PETER ‘Pap’ Papanicolaou is one of those characters who seems to have been around automotive publishing since, well, forever.
The 53-year-old graphic designer and photographer has had a long career romping through a bunch of independent motoring and motorcycle titles.
Pap has in fact spent the past 10 years with Outback, published by bootmaker R.M. Williams. But he’s more than kept his hand in the automotive scene by designing and building, with identical-twin brother Nick, a world-class track-day race car, the Spartan.
In typical Pap fashion – like co-founding the odd magazine, or learning photography “because we could never get what we wanted” – the Spartan is the product of curiosity and capability.
The brothers grew up in Sydney; their father owning an engineering workshop. “We used to drive around my dad’s factory units, learning to slide and drift an old XR Falcon ute! When we got our licences we had an E49 Charger, and a [Leyland] P76 that was faster than that.”
A Fiat X1/9 “with a race motor” and brother Nick’s Lamborghini Urraco were also in the mix, but career and family then brought Peter “a couple of decades of having nothing special.”
After the successful sale of a motorcycle magazine business, Pap intended to buy a used Porsche 911 Carrera.
“But I always had this idea of building a super-fast, lightweight car with a bike engine,” Peter says. “I mentioned it to Nick one day and he said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ And that was it.”
The brothers already knew their way around cars, no less around a lathe and a milling machine.
Peter put his graphic skills to designing the neat, carbonfibre barchetta body. In keeping with the minimalist Latin appeal, they bought a near-new Ducati 1198S for its 127kW, V-twin engine.
“I bought it off the showroom floor, rode it 11km and stripped it. I was crying because I’d never owned a Ducati before.”
That first iteration took the brothers four years to build, working in their spare time.
“It just takes a lot longer than you expect. You double it, then you triple it.”
The first Spartan was unveiled at the 2011 Sydney Motorcycle Show. Weighing just 450kg and bristling with brand-name components, it was quick as stink, the brothers claiming 0-100km/h in under three seconds. But the bike-derived transmission was proving to be marginal, and there were other things the boys wanted to improve.
Spartan 2.0 would have a 1.5-litre Honda Jazz engine and a Sprintex supercharger.
“We had to chop the back off and re-engineer the whole thing. That took another year of faffing around … then the suspension geometry wasn’t ideal. It would oversteer a bit – which I like – but eventually we ironed out the bugs.”
In early-2013, Peter was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. “We were about to buy a new house, we had a big trip booked to Europe … life just goes into limbo.” After four months’ treatment, the signs were all good. “It just made me more determined.”
Throughout the car’s development, the weekend- and after-work-warriors have benefitted from the use of a Sydney enthusiast’s private-road facility for testing.
Now 10 years after it began, the Spartan’s evolution has arrived at effectively a new car, powered by a 2.4-litre Type R-derived Honda engine. “It’s making 200kW and it’s bulletproof,” says Peter.
Limited production was always in the plan, but for Pap, it’s already been a hugely satisfying journey.
“It was one of those dream things. You’ve always wanted to build your own car, create something. We just said, ‘Yeah, we could do this … let’s see what we can create.’”