I USED to build the Giocattolos back in the mid-80s — we built 15 of those,” Paul Halstead says. He works as managing director of an IT recruitment firm but he lives to build cars.
“We built a great car and it was a complete financial disaster,” he says of the Holden V8-powered, mid-engined Alfa Romeo-based Giocattolo. “I lost millions, so I’m not going to do a repeat performance of that.
“I get my rocks off on building great cars. The Monaro we built [the chopped tubbed wide-body beast featured in SM, Nov 2009], is now finished with the supercharged seven-litre donk and it runs beautifully, y’know? It’s got full compliance.
“I really enjoy the build — I don’t mind the drive either — but the build is really important to me.
“So, for this one, there is no plan for production. Initially what we thought we would do is build a really special car that is basically what I would see as a work of art; do things that are tricky, not necessarily sensible. You can’t say having a 14-litre motor is all that sensible.
“We’ve got a proper project plan so it’s not pie in the sky; we’ve got a proper budget. We know how much money we’re going to waste. And we’re not pretending it’s going to be a Veyron competitor. It’s about building the very best thing that we can build in Australia using the technology that’s available out here.
“The end objective is it must be a thing of beauty both in the way it looks and in the way it’s built, and it has to be bloody fast around Phillip Island,” Paul says.
“What happens after that? Who knows, I can’t say,” he adds, though a tilt at the coveted Ridler trophy at Detroit’s Autorama Hot Rod showcase was originally on the cards.
“It’ll take five years, it’s a big thing and we’ve got a budget of a million bucks to do it. What are we going to do at the end of it? Well, we thought wouldn’t it be neat to win the Ridler? The problem though, that I found out with the Ridler, is you can’t talk about the build on the way through. I thought, ‘Nah, that’s not much fun.’ I’ve got a lot of friends out there who really enjoy the process. They like to be involved, so I just like to keep them up to date. So, to keep it secret for me is not on.
“I really love SEMA, so we may do that. Not for any rewards, just for the fun of it, to take it over there and put it on display for its wow factor.”
While running a pair of 7.0-litre Chevrolet LS7 V8s in W16 formation mightn’t seem sensible, “it’s not as silly as it might sound,” Halstead reckons.
“I was after bulk horsepower. When you look at that aluminium motor, a fully-dressed 427 Corvette engine — which comes out of the box with 515 horsepower (379kW) — weighs 230 kilos.
So when you run two side by side, rolling them at 45 degrees as I’ve done, and then push them as close together as you possibly can to get the cranks only 10 inches apart, the width of the two engines together is just over a metre.
“I’m carrying a weight penalty of 230 kilos, but it gives me 1200 horsepower with full compliance. How else could you get that? With a massive turbocharger? That’s not the fun of having something with the brutal torque that this thing will have. And I have an extraordinarily low centre of gravity – I’ve put two of the heads effectively on the ground, along the crank line.”
But how do you get a pair of bent-eights to run as a W16? “Timing on it is really simple,” he says. “Two separate controllers, one of them 45 degrees out of sync with the other one – that’s it.”
Eighteen months into the project, assembling the two V8s into a W16 and creating the drivetrain has taken up the bulk of the time.
Ballarat drivetrain engineering outfit Albins machined the plates that hold the engines together and convert drive from the two cranks to a single output shaft with a custom transfer case.
“They built this beautiful transfer case. It’s a work of art and it’ll take 2000 horsepower,” Halstead says. “They machined a one-off billet case out of a piece of alloy that’s about two feet wide by three feet long. It’s just lovely stuff.”
From there, the drive heads back through the engine plate to power the dry sump pumps, and also back through to the gearbox, where it’s turned 180 degrees and fed forward into the diff and out to the wheels – just like in a mid-engine race car.
And there’s some high tech planned. “Bosch has been incredibly helpful so far, and we’ll be guided by them in a lot of the electronic wizardry that will go into the car,” Halstead says.
“We’ll be having torque vectoring, for instance. We’re adding that extra caliper on each side on the back so the system can apply the brakes when it starts to understeer.”
“Suspension will be Formula 1 pullrod-type stuff. It doesn’t need that, we could build a double wishbone suspension but it doesn’t look as good” he explains.
“We’re in it to build something that’s got a real wow factor. We’re putting in some of that technology for the fun of it, not really because we need it.”
The drivetrain took 12 months, and in another 12 months, he says, the 1.1m-high, no-door, three-seat supercar’s lightweight, one-piece carbonfibre chassis tub should be complete.
When he’s in the workshop chasing his supercar dream, though, it’s not timeframes, expectations, trophies or plans for production that drive him.
“Call me eccentric – yeah I am,” he offers.
“You’re allowed to be eccentric when you get to my age. One of the nice things is realising you’re eccentric and just enjoying it. I just get on with it and don’t worry what other people think.”