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Driven: 2010 Spyker C8 Aileron

David ZenleawriterBarry Hathawayphotographer

Spyker, the ten-year-old Dutch automaker, is one part plucky and four parts crazy. Its first effort, the C8 Spyder, was something of a rich Dutchman's Dodge Viper - a rough-edged brute of a sports car with an interior inspired by World War I fighter planes. Having built about 260 cars without showing a profit, Spyker went out and bought a notoriously troubled premium car company, Saab.

In the context of this certifiable insanity, Spyker's latest homegrown effort, the C8 Aileron, is shockingly well adjusted. Although it shares its name, mid-engine layout, and Audi-sourced 4.2-liter V-8 with the original C8, it's an entirely new effort with a very different mission. The new car's length stretches seventeen inches longer and its front and rear track measurements are 8.9 and 2.6 inches wider, respectively, resulting in a weight gain of more than 400 pounds. Whereas the short-wheelbase car came only with a six-speed manual gearbox and very few power options, all Ailerons will be fitted with a six-speed automatic transaxle and will be available with options including navigation. The result is a grand tourer more in line with an Aston Martin - with which it shares more than a passing resemblance - than a Ferrari.

Around town and cruising on the highway, the Aileron feels like a commendably professional effort, despite the fact that our test vehicle is only the fourth example to be handbuilt in Coventry, England. Much of the professionalism owes to that Audi V-8, which hums along with German proficiency. The cabin is positively gorgeous, with a turned-aluminum dash, comfortable Sparco seats dressed in quilt-patterned leather, and exposed, polished gear linkage. More than a dozen tremendously satisfying toggle switches operate everything from the ignition to the windshield wipers. There's also a reasonably large trunk in back, which Spyker will happily fill with custom-made Louis Vuitton suitcases costing $27,000. Our car featured a fixed glass roof. A convertible will be available later this year.

Drop the hammer, and the 3185-pound Aileron shoots forward with impressive, if not mind-blowing, authority. Spyker says that the car is capable of the same 4.5-second sprint to 60 mph as the short-wheelbase C8, thanks largely to better traction off the line. It also feels right at home on curvy mountain roads. The Lotus-tuned suspension, combined with a 45/55 percent weight distribution and sticky nineteen-inch Michelin Pilot Sport tires, makes the Aileron an easy, almost relaxing car to drive fast, although the lack of any stability or traction control tends to dampen one's temptation to explore its absolute limits on public roads. The only letdown is the torque-converter automatic, which can be slow to downshift and won't hold gears to redline. Spyker says it's still fine-tuning the shift programming, but a manual gearbox - under consideration for this model - would better complement the Aileron's refreshingly unfiltered dynamics.

Spyker hopes to sell about seventy Ailerons in its first year - about three times the short-wheelbase C8's annual volume. Given the Aileron's honest performance, relative practicality, and very real exclusivity, we'd say that's a reasonable goal, even considering the fact that its $219,190 base price is nearly double that of an Audi R8 with a similar engine. Solid Aileron sales should allow Spyker to focus on other things, such as turning a profit, restoring Saab to prestige and prominence, and introducing its next Spyker model, a large luxury SUV called the D8 Peking-to-Paris. To all that, the only analysis we can offer is, "Oy vey."

The Specs
On Sale: Now
Price: $219,190
Engine: 4.2L V-8, 400 hp, 354 lb-ft
Drive: Rear-wheel

VICTOR MULLER | CEO, Saab Spyker Automobiles
By Lawrence Ulrich

Among GM brands, Pontiac and Saturn are gone, and Hummer is swirling the drain. But if fairy tales can come true, Victor Muller, the founder and CEO of Spyker Cars, may one day be remembered as the little Dutchman who plugged a leak in GM's dike to save its crumbling Saab unit and approximately 3500 employees.

The speck-sized Spyker of the Netherlands, which has built only about 260 exotic cars since 2001, is set to acquire Saab - which in 2008 sold nearly 100,000 cars worldwide - for a mere $74 million in cash to GM, plus $326 million in stock in the new Saab Spyker Automobiles. (At press time, the deal hinged on the European Commission's near-certain approval of a Swedish government-backed loan).

On January 28, just hours after he addressed thousands of cheering Saab workers in Trollhättan, Sweden, a sleep-deprived Muller acknowledged the sheer improbability of his eleventh-hour rescue - and that some industry leaders, including Fiat's Sergio Marchionne, expect Saab to fail. But for now, Saab-loving professors everywhere can shed a joyful tear, or maybe dash off a nice Saab sonnet.

Muller said that those oft-abused loyalists, who have steadily dispersed to Audi and other brands, would flock back if Saab can regain its Scandinavian DNA. The new 9-4X crossover is being built by GM in Mexico, and an upcoming 9-5 sedan is largely finished. But Muller says the new 9-3 sedan is still in clay form. And the fifty-year-old attorney and entrepreneur - who has designed Spyker's models despite no formal training - vowed to reshape it. While he'll seek to hire a top-flight designer, "that doesn't mean I won't be heavily influencing the design."

"Within the restrictions of GM, the 9-3 would be just another nice GM product," he says. "In our hands, it will be a real Saab." Future models will play up Saab's aviation heritage with head-up displays and other design cues.

Muller allows that one day the umbilical cord with GM will be severed, with Saab forced to stand on its own - or, as some analysts suspect, seek another patron. Rebecca Lindland, an automotive analyst with IHS Global Insight, said that Saab has the engineering to develop its own products but not the economies of scale. "The question is, what are they going to charge for these cars?"

Muller counters that the brand doesn't have to match BMW or Lexus to be successful. Saab sold just under 40,000 cars last year (only 8680 in the United States) and was ravaged by the recession and uncertainty over its fate. But "with somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 cars a year, we can make a very good living."

As for Spyker, itself well-versed in shaky finances and underdog status, Saab represents a potential mother lode. Muller sees parallels in Lamborghini and Bentley, which have tapped the resources and parts bins of Volkswagen and Audi to dramatically cut costs while actually boosting their performance, competitiveness, and exclusive appeal.

"Brilliant engineers at Saab can get their hands on future Spykers and make them even better," says Muller, now CEO of the newly combined company.

Spyker's motto, "Nulla tenaci invia est via," translates as "For the tenacious, no road is impassable." And while car fans can celebrate Saab's narrow escape from the fate of GM's other orphan brands, Muller will need every ounce of that tenacity - along with bullish investors to raise development cash - to keep Saab from springing a permanent leak.