STORY: PETER MCKAY, DEAN EVANS | PHOTOS: THOMAS WIELECKIBreak out the Bell, or ease on the Arai, meet the four hottest hardcore road and track cars around.Ariel Atom vs Elfin Clubman vs Lotus 2-Eleven vs Radical SR3They don't have doors, side windows or even a roof. Their uses are focussed and limited Ė but you wonít hear one word of complaint.This is the parallel world of high performance road and track cars, pure performance machines designed to eke out the drudgery of life by offering heart thumping, uncompromised speed that only the truly focussed possess. Want a guide? The heaviest car here is 900kg with a power-to-weight ratio better than a Porsche Turbo.Forget luxuries like air-conditioning, power windows, radios or even door locks, this quartet of performance production cars is tough, at times terrifying and the ideal antidote for apathy.These supercar-fast track stars share a common focus, but in slightly different ways. Each is a small volume production car with its own niche, focus and forte, and while they may share a similar maxim of performance above all, each promotes it at a slightly different level and method.Australiaís own Elfin Clubman MS8 is at the comfort end of the group Ė it has a soft-top and a windscreen. Itís more tough streeter than a track star, but donít take that as weak. Or slow. Or anything bad. With its Holden V8, itís swear-word quick, but itís also the easiest to live with, on a relative scale. And itís the only fully registerable car in the herd; in its 1960s Le Mans Gulf livery, it has the looks of Nemo with the power of an army.The other three come from the spiritual home of the track day, Britain. The Ariel Atom reminds us that driving can be a passion. Its Honda Civic Type R engine and visible scaffolding underlines Ė with a baseball bat Ė that less is definitely more.Like the Atom, the Lotus 2-Eleven is road legal in the UK. Its supercharged Celica engine and track focussed nature combine with the elements of a road Lotus to personify user-friendly.And then thereís the Radical, the most hardcore pure-bred racer here, with a 1300cc Suzuki Hayabusa motorbike engine, sequential six-speed gearbox and slicks. Forget the road Ė itís sans indicators and headlights Ė because the rush is wholly and wildly befi tting of its name.So with four track stars, two test drivers, a VBOX, and an open Eastern Creek Raceway courtesy of Driving Solutions, weíre in for one hell of a day.ELFIN CLUBMAN MS8: Modern-day CobraThe new Elfin Clubman is not exactly your classic clubman look. Elfins of a generation ago were inspired by the minimalism of early British clubman cars.The design philosophy of the new Clubman MS8 is based around a thumping V8 in a lightweight chassis; itís unmistakably Aussie, where the engine threatens to overpower the handling, and where the traditional Spartan approach to cockpit equipment and furnishings is ignored. Thereís also a hint of cartoon toy in its chunky bathtub body and big steamroller wheels and tyres.Tom Walkinshawís 2006 purchase of Elfin Cars was well received, with the technical breadth, the infrastructure and dollars to finish the project and get the products to market with the aim of making it more driveable and acceptable to consumers.So here we are, in Nemo, a 500km fresh MS8 with the latest developments and a demonstrator for Elfin Sydney outlet Supercar Investments.While the slick leather buckets offer good support, the driverís butt is planted low in a what feels like a high cockpit. The footwell is squeezed by the massive transmission tunnel dominating a relatively narrow cabin.In the confined work area, my elbow canít fit inside, so I dangle it out in the wind but at least the threat of claustrophobia fades. Still, aesthetically if not ergonomically, the cabin looks smart and modern and neat with body colour blue swathed in leather.No storage bins, glovebox or radio, just three gauges and a switch that disarms the traction control Ė a system from the VZ Commodore.Ready to rumble. With 245kW on hand from its 5.7-litre V8, and shod with optional 18-inch Dunlop Direzza semi-slicks, its acceleration is best described as explosive.Any gear, any speed and the Clubman wants to reel in the horizon with the kind of ferocity that contributes towards the drama. Itís pure theatre in the Clubman and thereís this underlying feeling itís waiting for the opportunity to bite the hand that steers it. And in a masochistic way, thatís part of its charm. Itís like poking a lion with a stick.It needs to be man-handled but those hands canít be ham-fi sted or itíll get ugly. Mercifully, the non-assisted steering on this particular car is way improved over earlier models.Itís still heavy, but lightens at speed to the point where itís not an issue. The unservoed AP Racing brakes need more of a shove than most cars, but they work consistently and reassuringly.It is still largely a turn/point/squirt jigger which can use its power and tractability with great effect.Enter a corner with too much pace, and the snout starts pushing. Let it settle, and get on the gas hard, and the optional Kaaz LSD works with the fat rear tyres to keep things nice. It squirms and squats, then grips and hauls off in search of the next corner. In a straight-line, itís a missile: try 0-100km/h in 3.8 seconds! And a 12.3 quarter!Thankfully the Tremec six-speederís shift quality and overall durability has been improved by replacing some plastic bits with steel and, as a consequence, itís way slicker to manipulate. Itís hardly a pressing issue: such is the torque supply, that there is no trade-off in lap times by shifting gears 1000rpm short of the 6500rpm cutout.There is an underlying aggression to the Elfin Clubman MS8. From the V8ís rumble, to its exposed cabin, it feels like it belongs on a boulevard, cruising the beaches on a summer day, rumbling along with the help of side-exit pipes. Itís like wearing a muscle shirt, with the bulging biceps to pull it off. It evokes words like grunt, brutal and muscular. Its presence and theatre is half the show Ė the Elfin knows itís tough and fast, and doesnít need to prove it. Itís like walking around with a pair of Uzis.A modern-day version of the simplistic but brutal AC Cobra 427, with a brush of mod-cons.Undeniably a thrilling beast to drive on a racetrack, but with road registration, perfectly at home on the street.TEARDOWN
Elfin Clubman MS8
Engine: 5.7-litre OHV, 16-valve V8
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
0-400m: 12.3 @ 181km/h
Lap time: 1m:44.9s
Tarmac grade (A-C): A
• Useable muscle car, F-ING quick!
