Although they had been an Amsterdam-based coach-building concern since 1875, the Spijker brothers got into the brave new world of automobiles the same year as their golden carriage came out. Perhaps they thought it would be a good omen. For a while, they were right. Early cars (powered by Benz engines) were well received. Spyker (the spelling was changed in 1903 to appeal to a more international clientele-remember, cars were the exclusive preserve of the rich in those days) brought out the first car to deploy a six-cylinder engine. Called the 60 HP, it was a racer and also the first car to have four-wheel drive and four-wheel brakes. Spyker scored some good results in the burgeoning field of motorsport, including a second spot for the 1907 Peking to Paris run (driven by a privateer).
However, 1907 would turn out to be a bitter-sweet year. Hendrik-Jan was on a ferry coming back from England when it sank. His death sent the company into a downward spiral that culminated in bankruptcy. A consortium stepped in, but Jacobus was out of the picture by then.
It was decided that Spyker would expand into aircraft manufacturing. During the First World War, Spyker built 100 fighter planes and 200 aircraft engines. The aviation theme still runs deep in the current company, with a propeller as the dominant element of its logo and the latest model named after part of a wing. Aerodynamic design informed the styling of models as early as the 1919 Aerocoque.
Post-Armistice, things went well for a time. The C4 boasted a new-fangled twin-spark engine (this unit was built by Maybach, with an ignition designed by Bosch). A 1921 example set an endurance record-36 days of continuous driving, racking up 30,000 kilometers (18,641 miles). In 1922, a Spyker C12 took a speed record at the legendary Brooklands circuit in England. British driver Selwyn Edge averaged 73.9 mph.
That wasn't enough, though, to stop the company going under in 1925. It looked as if Spyker was destined to become a footnote in automotive history, but for the efforts of Victor Muller (along with business partner Maarten de Bruijn, who parted ways in 2005). Once a lawyer, but always car-mad, Muller is charming, funny and eminently likable. His passion is infectious. Which is probably how he's managed to get backing from various moneyed sources (including Mubadala, an investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi government that controls five percent of Ferrari), to make the marque anew.
The 2000 British Motor Show saw the unveiling of the Spyker C8 Spyder, a hand-made open-top sports car with lashings of aluminum and a 4.2-liter Audi V8 nestled amidships. The following year marked the debut of a hard-top version: the C8 Laviolette. Then there came a few variations, plus a striking Zagato-bodied model with the VW/Audi/Bentley W12 engine and the LM85 Le Mans race car.
There are plans for the D8 Peking-to-Paris all-wheel drive vehicle (yes, that's its name) to come out in 2010. At $350,000, it will be the world's most expensive production SUV. And with the exchange rate the way it is at the moment, Spyker is considering the Corvette ZR1's drivetrain for its America-bound sports cars.
Every body panel and component of a contemporary Spyker is numbered to identify it as belonging to a particular car. Owners can come to the factory to check on their car's progress, or they can watch online via a webcam. Let's hope Spyker sticks around longer in this incarnation. -Colin Ryan