Neil Gray’s Hypercar is the closest thing to a complete scratch-built vehicle in the country, engine included.
Plenty of people claim to own custom cars. And to a certain degree, they are telling the truth. But when Neil Gray says he has a custom car, he’s talking about an entire vehicle that has been fabricated in his South Auckland shed.
Neil’s desire to build a custom car started when he was in his late teens. He decided to buy a kit car, and as with a large proportion of kit cars, it was never completed for a number of reasons. Some years later, after becoming sick of having motorbike accidents, he decided to sell the bikes and play with cars once more, again purchasing another kit. By this time Neil was spending his days working as a tool maker and CNC machine operator, occupations that allow no room for error and require serious attention to detail. So none too surprisingly, he quickly became more and more disgusted with the quality of the kit he had purchased.
Rather than fix the kit’s inadequacies, Neil decided to build a car from scratch. That way he knew it would be up to his strict standards, not to mention completely unique. ¨First up was the task of constructing the body. After hour upon hour of shaping the body panels using foam and many tins of bog, a fibreglass plug was taken of the body which would be used as a mould for the final shell. Although no roof has as yet been built, the theory is that one could be constructed in the future if desired.
From the outset Neil knew that at some stage the car had to become road legal (or a road legal version of it would need to be constructed), so an open wheeler was out of the question. The other main requirement was that the car had to be fast. Not just averagely fast, but insanely fast. As such it would have to be as low, light and sleek as possible, while maintaining a good wheelbase for stability.
12,000RPM Of Screaming V8
Through his day job, Neil had previously worked closely with Simon Longdill of Prototipo. Simon is well known in speedway circles (no pun intended) for designing and building his own 2400cc V8 engine. Neil machined the prototype engine components and crankshafts for Simon, including the original twin crank V8 engine. With Simon’s hand-built engines pumping out 390hp and, at 95kg, weighing in at a fraction of any similarly performing motors, a deal was done that would see a Synergy 2400 used in Neil’s car.
With a dummy block loaned from Simon, Neil could work out exactly where the intake trumpets, air box and ancillaries such as the dry sump tank and headers would go. The body of the car was made before the idea of the engine, so it was a tight fit to get decent intake lengths, that is the bonnet is the top of the airbox and the crank centre is 110mm from the flat floor.
Measure Twice, Cut Once
Once construction of the body was completed, Neil began designing and building the mild steel chassis. As with all circuit cars, it was a combination of ensuring driver safety and chassis rigidity, and keeping the car as light as possible. Although he’d never used a tube bender before, Neil was impressed with how easy it became to twist metal (good software helped, apparently), and little tube was wasted when learning the techniques.
Rather than just designing the chassis as he went, Neil first drew the car using CAD software. Similar software helped him work out the suspension geometry. When he was happy with the design, the suspension arms were CNC machined from billet aluminium, a process that is far from cheap but which produces stunning results.
For maximum adjustability and performance, both the front and rear shock absorbers have been mounted in-board, and rely on rocker arms for movement. Again, specialist computer programs were required to work out the ratio of each rocker, and the CNC machine was used to create them from billet aluminium.
Russell from George Stock & Co happily custom-built a set of Koni adjustable shocks for the vehicle, which have been fitted with King springs. There are custom hubs at the opposite end of the pushrods that operate the shocks. Neil was originally going to use Nissan Skyline items, but due to the number of Nissan drift cars around the price was just too high. Instead, he once again machined his own from scratch. ¨A wide range of wheels was available with a 5×114.3 stud pattern, and after looking at the options Neil decided upon 17×7 and 17×8-inch MAK XLRs. The big wheels are a tight fit on such a small car, but despite looking as if there is no room for them to move, there is more than enough suspension travel ” for the circuit at least.
Although the idea of building his own diff appealed to Neil, it was more cost effective to source one from a Nissan. However, the axles and rear arms are all custom made to suit the car’s width. As with the front, suspension is by way of vertically mounted Koni coil-overs operated by a bell crank and pushrod.
The list of components not built by Neil is easily counted on one hand. The AP Racing brake callipers are included in that list, as is the Tilton pedal box, Mazda steering column and Subaru steering rack.
A Tin Of Angry Wasps
The engine itself is a work of art. At just 2400cc it can happily rev to 12,000rpm to produce 390hp. After testing the engine in speedway cars, it has proved extremely reliable, and managed to take out the Australian Midget Championship. With eight individual 46mm throttle bodies gasping for air up top, the engine has a sound unlike any other, which only adds to its appeal.
One of the reasons for the engine project was that Neil would love to put the Ariel Atom to shame, and with that much power in such a lightweight package (the car is around 600kg all up), it shouldn’t be a problem.
When mounting the engine, plenty of calculations were made to ensure the car had as near to 45:55 front/rear balance as possible, which required various parts of the car to be weighed before they were installed.
