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Elfin Sports Cars Logo
Bellow Yellow - Auto Action
21.09.2005

The curling, climbing left-hander crests at its apex. Squeezing the throttle as you cut across the rise, the bright yellow sports car cocks its stubby tail, teetering on the brink of breakaway. With the track dropping away, the roadster's rump drifts outwards towards the edge of the blacktop. There's just enough attitude to make it a satisfying slide, but a lurid lose is only a toe-twitch away.

A quick flick of opposite lock – actually, more like a small wrist-twist – snaps the car straight as it sets off down the hill, leaving a baffled bellow in its wake.

From behind its small Sparco steering wheel, the Elfin MS8 Streamliner is a squat speedster that is road-refined, yet track-sharp. This is the honed homage to the very first Elfin for which fans of the marque's revival have been waiting – and they're unlikely to be disappointed.

The Le Mans-look of the 2004 Melbourne Motor Show concept car has been largely retained in production form and an even more convincing Sarthe-style silhouette can be achieved with the optional gull wing hardtop.

The full-bodied MS8 – based on the underpinnings of the cycle-fendered Clubman – is a modern tribute to the original 1959 Streamliner, a curvaceous two-seater that was the first of founder Garrie Cooper's designs. The new-generation Streamliner is a tough, taut tarmac terroriser combining brutal beauty with explosive performance and daily-driver creature comforts.

Whereas the minimalist MS8 Clubman is a hardcore machine with few frills, the Streamliner adds practicality without losing much of the former's potent performance. It's still way more track than hack, though, designed "to appeal to enthusiast drivers who want a road-registered sports car that can also deliver winning performance on the racetrack and road rallies", according to Elfin Sports Cars joint managing director Bill Hemming.

Although slightly bigger and noticeably heavier than the Clubman, the Streamliner packs a punch that commands respect and restraint as much on a circuit as on the road. Given its competition heritage, it's no surprise that the production version was launched at a track, where its full fury can be unleashed.

And what a track! Instead of the usual suspects, Elfin opted for the road circuit of the State Motorcycle Sports Complex at Broadford, just off the Hume Highway 75 km north of Melbourne.

It was an inspired choice because the freshly resurfaced 2.16 km circuit is a treasure of a track, climbing, plunging and twisting around a hillside. The course is challenging in its complexity of corners and lack of run-off areas.

Stray from the bitumen and, apart from a few strategically placed tyre barriers, you'll hit deep ruts, ditches or earth mounds. It is a classic road course with little room for error, but its retro nature and the consequences of getting it wrong focus your concentration, and provide the sort of stimulation and satisfaction that is missing from the usual run of safe, sanitary circuits.

The Broadford track features a couple of fast, undulating straights linked by a series of tortuous bends that test the mettle of both car and driver, almost all them either climbing, dipping or dropping away.

In stark contrast to the skatefest that was driving the Clubman on a wet Calder Park, the warm, sunny test day at Broadford allowed a much more aggressive try-out of the Streamliner's grunt and grip. Its light weight – 1100 kg – and 245kW/465Nm standard-tune 5.7-litre Holden V8 ensured plenty of the former, while the absence of traction control on the pre-production prototype made the latter tenuous.

As it rushes and rumbles its way around the serpentine circuit, the Streamliner is always on the verge of overwhelming its 235/40 Yokohama ADVAN Sport V103 premium performance tyres, which have been launched in Australia on the vehicle. They provide prodigious grip until a tad too much throttle is applied, whereupon the Streamliner snaps sideways with progressive vigour.

The oversteer can be lurid, but it only gets vicious if you overstep the mark with an indiscriminate right foot. Driven to the threshold on this circuit, through, it is tenacious in the turns, developing mild understeer approaching the exit of the longer loops.

It leaps from corner to corner, the cockpit resonating to a growly grumble, and snapping through the standard Holden-sourced six-speed gearbox on the straights produces a solid surge of press-you-back-into-the seat acceleration.

From the outside, the sonorous rumble of the big V8 up front is muted to a whoosing roar by restricting exhaust baffling to meet road-going requirements. Not that it- or the extra 225 kilos it carries over the Clubman, thanks to its all-enveloping GRP bodywork – has a huge effect on its ability to be stonking in a straight line.

In damp conditions at Calder, development driver Kovatch dispatched 0-100 km/h in just under five seconds and the standing 400 metres in 13 seconds – compared with dry-track bests of four seconds and 12.4 seconds respectively for the Clubman.

