Peter Brock drifts Elfin MS8 Streamliner: Classic MOTOR

We get Peter brock to slide rule the Elfin in the name of smoke and science

Elfin MS8 Streamliner main
Gallery7

Even Peter Brock is being a little circumspect.

This article was first published in MOTOR Magazine's December 2005 issue. 

Snugly strapped into the Elfin MS8 Streamliner’s form-fitting cabin, the Bathurst legend is deftly feeling for the limits of the Gen III-powered roadster at ridiculous speeds. Invited out by Elfin for a fang and some feedback, Brock is also doubling as MOTOR’s road tester and slide maestro and it only takes him a few flat-out corners to find the outer limits of the Elfin Streamliner’s adhesion.

Elfin-MS8-Streamliner-enine.jpgThe classic big engine, shoehorned into the nose of a small chassis results in the classic handling trait: understeer in and oversteer out. Bulk oversteer actually; on-demand, Yokohama-screechin’ slides providing a tenor top note to the (ADR-hushed) baritone harmony of the 245kW 5.7-litre V8 lump.

A tribute to Peter Brock

Behind the D-shaped steering wheel, though, Brock is working hard and finding out that what looks the business on a motor show stand doesn’t always work as well in the real world, or at least in Brock’s world. Every time he cranks on opposite lock, he bashes his right elbow on the Elfin’s clever little flip-up door.

And he’s having trouble heel-and-toeing on down changes, because the pedals are just too close together for his size 13 clodhoppers (they are actually adjustable – the pedals, not the size of his feet). Still, he makes it look easy; drifting away like some crazed Japanese turbo-kid.

Peter-Brock.jpgBut that’s what you expect from Brock: when it comes to cars, he is still a big kid. Penned by ex-Holden design guru, Mike Simcoe (he also designed the Monaro), the Streamliner is an altogether more purposeful looking car than its forerunner, the V8 Clubman.

The cutesy fenders of the Clubbie make way for fibreglass muscles that just contain wide 235/40 R18 rubber. With its gaping black grille, cooling vents, raked wrap-around windscreen and rollover bars, it’s a waist-high wild thing that can swivel heads, especially in the test car’s loud, canola-field yellow.

Brock is sold on its looks. “When I first saw the Streamliner, I had mixed feelings,” he says, rubbing his chin. “It was very quirky, very out there, but would it be functional, would it really work? But it made a real statement and it has grown on me.”

If the Streamliner’s Sunset Strip looks have grown on Brock, there are elements of the Elfin he would change, given a chance, like the suspension setup. The basics are already there – beautiful chrome-moly A-arms front and rear, Eibach springs and fully adjustable Koni shocks – but PB reckons they could do with a tweak.

Elfin-MS8-Streamliner-badge.jpgMaybe that’s because the MS8 has gone from Show Car to Go Car in less than 18 months. “I’d play with the springs and shocks and put a bit of negative camber on it front and rear, and bolt on a fatter rear tyre,” Brock suggests.

“It needs a bit of work on rear shock control, to reduce lift-off oversteer, and the rear springs are probably stiffer than what it needs. It should have a bigger back tyre so that if you do lift off (mid-corner), it can take the (sudden) weight transfer.”

He has no complaints about the straight-line speed or grunt of the lightweight 1090kg Streamliner, though, and it effortlessly shortens the already short straights at the State Motorcycle Complex, in Broadford, blurring by at more than 180km/h. “It’s a fast car, no doubt about it; it’s got plenty of zot,” he grins.

“I had trouble confidently double de-clutching, so I would leave it in third in a corner and use the torque instead of plucking second gear.” Brock’s right there, with 465Nm you don’t need to shift as often, which is a blessing because the six-speed Tremec ’box, with its stubby shifter, can be just as recalcitrant in the Elfin as it can be tucked inside a Holden Commodore SS.

Elfin-MS8-Streamliner-wheel.jpgWhile he is used to not having power brakes or power steering in racecars, a rock hard brake pedal and heavy steering doesn’t get Brock’s seal of approval for road cars. “The brakes felt (too) race spec, you needed to give them a big shove, and for the average person the pedal is way too hard,” he says.

“I’d have a system that is totally linear, with a pedal you can modulate – the harder you push the harder it stops. You want to be able to smash the brakes at any time, you don’t want to be pushing (the pedal) harder. You’ve got to have a car that can operate as fast as you can think.

“As for the steering, you want to be able to just think a direction change and for the car to respond. The steering did load up mid-corner and if you did dial in more negative camber and more castor (for the track) it would get even worse, therefore you need a very well controlled boost system.”

Brock’s standards are high, and allowing him to test the car on a racetrack means he naturally slips into a race mentality, but his comments, particularly about handling are valid for the road too, and Elfin has taken notice of his and MOTOR’s feedback and subsequently added power assist to the steering and brakes to make the car more friendly to drivers who haven’t won a record nine Bathurst 1000s.