Like the engine, the gearbox is a Synergy unit. It’s a six-speed sequential complete with billet flywheel and Powertrain Technology 140mm heavy duty clutch. With custom ratios inside the ’box, the car should do the 0-100kph sprint in somewhere around the three second mark.
I guess I’m one of the few people in New Zealand who has driven a motorcycle-powered car. The one I drove had a Kawasaki 1200cc motor, and I must admit I was sceptical that the bike motor would have the power to move a comparably heavy car. When the motor is in a car you can hold full throttle without fear of tipping over backwards, whereas on a powerful sports bike, throttle modulation is required or you’re in imminent danger of ending up on the road. As Neil’s car has literally twice the engine of the one I drove, it can only be described as insane.
One of the goals for the project was to have the car run sub-60-second laps around Pukekohe Park Raceway. My guess is the car will manage to do that easily enough, even with a passenger on board. Being the first to admit he’s not a driver, Neil has enlisted the help of Angus Mcleod to propel the car for development and race duties. He hopes to be allowed to race in the GT1 class, but rules about how many vehicles must be produced to become eligible may put an end to that.
Throughout the build period, Neil became more and more aware that what he was constructing would be marketable, and that there would be a demand for more of the vehicles to be made. By the time this issue of NZV8 goes to print, the prototype you see here will have just been completed. Even so, there has already been worldwide interest both for street and circuit cars. To get the name out there and get orders rolling in, a website has been set up (www.hypercars.co.nz). Make sure you take a look; there are plenty of build photos to check out. As it’s a marketable product, Neil required a name for the car. The one he selected is the Hypercars DSN390. DSN390 stands for Don’t Stop Now 390hp. “Don’t stop now” was obviously something Neil was saying to himself as he worked away in the garage until all hours of the night for months on end to get the car completed in time for the recent Big Boys Toys event.
While Neil was in the shed, his wife Georgina was looking after the business side of things, organising the website, t-shirts, posters, and all the behind-the-scenes details required when you take on a project as large as this. “Without Georgina organising that side of things and being so patient with the amount of time I’ve been spending on the project, it just couldn’t have happened,” Neil says.
With Hypercars’ quality of workmanship, innovation and desire to succeed, it won’t be long until Neil and his DSN390 achieve the same hero status as John Britten. When that happens, don’t forget where you read about it first.
Neil and Georgina Gray – Owner Profile
Occupation: (Neil) CNC machinist/tool maker
Previously owned cars: Nothing special
Build time: 2.5 years
Length of ownership: 2.5 years
Dream car: This one, with more power and less weight, 500kg, 500hp
Why the DSN: Unfinished business from my youth
NEIL thanks: His wife Georgina, Callum and team at Classic Auto and Body Centre, Simon Longdill at Prototipo, Nick Speedy at Frank Allen Tyres, Anton at BG Marketing, Russell at Koni, Kerry Jones at Kerry Jones Engineering, Anthony Candy at Franklin Powder Coaters, Brian Bellingham at Carbon Force, Russ McIntyre at ACME, Angus McLeod for the s/s headers and patience in the future
Hypercars DSN390 (scratch built) – Specifications
Engine: 2400cc 32-valve Synergy (custom-built) V8, billet machined block, compartmentalised dry sump, billet crankshaft, forged steel rods, Nikasil- plated aluminium cylinders, Kawasaki DOHC four-valve heads, 46mm throttle bodies, Bosch 044 fuel pump, carbon air box, Denso coil-over plug, custom 304 stainless steel exhaust, PWR radiator, Mocal oil cooler, Aeroquip fittings, DTA engine management, Barnes four-stage dry sump pump
Driveline: Synergy six-speed sequential gearbox, billet flywheel, Powertrain Technology 140mm twin plate clutch, Nissan LSD, custom axles, custom driveshaft
Suspension: Billet aluminium double A-arm, custom push rod/bellcrank operation, Koni adjustable shocks, King springs, custom uprights, custom hubs
Brakes: 315mm AP Racing floating front discs, AP Racing four-pot callipers, 300mm rear discs, AP two-pot callipers
Wheels/Tyres: Mak XLR 17×7 and 17×8-inch rims, Dunlop Direzza 03G, semi-slick tyres
Exterior: Prototype GRP body, removable front, custom windscreen, gunmetal paint
Interior: Racetech seats, OMP Superquadra steering wheel, sequential shifter, AIM MXL datalogger/digital dash, carbon dash, remote brake bias, billet switch gear, OMP five-point harnesses, Tilton pedal box
Chassis: Tig welded mild steel, triangulated with crumple zones
Performance: 390hp-plus (291kW-plus), aiming for 58 seconds at Pukekohe Park Raceway
Words: Todd Wylie Photos: Adam Croy