Drakan Spyder first drive: Move over, Ariel Atom V8



Driving California’s best roads in an amazingly fun sports machine

What is it?

> If you were to design your own “ultimate sports car” from the wheels up and the crankshaft out, you’d probably design a Drakan Spyder. Track enthusiast and former General Motors engineer Shinoo Mapleton wanted just such a design and found it in the Palatov D2, which he speced out to his exact wishes, had Palatov build and which he is now selling to the public for 80 to 100 grand a pop.

The Drakan Spyder has a tube frame chassis with a mid-rear-mounted LS3 V8 driving the rear wheels through a six-speed Porsche G96 manual transaxle; there’s a double wishbone pushrod suspension at all four corners and the whole package has a curb weight of 2,000 pounds. Any questions?

Drakan in a corner

Drakan corners very nicely, with a bit of tail-happiness, but not much. The Toyos and the LSD keep it in line. Photo by Drew Phillips

How’s it drive?

After one day in the Drakan (on great roads), we can say it drives every bit as well as its spec sheet promises. You remove the steering wheel, step in over the frame, slide down into the seat and — fwooomp! — you’re in place for the six-point belt. Mapleton had earlier adjusted the pedals to fit our ungainly leg length (it’s always a good sign when a carmaker asks for your inseam). Then just pop the wheel back on, fire the big V8 and you’re off.

Immediately you can tell this is a very well-sorted car. Even though the hip point is about amidships, you feel like you’re sitting farther forward in the Spyder than you do in the Ariel Atom or BAC Mono. The forward seat positioning really makes it feel like a race car. Since the steering is completely unboosted, it’s pretty heavy at slow speeds but lightens up once you get underway. Brakes are unboosted, too, but give similarly excellent feel. You get used to it quickly and start to really like it after only a short drive.

The engine is pretty much amazing in this car. The 6.2-liter GM Performance Parts LS3 E-Rod makes 430 hp and 424 lb-ft of torque. That’s in a car that weighs 1,300 pounds less than the C6 Corvette that shared the same engine. In the Drakan it works out to an amazing 4.7 pounds per hp, good for a claimed, and undoubted, 0-60 time of 3.2 seconds and a top speed of 165 mph. Most cars like this — Caterhams, Ariel Atoms — have four-cylinder engines, but Drakan customers kept demanding a V8, so that’s what they got. A powertrain like this weighs about 250 pounds more than a typical four-cylinder unit, but it was a tradeoff worth trading off.

“All my customers kept asking about a V8 just like their Corvettes or Vipers (which has a V10 but you know what I mean),” Mapleton said. “So I said, ‘Why not give it to them?’”

The result is a rather rear-heavy 40/60 weight bias which you feel when you push the car in corners. You can swing the rear end around — stably and predictably — like some sort of dune buggy or maybe a Porsche rally car. Accelerating out of a corner, for instance, the rear comes out a little, then the diff locks a little thunkishly, then the car stays right in line as you ease more onto the throttle.

The suspension on our car was set up more for a real road, too, which was nice. It was soft enough to absorb most bumps and potholes, but still stiff enough to allow precise turn-in. The sophisticated pushrod suspension is generally very solid, with only a little whanging over the bigger bumps. It’s adjustable, so you can tighten it down for track days. The TIG-welded chromemoly tube chassis is likewise about as solid as Drakan could make it. The Porsche transmission — attached to the LS3 with an aftermarket adapter plate — is perfectly matched to the task, engaging with ease and without ambiguity, even though the shift lever is a little longer than we’d like (this part is tuned for a balance between feel and effort, so the lever length is the best compromise for the task at hand). Likewise the suede-wrapped steering wheel diameter, small and racy, is chosen to reduce steering effort while still allowing a quick ratio. 

Drakan engine

The Drakan is powered by an LS3 V8 Photo by Drew Phillips

Do I want it?

Do you even have to ask? If you’re looking for a track-day car that you can drive to the track and back and still feel like a human being instead of a pulverized piece of beef jerky, this could be it. If you want a weekend toy that is absurdly fun to drive, this is it.

Shortcomings? We might have put a cooler-looking full body on it. You already have most of a body that exposes the four corners, so why not cover them up and make it into some pseudo-Ferrari? Also, there’s a fair amount of engine heat swirling around the cockpit when underway that could be routed outside the car, at least in summer. And you register it as a specialty construction car, or whatever your state calls such things. Mapleton assures us you can register these in every state.

All in all, we had a very fun several hours’ drive in this thing. We would definitely recommend it over the Ariel Atom, BAC Mono or even the Caterham, though a head-to-head between Caterham and Drakan would be a great comparo. Hmmm …

Mark Vaughn


Mark Vaughn

– West Coast Editor Mark Vaughn covers all car things west of the Mississippi from his Autoweek lair high above the LA metropolis. For contact info, flash the AW logo on a cloud over the city and he will get in touch. Read more »

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