Almost 30 years after the first attempt sent him broke, 67-year-old businessman Paul Halstead is having a second crack at the 'Great Aussie Mid-Engined Supercar'.
Currently the managing director of IT recruitment specialist Adaps, Halstead achieved notoriety during the 1980s when he unleashed a 5.0-litre Holden V8-powered version of Alfa Romeo's lightweight Sprint coupe onto the local market. Called the Giocattolo, which means plaything in Italian, just 15 of the $90,000, mid-engine rockets were built before he wound up the operation after four years and $4 million out of pocket.
More recently Halstead, under his auto design side business HAL, unveiled a stunning, hand-built Monaro show car at the 2009 Melbourne Motor Show, complete with pumped-up body, full custom interior and 427 Corvette engine.
Now the Melbourne-based IT guru has turned his attention to creating a world-class, mid-engined supercar that he hopes to debut (and win) at the prestigious Ridler hot rod awards in the US in about three years' time.
While it's early days – the only evidence on display at his workshop in Melbourne's western suburbs when motoring.com.au dropped by recently for a sneak peek being a V8 Supercar-style six-speed sequential transmission, two 7.0-litre V8 blocks bolted together and some preliminary CAD drawings – it's obvious this is no backyard, penny-pinching project.
A set of half-scale sketches reveal a very modern, curvaceous and low slung silhouette in the latest supercar mould. It's clear Halstead, who conceived the design, had a range of influences from the three-seat McLaren F1 to the Maserati Birdcage 75th concept car.
Aiming for the "highest, highest tech", Halstead says the carbon-fibre/kevlar body will be just 1.1m high, featuring a sliding, jet fighter-style glass canopy but no doors.
"The reason for (a doorless body) is that you save an enormous amount of structural strength and eliminate weight by not having a door in the side of it," he says.
Like the McLaren F1, the cosy cockpit will have three staggered seats, including a central driver's perch. Clambering over the 80cm high sill, you'll need to fold over and click into position a "curved alloy structure" that holds the steering wheel and instruments before blasting off towards the horizon.
However, it's his version of a 'V16' – two Chevy V8 blocks bolted together side-by-side on 45 degree angles that he describes as "complete madness".
"People think two V8s is going to be massive, but they're not. They're rolled over at 45 degrees," he says, partly in order to keep the two crankshafts together. Utilising two dry sump systems and a 'trick' transfer case, 1200hp (895kW) from the twin, 7.0-litre engines will be funnelled through the six-speed sequential 'box which, unlike the V8 Supercar version, is adapted for the mid-engine layout including a polished billet casing and limited slip differential.
Halstead says his solution to the age-old hot rod dilemma of running two V8s together is a "really tidy solution" that's "never been done before".
"It's not much different to a (Bugatti) Veyron motor. The Veyron is a V16, but in effect they used the V8 VW engines and they put them on a single crank. I couldn't afford to do that, so this is just slightly wider than that, but apart from that it's quite similar."
With $100,000 invested already, mainly on the transmission, he describes the ambitious project as "frightfully expensive".
"The next stage is to build a mock tub out of MDF, then send it away and have it done in carbon," he explains.
Former McLaren F1 engineer Barry Lock, who also worked on the Giocattolo, will look after the suspension, while the envisaged 320km/h-plus supercar will ride on 20 x 13-inch wheels.
Like the Giocattolo and many Ferraris, the bespoke engine and other internals will be on full view outside. "You'll be able to look in the front of it and see the driver's feet, and the AP racing pedals will be visible, and the (carbon fibre) tub won't all be covered in..."
It's not all show though, with the dramatic, deep-set vents and tunnels along the body, together with front and rear radiators, vital for keeping everything running smoothly. "One of the biggest problems we've got is cooling it," he says.
Although likely to be a one-off, Halstead's supercar will be "production ready", with safety features and modern comforts including air-conditioning.
"We're not worried about compliance rules but we are worried about delivering something that is sensible," he says.
This time around he's only willing to blow $1million on his vision, and says it's more about "having a bit of fun".
"I enjoy the build as much as anything. I certainly won't be putting up millions of dollars again, it's too hard. But maybe a Roger Penske might be interested (investing in a production version)."
Like the dazzling blue HAL Monaro, the finishing touch will be a unique House of Kolor paintjob, designed to impress the Ridler judges.
"Ridler is the objective if it's good enough... even getting into the top 10 is a big deal," he says. "What they're on about is hot rod flavour, with perfect finish."
Looking over Halstead's other 'toys' in his spacious workshop, it's obvious he has an insatiable need for speed. His small but memorable collection includes a 1970 Plymouth 'Cuda, custom Victory motorbike, and a stunning French Blue Lamborghini Diablo with carbon fibre interior retrim.
Then there's the unbeaten De Tomaso Pantera race car, which Halstead built at the time he was supplying locally-built 5.8-litre Ford V8s to the Italian supercar manufacturer. Originally raced by Kevin Bartlett in the Australian GT Championship, the ground-hugging 'White Panther' still sees action in historic racing, with Larry Perkins behind the wheel, as Halstead continues to chase the 'class' lap record at Phillip Island.
He also owns the black 'No.11' Giocattolo, which he has further tweaked over the years for increased performance. "This is so quick... because it's only 1000kg it's very, very light, and it has a full (6.6-litre) race engine..."
"I wasted a lot of money, and went broke building these back in the '80s..." he recalls wistfully.
There's a sense of unfinished business with Halstead's latest build, and when he finally finishes it around 2016, it's not surprising he's considering naming it Giocattolo.
"We don't know what it will be called yet. It may be a Giocattolo again, because that gives it a bit more providence, and it sort of flows on from the Giocattolo that we did before..."
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