Aeon GT3 Spyder
When the Aeon coupé was launched, all the magazine reviews seemed to major on its McLaren F1 style seating layout.
The most significant aspect for me though was that here was a brand new kit car company whose product had been subjected to extensive testing at MIRA, the car industry's road testing facility, which was a pretty good indicator of just how determined its creators were to get it right.
The men in question are John Hewat and Keith Wood, who between them have a wealth of engineering and motorsport experience.
John comes from, among other things, 15 years of prepping everything from Mk 1 Escorts through to RS200s and single seaters for rallying, sprinting and hillclimbs, along with a stint manufacturing trials cars. And when he wasn’t prepping cars for other people he was sprinting his own, collecting a bunch of class ftds in the process. So it’s safe to say he knows how to make cars go fast, both in the workshop and behind the wheel.
Keith’s background is somewhat slower paced, working in the petrochemical industry before starting his own business for specialist off-road and agricultural vehicles, so he’s well versed in producing sophisticated high quality niche engineering products.
And it was the determination that the Aeon would be a high quality product that led to all that testing at MIRA.
Tested to destruction
This started off with the prototype Aeon being fitted with strain gauges and various other instruments and then subjected to rigorous durability testing with long drives over every type of road surface MIRA has to offer, including the really crappy ones.
Data from this was then fed into MIRA’s computer, which predicted the lifespan of various parts, then a chassis was bolted into a test rig and the suspension pounded until something finally broke – which took well in excess of what was expected.
Then it was off to MIRA’s wind tunnel for some aerodynamic work, as a result of which Aeon has a stack of information about how air flows over the body -- and a car that produces a useful amount of downforce at high speed.
But while this level of testing and development is unusual for a kit car, the Aeon’s method of construction is rather more commonplace.
The basis for the Aeon is a good old fashioned steel spaceframe, this mostly consisting of 25x25x1.5mm and 25x50x1.5mm ERW box section tubing, with 19mm diameter ERW tube for cross bracing, though the roll bar is made from CDS tubing to RAC MSA spec.
As is now usual, the floor and cockpit sides are sheet aluminium, both bonded and riveted into place for maximum strength and durability.
The suspension is custom made double wishbones with coil-over dampers front and rear, and while the rear also utilises custom made fabricated steel uprights, the front end gets surprisingly mundane by using uprights from an old Cortina.
Why? Well, they’re cheap, still quite easy to get, and their geometry is well suited to the job. But if the thought of using old Cortina bits in your race style car is just too embarrassing – or if you want to keep unsprung weight to a minimum – then Aeon can supply some special aluminium alternatives.
Also special is the suspension’s adjustability, which besides the usual camber, castor, height and track even encompasses the wheelbase. That’s because Aeon wanted the car to provide the ultimate in handling, and John’s view is that you can only achieve that by being able to correctly fine-tune every last detail.
With this in mind it’s surprising to learn that Aeon feels that polyurethane bushes are just too positive and have built in some compliance by using old fashioned Metalastic bushes. Mind you, there’s next to no rubber in them...
Rose joints are of course an option for serious track and competition use, as are uprated brakes. As standard, the brakes consist of 285mm Willwood vented discs and four-pot callipers front with Sierra solid discs and callipers rear, while for hard track use they offer larger front callipers with four pot callipers and vented discs for the rear.
In each case they’re operated by a non-servoed adjustable bias pedal that’s fully SVA compliant, having been tested and passed at both extremes of adjustment.
Wheels are 7x17-inch front, 8x17-inch rear, shod with 205/40 and 245/35 Toyo T1R tyres respectively. Grippier, road legal Toyo R888s are an option, but Aeon doesn’t normally use them because, while they’re brilliant in the dry, they’re apparently bloody scary in the wet.
When it comes to motive power, Aeon reckons any transverse front wheel drive installation will probably fit, with original factory fits being Ford’s I4 and V6 Duratec engines. For the Spyder demonstrator though, Aeon has joined the increasing ranks of specialist car companies using Audi’s 20-valve turbo engine.
Middle seat hogger
Now we’ve got the technical stuff out of the way, let’s deal with the aspect of the Aeon GT3 Spyder that most people will talk about -- that central driving position.
As with the McLaren F1, this was born out of its designer’s experience with single-seater racing cars and the desire to provide a road going car with the same ultimate driving position.
With the Spyder having no roof to squeeze under, access to that central seat is easy enough, though Aeon has a new seat under development to accommodate runners as the one currently fitted is fixed in position.
That centrally mounted steering wheel is fitted to an adjustable Mondeo column, which is connected to a Titan steering rack specially made for Aeon and available in three ratios, with the quickest two turns lock to lock version currently fitted.
If you thought that sitting in the middle of the car would feel strange, the strange thing is that by the time you’ve finished buckling yourself into the six-point racing harness and noticed just how good the driving position is, it actually feels ‘right’.
But if you don’t like it then Aeon offer a conventional 2-seater version called the GT2.
First impressions are of a light clutch pedal and the smooth, precise action of the cable linkage connecting the gearstick to that Audi 6-speed gearbox.
Second impressions are hell, this thing’s quick.
The engine’s standard apart from a re-chip that takes power to around 220bhp, but as the Aeon weighs just 717Kg with a full tank of fuel that’s still enough to make it one of the quickest cars on the road. John’s had 0-60 in 4 seconds, and that was with two kids on board. With no kids and grippier tyres he reckons 3.5 seconds is possible.
With a bigger turbo and some tweaking, you can get 350bhp from the Audi engine, but a big turbo needs big revs to work. Not so the standard turbo – just squeeze the throttle and the Aeon responds instantly right from low speeds, accompanied by much chirping and whooshing from just behind you as you go through the gears. Entertaining, if you like that sort of thing.
There’s a great view down the valley between the front wings of the road ahead, while the two convex door mirrors also provide a remarkably good view of what’s lurking behind.
Placing the car on the road and through the turns is a doddle thanks to the Aeon’s central seating position and pin-sharp steering response, while the soft springing allowed by the car’s light weight gives a ride that’s compliant enough to smooth out bumpy country lanes without compromising the handling.
The unassisted brake pedal needs a fair shove to provide heavy braking, which of course has the benefit that the brakes won’t lock up easily, but overall the Aeon is a very easy car to drive on the road.
It would be nice to be able to tell you what it’s like to drive at the limit, but sadly I can’t. With limited time and unfamiliar roads full of slow moving traffic, it soon became clear that I wasn’t going to get much idea of the Aeon’s true capabilities from the driving seat, so I let John take over.
I am a passenger
And wouldn’t you know it - with John behind the wheel we suddenly had a completely clear road ahead. Typical! Of course John knew both road and car well, I didn’t, so I’d never have come close to matching his speed anyway.
Along the straighter bits the Aeon’s acceleration quickly had it over the ton, while its handling (plus John’s driving expertise and local knowledge) had it taking bends at not much under, and all without any drama whatsoever.
It was a short but very impressive demonstration that clearly showed that the Aeon Spyder really does have the performance to match the race car looks and represents a worthy, more affordable alternative to an Ultima Can-Am.
Admittedly it can’t match the Ultima’s V8 grunt, but on the road (or even on the track) I reckon it’ll still give little away on the straights and nothing at all through the turns. And you can have one to the featured spec for around £15,000 if you build it yourself, or £23,000 if Aeon builds it for you.
That’s pretty competitive pricing for a car with this level of performance and development, so if you’re looking for a serious performance car for track days, you ought to take a serious look at the Aeon.
© Copyright Graham Bell 2005