Modifying a perfectly respectable kit-car may seem an odd thing to do. But even the delightful Spartan can have scope for improvement.
I have always liked screenless motoring, with the wind in my face and bugs in my teeth. But finding the right vehicle is a problem. I don’t like motorbikes, Se7ens have too much emphasis on performance and too little on comfort, and sawing the screen off most production cars is fraught with structural and styling problems. Besides which, these are all quite costly options. However, Spartans have the right bodyshape to go screenless, and the screen is simply bolted on with no structural implications. For some reason many of them sell well under their true value, so buying and converting one was an economical way to get the car I wanted.
Decades ago, in my early twenties, I built a Lomax-esque three-wheeler. To reduce costs the bodywork was made entirely of varnished 4mm marine plywood steamed and curved to a boat-tail shape. Underneath was a 2CV engine and modified chassis. My friends christened it ‘The WOTAM’, and congratulated me on its ‘front and rear splinter zones’. Never hard to find in a car-park, due to the crowd of onlookers. WOTAM took me all over Britain, France, Holland and Italy on many camping holidays, and left me with a permanent taste for screenless motoring.
|Empty Campsite by river||In the Ardeche||On tour|
To satisfy that taste, I recently purchased a Ford-based Spartan. Having owned one before, I knew that the car had good performance and ride comfort, was ruggedly built, and bags of fun to drive. I also knew that a couple of aeroscreens would sit atop the car’s elegant curved lines, and look as if they were meant to be there.
The Spartan is a very pretty car, and is almost a classic among kits. The marque is now over 30 years old. Production ceased a decade ago, which of course means the cars are irreplaceable. So the modifications made to mine may be controversial. They certainly will not appeal to everyone.
The conversion from full screen to aeroscreens was quite simple, though there is a little more to it than you might initially think.
The first and most obvious change was to unbolt and discard the windscreen. However, the heavy cast windscreen pillars are virtually a trademark of the Spartan. So to retain an echo of their presence a pair of scrap pillars were bought via eBay and these were cut down to stubs. Bolted in place of the originals, they help to keep that Spartan ‘look’.
A pair of aeroscreens were fastened on the scuttle. These deflect most of the force of the wind, but don’t cause the same buffet that a full screen does.
The removable door-tops and side windows were lifted off for their last time, and discarded. This effectively lowered the height of the doors by six inches, so solving that perennial Spartan problem of where to mount the rear-view mirrors: a couple of round chrome wing-mirrors fitted just above the door hinges work very well and look just right.
With the screen gone, the wipers became redundant. They were removed and the external mounting points were then carefully cut away with an angle grinder. Some aluminium sheet and plastic padding took care of the two oval holes in the scuttle. (Paint remains an optional extra, as yet.)
With no screen to demist, the heating requirements are much simpler. All the pipework, ducts, flaps and levers which guide the air to the screen or to the cabin were removed. The only components remaining were the heater matrix and the fan. The matrix is permanently connected to the hot water. The sole control is a switch to turn on the fan to recirculate the cabin air through the matrix, to heat the footwell.
Having removed all the clutter of wipers and demisters, the opportunity to reorganise the dashboard wasn’t to be missed. With the ducting out of the way, the large speedo and tacho dials fit perfectly above the steering column, where they ought to be. A couple of speakers either side of the dials provide the driver a blast of stereo. And acres of space still remained for the minor dials and lights.
The final change was to remove the roof support bar. This is another trademark feature of the Spartan, being made of massive aluminium castings to match the windscreen pillars. With no screen to visually balance it the bar looked quite wrong so had to go. The bar carried the seat belt mount points but as this car was to be fitted with three-point harnesses these weren’t required. The new harnesses were attached to a reinforced cross-member fastened inside the boot. This reduces the rear “plus-two” seats to a single “plus-one” seat. (The diagonal belts and the plus-two layout could just as easily have been retained by moving the shoulder mount points down a couple of inches onto the bodywork.)
A new tonneau with a zip-out panel for the driver completed the conversion. This helps to keep the heat in and the rain out.
The car is immense fun to drive, and I think is just as pretty as it ever was. Not quite so practical, of course. But then mine’s just a toy, not everyday transport like many other Spartans. When I get the time, perhaps there’ll be another tour of France and Italy.
Footnote: WOTAM was sold years ago to a retired schoolteacher in South Wales. If anyone knows its subsequent history or even its present whereabouts, do let me know. A bonfire, more than likely.