Elfin-MS8-Streamliner-side.jpgJust getting the Streamliner into production is a major achievement for Elfin’s co-owners, Bill Hemming and Nick Kovatch, and, critical calls aside, Brock is full of praise for their achievement (with a little help from Holden). They have delivered a fully-fledged production car that is far removed from Elfin’s kit-car Clubman beginnings.

It is beautifully built and finished, stylish, fast, and most importantly, from the perspective of potential owners, as rare as hens’ teeth. “I’d love to do something with the car in competition because it deserves success,” Brock says, angling for a drive.

“It’s damn near there and in the eyes of many, it is there already as a café racer sort of machine. But I demand a bit more; I demand 10 out of 10. Right now it’s pretty damn good and I’d give it eight out of 10.

“On the track, it’s about a seven, but you could turn it from a seven into a 9.5 relatively easily, because it has all the potential right there, built in, it just needs a bit of fine tuning. Elfin has done a damn good job.”

Tuned by Brock

He made Bathurst his own, but Brocky also helped kickstart the hot Holden craze. His baby, HDT Special Vehicles, was started in 1980 with the aim of building road versions of the race cars running in the Aust Touring Car Champs.

Before the doors closed in 1987 about 4246 cars benefitted from being tweaked by Brock. The company even had a slogan: “Body by Holden. Soul by Brock.”

Elfin's past

Elfin has been producing sports cars and open-wheelers since the ’50s. From the 1959 Streamliner to Formula Vees to the MR9 Formula 5000 of the 1980s.

Elfin-MS8-Streamliner-history.jpgIn 2001 Elfin switched from building kit-based cars to full production models built around Holden’s Gen III 5.7-litre V8s; MS8 Clubman (January 2005) and the Streamliner are the very rapid results.

Quick spin in the Elfin

The Streamliner is on track when I arrive and a fellow journo, who has already driven it, gives me some good advice: make sure I hit the brake pedal HARD. Okay, I’ll bear that in mind. Watching the little roadster circulate, it’s clear that it’s damn fast.

While I like its classic, long-nose profile, I’m less impressed with the styling of the nose, the tiny projector headlights barely giving ‘eyes’ to the MS8’s face; it looks blind, but with that greedy grille and twin pipes, one thing it’s definitely not is mute.

With a light clutch, and all that torque, it’s easy to get the Streamliner off the line and right away you’re left in no doubt that it’s a quick little mutha. When the first corner looms I jump on the brake pedal and nothing happens.

Elfin-MS8-Streamliner-driving.jpgThe pedal is rock hard, and has no feel at all, but pushing as hard as I can the car finally slows, the front tyres chirping as the ABS cuts in. The car turns in hard and the chassis is super responsive reacting immediately to tiny changes in power and steering input.

But it’s stiff; particularly the rear end, and you need to be accurate and smooth. After one lap, I’m called in, petrol is spilling from the side-mounted filler cap (it will subsequently be repositioned on top of the boot) then off I go again, this time pushing a little harder.

But the brakes are still worrying me, I just don’t seem to be able to stop the MS8 with confidence and, like Brock, I’m having trouble heel-and-toeing, and I occasionally miss a downshift. The State Motorcycle Complex is just that, complex. There’s hardly a visible apex or an on-camber corner and, as it’s made for bikes, it’s not particularly wide.

Elfin-MS8-Streamliner-Peter-Bock.jpgIn short, it’s a great track if you’ve got the measure of a car but not if it’s the other way around. The corneronto pit straight is an uphill left-hander with its blind apex somewhere over the brow. Attacking it too hard, I’m off-line by a metre or so as I crest the rise and the car starts drifting towards the edge of the grass-lined track.

With photographer Graeme Neander directly in my sights, some 50-odd metres away, I lift slightly to try and settle the nose but in an instant the MS8 snaps into oversteer, and does a 720-degree spin on the grass. Neander, meanwhile, runs.

I’d like to think it was skill, but when the world stops rotating, I’m back on the bitumen, pointing in the right direction, so I pop the clutch and get into it again, blasting past a standing ovation from my fellow scribes. Evidently, my pirouettes looked pretty speccy.

One more lap then I pit and give Bill and Nick from Elfin my two bob’s worth. A few weeks later, Bill rings to say they have added power assist to the steering and brakes, which he says transforms the car, and he offers me another drive. I can’t wait.

Elfin MS8 Streamliner Specs:
ENGINE: front-mounted 5.7-litre, 16-valve pushrod V8
POWER: 245kW @ 5600rpm
TORQUE: 465Nm @ 4000rpm
WEIGHT: 1090kg
TRANSMISSION: six-speed manual
PRICE: $135,850

 

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Steve Nally
Journalist
Graeme Neander
Photography

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