The Geneva Auto Show in March and New York Auto Show in April showcased stunning new supercars and concepts like the Infiniti Emerg-E. However, the dearth of American supercars made Composite Manufacturing reflect on the top American composite supercars and how they impacted the industry. So, here’s our list, in chronological order, of the most composite-influenced American supercars of all time.
Chevrolet Corvette (1953-present): The first Chevrolet Corvette debuted at the 1953 General Motors (GM) Motorama show. The Corvette was not the first car to implement a fiberglass body but it was the first to mass produce fiberglass panels for automotive purposes. In order to do that, GM invited Robert Morrison from Molded Fiber Glass Corporation (MFG), Ashtabula, Ohio, to help produce 300 Corvette bodies. With the help of supplier Owens Corning, Toledo, Ohio, the team manufactured the fiberglass bodies for the first generation Corvette.
2013 marks the 60th anniversary of the Corvette. To celebrate, GM unveiled the 2013 Chevrolet Corvette 427 Convertible Collectors’ Edition, which according to the company will be one of the fastest convertibles in the world. It uses composite body panels, raised hood, fenders, floor panels and optional front splitter and rocker panels to bring the weight down to 3,355 pounds.
DeLorean Electric Vehicle (1981-1982 and 2013): Great Scott, the DeLorean is back! That’s right, this aluminum pop-culture icon was originally manufactured in North Ireland, but this American composite remake is creating a huge splash in the industry. DeLorean Motor Car (DMC) claims the change from aluminum to composites is to ensure that the DeLorean stays “ahead of its time” just like the original design – well, at least in the second Back to the Future movie.
Texas business owner Stephen Wynne, who originally purchased the DMC name in 1995, will lightweight the new design using an electric motor and composite chassis. DMC unveiled its concept car at the International DeLorean Owners Event in October 2011. California-based company Epic Electrical Vehicles will supply DMC with a resin-infused composite body to help reduce the weight by 200 pounds. Production of the new vehicle will begin in 2013.
Dodge Viper/SRT Viper (1991-present): Breaking out of the 1980’s American sports car style, Chrysler designed the Dodge Viper to resemble the 1970’s American muscle car. The Dodge Viper concept debuted at the 1989 Detroit Auto Show and in a very short turn-around time, it replaced the Dodge Intrepid as the pace car on the Indianapolis 500 racetrack in 1991. The Viper demanded attention from the industry and it gave the American market a new sports car with a bold attitude.
The 1991 Viper is also the first automotive application of carbon fiber sheet molded composite (SMC). The design included resin transfer molded (RTM) fiberglass panels and a SMC one-piece clamshell hood. In 2003 the Viper team worked with Meridian Automotive Systems (no longer in business) and Quantum Composites, Bay City, Mich., to use carbon fiber SMC, which at the time was exclusively used for exotic and racing cars, to integrate carbon fiber components on a low-volume production vehicle.
In 2009, Chrysler nearly sold the Viper to avoid bankruptcy but it couldn’t part with the fiberglass legend. Today Chrysler is working with Fiat Industrial S.p.A. (the two companies will merge under an undisclosed name by end of 2014) to restructure the organization and keep the Viper. In fact, the new 2013 SRT Viper was unveiled at the New York Auto Show in April and proved to the market that America still respects this composite supercar.
Hennessey Venom GT (2011 to present): In 2007, Road & Track magazine asked the high-performance auto manufacturer Hennessey to enter its competition and create the first car to reach 200 mph. The original design, a modified Dodge Viper known as the Hennessey Venom 1000 Viper won the competition. But the company continued to challenge itself to make something faster.
The team pulled together a design based on a modified Lotus chassis with a Corvette engine, and slapped vacuum bagged carbon fiber panels on everything except the doors and roof. It also uses carbon fiber and forged aluminum wheels and air ducting to lightweight the design to 2,685 pounds, capable of pushing the supercar from 0-60 in 2.5 seconds. The Hennessey Venom GT is the world’s fastest composite production car in the world, currently tied with the French Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, which is primarily an aluminum design.
Fisker Karma (2011 to present): Why is Fisker Karma an American composite supercar? Mainly because other supercars like the Hennessey Venom GT aren’t fuel efficient. The California-born Fisker Karma dubbed itself the “first true electric luxury vehicle with extended range” and is capable of 112 mpg. It originally debuted at the 2008 North American International Auto Show and recently won the first People’s Choice Award at ACMA’s COMPOSITES 2012. Continental Structural Plastics in Troy, Mich., provides Fisker with low-cost SMC body panels and headlamp carriers. It uses an advanced proprietary manufacturing technique to supply lightweight, geometrically complex parts for the hybrid plug-in that help increase fuel efficiency.
It’s exactly what sidekick Robin wouldn’t say if he was riding in the fiberglass replica of the 1966 DC Comics Batmobile instead of the primarily steel, slightly modified 1955 Lincoln Futura used in the TV show. Many iconic superheroes, like Batman, use composite parts to transform actual cars into a crime fighting supercar.
The second fastest American car (after the Hennessey Venom GT) is the Shelby Super Car (SSC) Ultimate Aero, capable of 0-60 in 2.7 seconds. It was the fastest car in the world from March 2007 to July 2010 (overtaken by the Bugatti Veyron SS) and uses a carbon fiber frame, carbon ceramic breaks and the world’s first single-piece carbon fiber wheels.
The Ford GT is an America sports car produced from 2003 to 2006. Much like the Dodge Viper, the Ford GT draws inspiration from the American muscle cars in the 1960s and was partially influenced by legend Carroll Shelby. The car uses an extensive amount of extruded aluminum and superplastic to lightweight the car. Additionally, in 2004 Ford designers worked with Sparta Composites in San Diego, Calif., to redesign an aluminum deck inner lid to include composites. The team developed a one-piece aluminum composite design that ultimately saved the company time and weight.
Motor Trend recognized the car as “…more than just a sports car: It’s a high-speed, high-profile declaration that the Ford Motor Company is once again out to take on the world’s best.” There are no official plans for a new GT but, according to Automobile Magazine, Ford executives are hinting that a new supercar maybe in the works.