Words and photos by Marc Lachapelle
After 20 years spent designing and building the iconic, high-performance T-Rex three-wheeled missile, thousands of which now roam North American roads, Daniel Campagna left the company that still produces it and bears his name.
Now he’s working on the third iteration of the pavement-devouring creature that succeeded the T-Rex in his evolutionary progression – one with a weight-to-power ratio that virtually matches that of a 650-hp Corvette Z06.
The self-taught designer and fabricator toyed with numerous new concepts but chose to concentrate on one: a solid, lightweight, four-wheel performance machine that could be driven endlessly on a track or an autocross course – a true track-day car. He named it Talisman, “for good luck”.
A first prototype was ready by fall of 2014. After several tests, including a first hands-on encounter for this author on Sanair raceway’s hybrid tri-oval course, Campagna went back to work in his Plessisville, Québec shop.
In August 2016, almost two years later, he and Jean Gosselin, his partner at DC Competition, were back at Sanair. In their trailer rested a light-blue Talisman that looked perfectly familiar, its creator declaring it ready for production: “the moulds, the templates, even the parts book is done,” Campagna added.
Moving the masses
In addition to a long list of refinements, however slight, the sleek, pointy and lean machine had a few significant changes. Most prominently, a cockpit and seats that had been moved back in the steel-tubing chassis by a foot (30 cm), to better centre masses and help with ultimate agility. Plus all the changes that relocation made necessary to the Talisman’s minimalist bodywork.
There also was a much quicker steering rack and new, centre-mounted, upswept exhaust. And a short, slender, left-mounted aluminum shifter that felt less awkward and unsettling than the first time.
On track, this improved Talisman was dynamite, proving superbly balanced, nimble and predictable. Already great fun to drive and fast enough to catch a modified compact, although powered by a 1.8-litre, 140-hp, four-cylinder R18 Honda engine that was still perfectly stock, except for that sweet-sounding, custom-made exhaust pipe.
DC Competition’s original intent was to use engines from the country’s best-selling car to pre-empt supply issues and help keep the Talisman affordable, not to mention utterly reliable. Campagna, ever the gearhead and performance wizard, nonetheless took the blue machine back to his shop with another plan in mind.
A turbo for the third act
Fast-forward fourteen months to witness yet another version of the Talisman being carefully unloaded from a shiny black trailer, in the paddock adjoining the road course at Autodrome St-Eustache, mid-October. This time, it has a force-inducted version of its R18 engine. No less.
The transformation took longer than expected but, after a few noisy experiments, a turbocharged Talisman is now ready. And the first track tests, at the hands of Formula Ford racer Charles Leclerc, have been so conclusive that the normally-aspirated version has now been dropped altogether.
Campagna chose a “very small” Mamba turbo, for its build quality and the heat resistance of its ceramic bearings, but also to preserve the engine’s flexibility. The only internal changes are more robust pistons and rods. The clutch and gearbox are unchanged, the Talisman’s lightness fully compensatingfor substantial gains in horsepower and torque.
With the turbo, the Talisman’s R18 should register 230 horsepower when it gets strapped onto a dynamometer, according to the builder’s estimate. Total weight is now 570 kg, only 25 kg more than the second prototype.
This means a weight-to-power ratio of 2.48 kg/hp that virtually matches the 2.46 kg/hp of a Corvette Z06, with its 650 hp, its supercharged, 6.2-litre V-8 and a weight of 1,602 kg.
For reference, the new Porsche 911 GT3 track diva has a ratio of 2.87 kg/hp with 493 hp and the 1,413 kg of the new manual version. Serious stuff, indeed.
Like a jet pack in repeat mode
It was both a surprise and a treat to discover the Talisman’s new turbocharger, its aluminium intercooler and the various ducts connecting them, all neatly installed, in plain sight, above and around the engine. Their installation reflects the meticulous assembly and build quality that are Campagna’s signature. The rest is mostly unchanged, with the exception of tiny windscreens added to the top edge of the front cowl.
The space frame chassis is made of welded, square-section steel tubing, reinforced with aluminium panels, with a pair of sturdy, tubular roll bars. Major body parts and the seat shells are made of fibreglass. The latter, covered with a thin layer of textured neoprene, offer Spartan comfort and good support, with adjustable aluminum panels for lateral thigh support.
The seats and alloy pedal cluster can be adjusted, longitudinally – a job that requires a few minutes and some tools, front cowl removed. The small, removable, racing-type steering wheel can also be adjusted in both height and reach, over a minimal range.
The double wishbone suspension and dampers are the same. Ditto the 17-inch alloy wheels and 205/40 tires. Campagna plans to replace these with 15-inch wheels and prime performance rubber, wider at the rear, to soften the Talisman’s ultra-quick responses, currently magnified by the extra power and speed: “for the same reason F1 cars run on 13-inch wheels and taller sidewalls,”
New tires, in sizes 205/45 R15 and 225/45 R15, front and rear, were not available in time for our fall test. But they would have changed nothing to the shock I felt when I first floored the boosted Talisman on the track. The push was borderline violent and knocked the wind out of me, quite literally, in a handful of laps. My driving position was not right but I just had to stay out for a few more straight-line blasts before coming in for adjustments. Also to start breathing, again.
Back on the track, with good adjustments and the racing belts cinched tight, I fully measured how easily overwhelmed the original tires were by the newfound speed of the Talisman. Balance and agility intact, the rear would break away at the slightest application of extra torque, although the engine’s response is linear and lag virtually nil. This “very small turbo” was a very good choice.
The new 15-inch tires and wheels will be no luxury. Once it has these, the Talisman should prove downright diabolical on a track – much like the skeleton-framed, British-made Ariel Atom 3 that offers 230hp, also from a Honda engine, albeit for quite a bit more money.
Speaking of which, DC Competition plans to have the very first units of the Talisman for sale in the spring of 2018. The price has not been finalized but the partners promise it will be “less than $50,000” – which may not be pocket change but is dramatically less than any other car with similar levels of performance and pure enjoyment. So, established track stars beware.
NOTE: the author thanks Autodrome Saint-Eustache and Alan Labrosse for access to the circuit.
DC COMPETITION – TALISMAN TURBO
Builder: DC Competition
Price: under 50 000 $ (projected)
Type: lightweight two-seater for track driving, autocross
Configuration: rear-wheel drive with mid-rear mounted engine
Engine: inline, four-cylinder, 1.8-litre Honda R18 with Mamba turbocharger
Output: 230 horsepower (to be confirmed on dynamometer)
Gearbox: five-speed manual
Chassis: welded tubular steel reinforced with aluminium panels and integrated roll-over hoops
Weight: 570 kg (1 257 lb)
Length: 3 500 mm (11.5 ft)
Width: 1 778 mm (70 in)
Height: 1 080 mm (42.5 in)
Wheelbase: 2 286 mm (90 in)
Suspension (front/rear): double wishbone, anti-roll bars
Brakes: four 280 mm (11 in) discs, four-piston Wilwood calipers front, two-piston Wilwood calipers rear, twin master cylinders with adjustable front/rear balance
Tires: front/: 205/45 R15 – rear: 225/45 R15
Steering: rack-and-pinion, 2 1/8 turns stop-to-stop, adjustable steering column with removable Alcantara racing wheel, diameter: 250 mm (10 in)
Pedals: alloy pedals, adjustable in reach
Seats: fibreglass shells with neoprene cushioning, adjustable lengthwise, with adjustable aluminium side bolsters
Safety belts: 4-point racing belts