and the split side windows have given way to the more functional single-pane windows that are now fully retractable. From the front, it sports a larger intake for increased engine cooling and from the rear light emitting diodes (LED’s) have taken the place of the venerable brake light bulb. That same LED technology is also used in the turn indicators as well as to accent the redesigned headlights.

A quick walk around followed by a more in-depth photographic look at each and every detail revealed the amount of creativity poured into the vehicle’s design. From the simplicity of the toggle switches to the elegance of the aeronautical clock, chrome and leather intertwined beautifully. Of note, Spyker designers chose to include aviation evolution into the design. Unlike the original C8’s use of piston era accents, the new Aileron boasts features reminiscent of the turbine propulsion age.

Connecting Carmel Valley to Highway 68, better known as the means to Laguna Seca Raceway, is the windy and hilly Laureles Grade. A short jaunt to the top of the grade yielded a nice turn out for some photos before my driver handed over the wheel to head back down the hill. Not exactly fair as little manual acceleration is required due to this thing called gravity, but the guardrail hugging turns were most certainly welcome.

My first impression was that of a solid car, including the suspension. One definitely feels each and every pebble not to mention the gentle soothing vibration of the rear-mounted 400bhp Audi 4.2 liter V8 engine. There’s no question acceleration is plenty to satisfy as are the over sized ABS brakes when it comes to slowing her down.

New to the unique shifting linkage is a teardrop twist control knob for the radio, but good luck in hearing tunes over the engine roar. After all, one would deduce the rumble in the rear is far more appealing than anything on the airwaves. However, should you force your ears to choose tunes over tones, the iPod-ready Kharma audio system should give your brain plenty of conflict.

The new Spyker Aileron takes its cues from Cold War Era jet designes vs. the Laviolette which is more WWII aviation design driven.

Being a relatively short guy (5’3), the increased interior room of the lengthened Aileron chassis meant I had to move the seat forward. (Subtly suggesting this would be a really good thing for most people) Surrounded by plush leather, that of the Dutch Royal Tannery Hulshof, made my derriere feel not worthy, but oh so comfortable.

That interface between man and machine is none other than a perfectly matched 6-speed Getrag gearbox. Available as an option, the ZF 6-speed gearbox comes standard with paddle shifters behind the steering wheel for that enhanced F-1 experience. And keeping the Aileron on terra firma is courtesy 235/35 tires up front and 295/30’s in the rear with wheels taking on the look of a jet turbofan.

An interior view of the Spyker C8 Laviolette Spyder.

Completing the package, a Lotus-developed rear double-wishbone suspension system attempts to make the driver more comfortable without robbing him or her of the ground-pounding fun. Taking on a new kinematic layout consisting of front and rear stabilizer bars, mono-tube dampers, coil over damper steel springs as well as an anti-dive and anti-squat layout all combine to improve handling over the C8 configuration.

While I found the Aileron to be an exhilarating ride, I quickly learned the vehicle is not on par with a movement from Mozart or Vivaldi, but rather that of Guns n’ Roses or Korn. The ride is solid and noisy, beasty and adrenaline inducing. At the helm of the hardtop was like being loaded into a shotgun. What this thing needed was air, room to breath, sun to warm. Low and behold, the Aileron Spyder!

Introduced at the 2009 Pebble Beach Concourse d’Elegance, the Spyder retains the classic lines of the hard top Aileron but with more California cruisin’ fun built right in.

The new Spyder utilizes a new semi-automatic canvas soft-top incorporating an electric/hydraulic mechanism secured by a centrally located manual latch. Once folded, the glass window-equipped soft-top is completely enclosed enabling the flowing lines of the Aileron to go undisturbed. On the rear deck rests a solid billet aluminum luggage rack complete with an aerodynamic wing-shape aluminum luggage case large enough for a well-folded shirt.

Written along the side of the tonneau cover is Spyker’s long-time saying, “Nulla tenaci invia est via” – for the tenacious no road is impassable.


2 responses to “Four-Wheeled Aviation Artistry

  1. jet charters January 15, 2012 at 9:14 AM

    Hola! I’ve been reading your weblog for some time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Atascocita Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the good work!

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