When carbon fiber just isn't exotic enough.
In the modern age of technical ingenuity, manufacturers are researching and developing numerous different materials for the exteriors of their vehicles. While its common practice to use aluminum, carbon fiber, and even plastic for body panels to reduce weight and provide increased body strength, throughout the years there have been several manufacturers who attempted cars made of something a little more… unusual. For one reason or another, many of these ideas never really caught on, but they remain written into the history books as a testament to the ingenuity of the auto industry.
Lexus has come along in leaps and bounds in the last decade, providing engaging luxury cars, and in their upper echelons, vehicles that out-class and out-luxury even the finest German machines. But in 2016, Lexus built an entire IS out of cardboard. The IS was fashioned from 1700 laser-cut sheets, based on a 3D model of the car broken down into its various components and remodeled into flat sheets. Even the interior is a replica of the real IS, complete with functioning doors. The headlights work, and the wheels rotate, which is somewhat necessary since the cardboard IS features an electric motor and can actually drive.
Henry Ford revolutionized the motor industry in many ways, most notoriously through the introduction of production line manufacturing. But the man had many other ideas, and in the early 1940s he built a car that utilized soybeans in its construction. The car’s body and fenders were manufactured from a soy, wheat, corn, wheat, flax, and hemp composite, vastly reducing its weight compared to traditionally manufactured vehicles of the time. In addition to its unique construction, it ran on hemp fuel – something that could’ve changed the industry and prompted an early shift away from fossil fuels.
Sadly, World War II struck, and all development was brought to a screeching halt. Allegedly, Ford had millions of acres worth of land for the project, which ended up all being for nothing. Maybe that's just as well - we wouldn't want rats eating our cars.
Considering wood is best known as a fuel source for fire, it would seem strange that it’s used for the construction of certain motorcars. Morgan is famous for using wood in its chassis construction, and the C5 and C6 Corvettes were known to use balsa wood in their floors.
But one group took it further than just that. Joe Harmon and his team took five years to develop a two-seater sports car made almost entirely from wood. The Splinter wooden supercar even used hickory tie-rods in the steering system. In fact, the only major components not made from wood were the engine (a Chevrolet LS7), the drivetrain, gauges, fasteners, tires, and rims. The Splinter could purportedly reach speeds of up to 240 mph. The downside is that the Splinter is almost entirely biodegradable.
The BMW GINA Light Visionary concept from 2008 showcased shape-shifting cars for the first time. It made use of a spaceframe chassis with electronically actuated flexible textile skin made of a polyurethane coated spandex that could physically change shape based on mechanical actuators beneath the skin. Even the headlights were controlled by the skin opening like eyelids. Of course, the man behind the whole thing was Chris Bangle – notorious for his rather unorthodox design methods.
The GINA’s spandex exterior made the vehicle highly aerodynamic, as the skin could adapt at varying speeds to enhance airflow.
The Bugatti Veyron L’or Blanc has commonly been publicized as the Veyron with a body made from porcelain. While this might not actually be true – the body is still made from a mix of aluminum and carbon fiber – the L’or Blanc does make use of porcelain for both the exterior and interior detailing. Items like the wheel caps, fuel filling caps, and interior décor panels are all manufactured from soybeans porcelain manufactured by the German porcelain designer, Königliche Porzellan-Manufatur Berlin (KPM).
Though the L’or Blanc may make use of porcelain both inside and out, the model is best known for its unique paintwork – painted using KPM’s porcelain painting techniques to create a design that looks like liquid refracting light over the curves of the Veyron.
We’ve already talked about the BamGoo – a bamboo car built by the Kyoto University’s Business Venture Laboratory that weighed just 132 pounds and powered by an electric drivetrain. But there have been a few other bamboo cars throughout the years, one of which being the Phoenix bamboo car. The collaborative effort between Filipino designer Kenneth Cobonpue and German product designer Albrecht Birkner took 10 days to build, employing the skills of experienced weavers. No technical details were made available about the Phoenix, as it was a with the sole intent of highlighting the use of sustainable natural materials in automotive manufacturing.
The Bricklin SV-1 looked pretty damn badass, with sports car looks and gullwing doors. But its construction was unique and highlighted Malcolm Bricklin’s history in manufacturing – before he got involved with automobiles. Before making cars, the man made showers while running a plumbing supply company. He used this knowledge when it came to making cars, manufacturing the SV-1’s body panels from bonded acrylic and fiberglass. The material was resistant to dents, and scratches didn’t affect the color as the material was impregnated with the color. The car’s color could also be changed simply by replacing body panels.
But the body panels faded badly, and didn’t do too well with heat resistance. Not to mention the bond between the materials had a tendency to break down whenever anyone made the mistake of trying to paint the SV-1 with a petroleum-based primer.
Can you imagine if people walked around with transparent skin, with muscle and organs and blood vessels showing through for all to see? Well, in 1939, Pontiac did just that with one of their cars. The company fitted a Pontiac Deluxe Six with soybeans plexiglass body shell. Nicknamed the ‘Ghost Car’, it was just a show car, though it did cost an immense amount to produce. It was said that the Ghost Car cost $25,000 to produce, which was vastly more than the $1,000 it cost to produce a regular Deluxe Six. The car was auctioned off in 2011, where it fetched $300, 000; now that’s a return on investment.