I recently had the chance to spend a day with the Spyker C8 Spyder, which is about the strangest day you can spend with an automobile. This is because the Spyker C8 Spyder is about the strangest automobile I can fathom — and I mean that, quite honestly, in a good way.
I’m going to start with the basics on what Spyker is for those of you who, like me, haven’t really been following the world of ultra-small-volume manufacturers that build weird cars. Spyker is a Dutch car brand, which, in itself, is a little odd. When I think of the Dutch, I think of bicycles, tulips, massive sea control measures and politeness. Not a car industry. But they have Spyker, and Spyker is primarily known for two things: This car — the C8 Spyder — and an attempted buyout of Saab when General Motors didn’t want Saab anymore.
The Saab situation almost bankrupted Spyker, but they’re not dead. In fact, Spyker is still manufacturing the very car I reviewed as a new vehicle — albeit with some nips and tucks and more modern lines. But the same bones are there, and the bones are these: the C8 Spyder is a mid-engine sports car with a 6-speed manual transmission. Since Spyker has only sold a few hundred of these in the world, of which maybe only a few dozen are in the United States, they didn’t develop their own engine. Instead, the C8 Spyder uses the 4.2-liter V8 from the original Audi R8, and it makes between 400 and 600 horsepower, depending on which one you get. The one I drove, the regular ol’ C8 Spyder, is right around 400.
So this is all a bit odd right off the bat — Dutch brand, ultra-low volume, Audi engine — but it gets weirder. I say this because a primary theme of the Spyker C8 Spyder is, in spite of the fact that it’s a car, airplanes. This airplane theme is carried all throughout the car, from the unusual fighter jet-style starter button to a series of propeller designs that appear basically everywhere, to the original steering wheel, which was designed to resemble a propeller. This steering wheel was never offered in the United States, but it’s gorgeous, and everyone wants it.
And then there’s the car’s other theme, which is aluminum. Here’s something incredible: aside from the seat belts and the buckles, every single surface of the Spyker C8’s interior is made from either leather or aluminum. Every single surface, no exceptions. Even the footwells. All the gauges, switches, dials — they’re all aluminum, all fashioned out of individual solid blocks of the stuff, and they all feel substantial and satisfying to press.
But you can learn most of this stuff if you watch the video, so I’m going to get into a little greater detail here about the driving experience. Simply put, the Spyker is a mixed bag.
It is, quite honestly, very fun to drive. You step on the accelerator and the V8 roars in a way that I bet Audi didn’t even know it could. And when I say "step on the accelerator," I’m not giving the C8 its due. The engine roars when you simply tap the accelerator, meaning that basic acts of driving, like moving up at a stop light or edging forward to make a right on red are accompanied with a hilarious (and highly welcome) automotive cacophony that will surely put a smile on your face. In terms of sound, the C8 is not a mixed bag. I love it.
And it handles well, too. I was able to drive the Spyker, albeit briefly, on some nice back roads north of San Diego, and I had a great time putting it through corners. The steering is direct and precise, with little vagueness, and it doesn’t feel like a low-volume automotive effort from a company that just cobbled the thing together in a backyard. Admittedly, it doesn’t quite feel like a modern car; the Spyker I drove was 10 years old, and the steering just isn’t quite as sharp as today’s top exotics, or even today’s pricier (non-exotic) sports cars like the Mercedes-AMG GT and the Porsche 911. But it’s hard to fault the car for being old. In the end, throwing it around corners, pressing the accelerator to hear the noise — that’s what this car was made for.
What this car wasn’t made for is straight-line speed. Back when it came out, 400 horsepower wasn’t all that much, and it’s especially not a massive figure today. It’s quick and thrilling, but its acceleration doesn’t really match its price tag — which can easily be north of $200,000 in today’s market. I could live with the average acceleration, but it’d be hard to live with the brakes: It takes an enormously deep stab on the brake pedal to bring down the C8’s speed, almost like an exotic car from the 1970s. I’m honestly surprised it ever left the factory with brakes like this.
My other complaint: it’s just really very sunny. The C8 has no trim at the top of its windows, meaning the glass is just exposed to the sun — so the entire top half of the car is just glass and sun. The owner told me the top is atrocious and not worth putting on, and the car has no sun visors. If you’re driving it on a sunny day, bring a hat. And sunglasses. And sunscreen. And you’ll still be covering your face with your arm if you find the sun in front of you.
However, in my mind, the C8’s flaws are relatively minimal, with the braking thing being its only real drawback. And there’s another major benefit I haven’t yet addressed: the truly incredible craftsmanship. Simply looking around this car — the interior, the exterior, even in the trunk — you’re shocked by how many wonderful details, features and touches they’ve placed in even the most out-of-the-way spots — like, for example, how the gas cap is the Spyker logo. Or how even the seat controls — which can’t really be seen — are aluminum. And then there’s the shift lever, with its gorgeous design and its wonderful mechanical feel when you’re going between gears. The Spyker is a car you want to drive, but it’s more a car you want to look at; one of few vehicles you’ll want to have in your garage, so you can just admire its quality and attention to detail more than you’ll want to actually get behind the wheel.
Of course, you can drive it, too — and you’ll be rewarded with a thrill. But only on cloudy days, so you aren’t blinded. Only by yourself, since the exhaust is so loud you can’t talk to your passenger anyway. And only if you plan ahead before you start putting on the brakes. It’s the ultimate Point-A-to-Point-A car, best for short trips on a Sunday morning where you give it a little exercise before pulling it back inside your garage to stare at it.
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.