The reduced drag of the Streamliner, the frame-hugging lines of which are the work of a Holden design team led by Elfin enthusiast (and now GM North America styling guru) Mike Simcoe, should ensure a top speed of more than 300 km/h.

It combines shattering performance with amenities such as a roomy (for a small sports car), quality-look-and-feel interior, air conditioning and keyless operation of the scissor doors, which open outwards and upwards from the wide sills. The driving position is snug and supporting – and just long enough to accommodate tall occupants.

The unassisted steering is full of road feel and accuracy, although it loads up alarmingly when you wind on a lot of lock. The big bespoke brakes are more than up to the task, but getting them to bite requires a hefty push on the centre pedal, which is rock-hard and devoid of feel.

The searing yellow test car – the second and final pre-production vehicle – felt as solid as it was rapid and responsive, with the doors and bonnet closing with reassuring thunks.

The package impressed Peter Brock, who was also on hand to sample the Streamliner – and marvel at the unexpected thrill of the Broadford circuit.

"It's a very provocative statement in this age of political correctness," Brock said. "It's nice to know that there's someone who says it's okay to have a smile on your face when you drive a car.

"It is a potent bit of machinery. It's basically pretty balanced, pretty progressive. We're talking about some quickness here. I enjoyed it. You could get a bit of a drift going. And it's very practical in so many respects. The heater and air conditioning worked a treat and the windshield cut out a lot of the buffeting.

"They done well. It's a very well put together car."

The MS8 Streamliner costs $135,850 – a $26,205 premium over the Clubman – plus another four grand if you want the hatch back hard top, which featured upward-opening ‘gull wing' doors. The first production car is due to be delivered to former sports sedan star Bryan Thompson at the end of the month.

The Streamliner is a value-for-money alternative to exotic imported supercars. It has a unique local pedigree and the ability to match – or outperform – cars costing twice as much or more on the road or at the track.

Still-born Bathurst Racer

An endurance racing version of the Elfin MS8 Streamliner was partly built for a Holden-backed assault on the Bathurst 24 Hours. The project was frozen following the cancellation of the race last year in the wake of the collapse of PROCAR and the Nations Cup series. Garry Rogers Motorsport was commissioned to build the Streamliner-on-steroids as a follow-up to its back-to-back Bathurst 24-winning Monaros. The still-born MS8 racer exists in almost-completed form at GRM's workshop at Glen Waverley in Melbourne's southeastern suburbs, waiting for the scheme to be revived. Utilising selected mechanicals from the Nations Cup Monaros, the GT-style Streamliner would also be suitable for Targa-type road rallies and, in a more modified form, could have potential to compete at Le Mans.

"It's ready to go when we have a race," said Elfin Sports Cars joint managing director Bill Hemming. "We need a race to take it to and we need a rich customer to campaign it."

The Bathurst 24-spec Streamliner's appearance is close to the artist's impression shown here.

"Every body panel's different (to the road car)," noted Hemming. The racer's fiberglass body is 200mm wider than the road car because of heavily flared guards to accommodate racing wheels and tyres, and 200mm longer to house a long-distance fuel tank. The pronounced bonnet bulge houses a cold air intake to feed the 5.7-litre Holden V8, for which GRM developed modified camshafts and cylinder heads, and increased the compression ratio, to produce 370kW, or 500bhp in the old money.

"The chassis's been completed," Hemming said. "The body skins, with the front splitter and the extended boot and all that sort of stuff, are also ready to go. "Garry Rogers has the chassis, we've got the body and we'll get them together one day. Garry's desperate to finish it, too." The engine – described by Rogers as "docile" – is mated to the Monaro's sequential gearbox. Also common are the wheels, while the Elfin racer's suspension was inspired by the set-up on the competition coupe.

"The biggest problem was fitting everything into the (compact) package," Rogers said.

The racing Streamliner's special bodywork features a single-seater-style wraparound screen and a single-mounting post rear wing is incorporated in the roll cage structure. Rogers had originally hoped the project would go far beyond the Bathurst 24. "We'd have liked to take this thing to the Daytona or Le Mans, just for the sake of it," he revealed.

Rogers mused that the MS8 racer's best hope of resurrection might be a road rally like Targa Tasmania. "We'd like to run it somewhere. It'll be a bloody good car. You could run it in the Targa. It's not a rocketship. You could use it as a road car."

Words by Mark Fogarty, Photos by Coventry Studios