• Commands respectTIMES UP!
DragsWant contrast? Try launching and squeezing lap times out of these four. Each requires a distinctly different method and style, and they also reward and thrill in different ways.With no weight, the Atom needs just 3500rpm to launch but its super-short gearing demands a snap-shift into second Ė made easy by the superb Honda six-speed. It starts struggling and gets all gusty in third gear, right where youíre wanting that supercharger. The engine feels like it could rev to 10,000rpm and feels a little Ďlimitedí at 7000rpm.Still it jumps to 100km/h in 4.7 seconds. The Atom puffs hard to produce a 13.6 quarter-mile. Impressive, but it begs for the blower. The Lotus has it. And launch control too.Hold it flat, revs flare to the preset, and dump the clutch. Around 5500rpm works best allowing just enough wheelspin to keep the engine on its highlift cams. Shifting at 8500rpm, the supercharger offers what the Atom lacks as it blasts out a 3.9 time to 100km/h. The 2-Elevenís speed at the end is 20km/h faster too, and breaks into the 12s.The Radical is similar but it needs revs, made difficult by the lack of tacho. It proves easier to launch with cold slicks Ė a little wheelspin allows it to maintain high revs. But when they warm, the SR3 needs the full 11,000rpm to rocket off the line. Clutchless shifting helps (just lift the throttle for a moment), but the 1.3-litres does struggle for pure straight line speed Ė at the 400 metre mark, itís 10km/h faster than the Atom, but 10km/h slower than the Lotus. The Radicalís acceleration times of 4.1 and 13.2 are good, but itís best when combining that speed with corners.The Elfin is a polar opposite to the trio of fourcylinders.Grunt, grunt and brutal grunt, its V8 requires just 3500rpm and minimal wheelspin to allow the engine to use its reserves of... grunt.Two-tenths faster to 60km/h than the Lotus, and a blistering 3.8 second sprint to 100km/h, it thumps along to record a stunning 12.3 ET at an incredible 181km/h. That is EF-AYE-ESS-TEE!TrackWith four different niches, itís interesting to compare speeds but donít let lap times or apex speeds suggest these cars arenít anything but total fun. As a guide, a quick road car like a Nissan 350Z will lap Eastern Creek in a 1m:50s time. So when the Atomís 1m:46 is the Ďslowestí time, itís clear none of these cars is hanging around.The Atomís 191km/h top speed down the main straight feels like 250, but the trade-off is that itís flat through turn one. On Bridgestone semi-slicks, its raw corner speed rates highly, but at split 3, where the combo of cornering and horsepower is needed, it slips behind.The Elfinís grunt is its backbone and a massive 224km/h down the main straight blitzes everything else. Itís not as composed through the corners, and though thereís plenty of mechanical grip from the Dunlop semi-slicks, it doesnít have the aero grip of the Lotus or Radical and is slowest through turn one. Maybe at that speed, itís part fear as well. Itís the hardest to drive, and requires throttle control and patience to put the power down. It offers thrills though, like wearing a target-print shirt in the forest during hunting season.The Lotus is one second faster but itís five times easier to drive: its spread of power, light steering and great brakes mean itís quick everywhere.Mixing the speed of the Elfin with the aero grip of the Radical, the 2-Eleven is one second faster than the Clubman, but at substantially reduced stress levels Itís also sensitive to heat, running its laps in the midday sun. On a cooler day on a cooler track, the 2-Eleven has lapped the same track in 1:41.5.But itís the Radical thatís miles ahead. And on slicks, it should be. But itís the combo of grip, power, brakes, quick-shifting and aero that makes it the most effective package. No, it wonít go over speed humps like the other three road cars can, nor is it as comfortable or practical. Itís not the quickest in a straight line either, but for a package, itís tailored to suit. Its shift lights illuminate in sixth gear right at the braking point of turn one, so the 211km/h top speed is close to max. But the massive 187km/h apex speed through turn one is the answer to its lap speed and proof that while power is good, at the end of every straight is a corner Ė and that is where the Radical is strongest. Itís 1m:38.2s lap time is not only fastest here by more than five seconds, that time would put it mid-pack in a GT Championship race.
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