This article was first published in 2006.
"Supercar" is a word that’s thrown around willy-nilly these days. But here’s
a machine that lives up to the name – the Bullet Roadster SS. You’re looking at
a lightweight space-frame platform stuffed with the immense muscle of a
supercharged Lexus V8. And, yes, it’s fully ADR approved and ready to be kick
The Bullet story began in the late ‘90s when the original manufacturer
produced a turbo rotary powered version of the little convertible and, later, a
Lexus V8 version. The outfit was then purchased by Perth-based company AEC and,
with further investment, the Bullet gained ADR approval for low volume
compliance. It was no longer classified as an individually constructed vehicle.
Most recently, Bullet Cars has been purchased by Steve Marriott and Tom Rabold –
and that’s where we’re at today.
So let’s get into the nitty-gritty detail of the Bullet.
After looking at our photos you’ve probably recognised some Mazda MX-5 in the
appearance of the Bullet. Certainly, there are some MX-5 genes but it’s
important to realise this isn’t a MX-5 based vehicle – the space-frame
chassis and custom suspension provide a longer wheelbase and wider track
compared to the MX-5. It’s a long way from a Mazda.
The space-frame chassis (which was engineered by AEC) is designed to handle
the high torque output of a supercharged V8 engine and provide the stiffest
possible platform for suspension mounting. Tom Rabold from Bullet Cars says the
chassis gives almost double the rigidity required for ADRs.
Hung from the front of the frame are built-from-scratch MacPherson struts
teamed with Prosport adjustable coil-overs and a swaybar. Castor, camber and toe
are all fully adjustable. At the rear you’ll find double wishbones (which are derived
from MX-5 items), adjustable coil-overs, low-compliance bushes and an adjustable
The Bullet’s space-frame is combined with the ‘tub’ section of a MX-5. This
provides door hanging facilities, pedals, dashboard and ensures there’s enough
space to incorporate a functional folding soft-top. So, by necessity, the use of
a MX-5 tub influences styling.
But the performance is utterly different to a MX-5!
The road-going version of the Bullet is available in two guises – the
naturally aspirated V8 Roadster and the supercharged SS version. The NA version
puts out 220kW while the supercharged SS scares Ferraris with 320kW.
Interestingly, Bullet Cars source good second-hand Toyota/Lexus 4-litre
quad-cam, 32-valve V8s and comprehensively rebuild them to
their specifications. The engine is a brilliant design from factory so there’s
not a lot of modification needed – just new pistons (providing a different
compression ratio), altered cam profiles, custom sump and an Autronic engine
management system (which employs closed-loop fuelling to meet emissions
requirements). C-N-J Motorsport in Brisbane has played a considerable part in
all matters related to the Autronic system. Engine cooling is taken care of by
an AU Ford Falcon aluminium radiator and a 16 inch thermo fan.
The supercharged SS Bullet boasts a Sprintex S90 positive displacement
supercharger which is mounted on a custom manifold. Maximum boost pressure is 10
psi. Tom says there isn’t enough under-bonnet clearance to fit a water-to-air
intercooler but an extra fuel injector provides some useful charge-air cooling.
The extra injector is mounted before the entry to the supercharger and is
triggered by engine load.
As seen here, the supercharged Bullet employs dual throttle bodies which are
opened sequentially. According to Tom, the sequential opening makes the car much
smoother and more forgiving to drive. The blown V8 breathes through a twin 2 ½
inch stainless exhaust while the less powerful NA version uses a twin 2 ¼
incher. The rear muffler is specially manufactured by Lukey to ensure legal
noise output and a sexy note.
Manual or automatic transmissions are available. The manual version employs a
Toyota five-speed ‘box with a single-plate heavy-duty clutch while the auto
version uses an upgraded Lexus four-speed trannie featuring a programmable
control unit from the States. Both versions channel drive to a Hydratrac LSD –
perfect for high-torque applications.
With a V8 donk crammed into its nose you may be wondering how much this
machine weighs. Well, the answer is around 1220kg (depending on engine spec and
driveline choice) so you’re talking one hell of an impressive power-to-weight
ratio. According to Tom, the best official quarter mile time is a 12.6 seconds –
achieved by an automatic version!
The Bullet’s 12 second quarter mile performance is certainly in the field of
supercars – and so are its brakes. The Supercharged SS stops in its tracks
thanks to 330mm ventilated front discs with Brembo four-pot calipers while the
atmo version employs slightly smaller discs with four-potters. Rear brakes on
both cars are 276mm discs with single pot RX-7 calipers. ABS is not fitted.
Steering is direct and well weighted using a combination of Mazda parts. An
MX-5 steering column and shaft are joined to a RX-7 rack which is equipped with a
power assistance system. Interestingly, Bullet Cars can vary the amount of
steering assistance to suit each buyer.
Inside, it’s all familiar MX-5 - but with a few extras. The entire cabin is
trimmed in high-quality leather (in the buyer’s choice of colour), and a Bullet
instrument cluster (which includes a 300 km/h speedo) and a tailored audio
system are installed. Alpine is generally the audio system of choice.
Obviously, the use of a MX-5 tub means the Bullet has a Mazda-like appearance
– but a Mazda that’s overdosed on steroids! The all-new Kevlar/carbon fibre
panels incorporate wheel arch flares, an aero panel behind the polished
roll-over bars, skirts, a low-reaching rear bar, taillight mask, and a
bonnet-scoop incorporated into the one-piece tilt nose. The one-piece flip-front nose is
primarily a ‘feel good’ feature but it also gives access to much of the engine,
chassis and front suspension. The supercharged SS comes with a high-quality
canvas roof material (similar to that used in BMWs) while the atmo version gets a
vinyl roof like that found in the MX-5. Wheels are 18 inch on the blown version
and 17 inch on the atmo car.
So what’s the Bullet like to drive?
Well, unfortunately, we can’t say anything from personal experience... but
we can tell you that everyone who’s ever tillered one says it lives up to
its name! The supercharged V8 is ultra throttle responsive and has tremendous
torque at all revs – more than enough to fling the lightweight soft-top at the
horizon with hero-car performance. The car has also been thrown around several
racetracks by a variety of drivers (including some notable V8 supercar drivers)
and there have been plenty of hours invested in the chassis tune. Tom says the
Bullet is set-up to provide maximum fun. The chassis is responsive and there’s
plenty of on-demand power oversteer – a handling characteristic that’s largely
driven by buyer demand.
So now onto the question that’s been in your mind since first laying eyes on
the car. What’s she worth?
Well, if you’re content to drive the naturally aspirated Bullet you’ll pay
AUD$98,000 but if you want the supercharged SS you’ll need to bite the
you-know-what and produce a cool AUD$118,000. Obviously, it’s not a car that the
average performance enthusiast can afford – but isn’t that always the case when
talking true supercars?
At present, the company is manufacturing four of five Bullets annually with
each example taking around 1500 hours of labour. Tom is happy for sales to
continue to tick over at this rate given the company is also taking on some
other project vehicles and is successfully selling supercharger kits for the
Toyota/Lexus V8. Oh, and the team is also developing an updated Bullet that will
add under-car aerodynamics, front wishbone suspension, a longer wheelbase and,
yes, more power.
Hmmm, maybe it’s time to create a new category of performance cars...
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