Splinter sprouts high-performance wooden sports car

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The Splinter as seen from the side

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Wood was once a commonly used material in cars, but these days you're more likely to find a wood car in a toy box than a garage. Not so the "Splinter," a high-performance sports car that a team led by Joe Harmon has spent five years creating. The exotic machine is powered by a Chevrolet LS7 engine and other than that and the drive train, gauges, fasteners, tires and rims, the car is made almost entirely of wood composites.

Harmon started the project as a grad student at North Carolina State University and said the Splinter was a result of his lifelong love of automobiles and his desire to use wood in ways that would push its perceived limitations.

"It has been a dream of mine to design and build my own car since I was a kid. Wood provided an additional challenge that we thought might move the project into an interesting direction," he explained.

What makes the Splinter particularly unique among other wooden cars is that it was designed to look and feel like a performance machine, as evidenced by its LS7 engine, which was chosen because of its lightweight and compact design. With an 8-throttle-body intake manifold, a camshaft ground specifically for this project, and a custom-built cross flow exhaust system, it kicks out a claimed 700 bhp (522 kW).

A six-speed manual transmission, and six-piston caliper brakes up front and two-piston calipers in the rear complete most of the critical non-wood parts of the vehicle.

The monocoque chassis is made almost entirely from a series of bent and molded laminates, with each chassis component formed, fitted and trimmed using a custom mold and bonded together to create the structure.

Steering is provided by a 12:1 rack and pinion set up comprised of multi-piece tie rods. Front suspension is A-arms made of upper and lower laminated wood of unequal length with height-adjustable air-bag springs and adjustable shocks.

Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires sit on three-piece forged aluminum rims with laminated wood centers made from rotary-cut oak veneer, covered by a walnut sunburst on the outside face and a cherry sunburst on the inside. Each wheel consists of over 275 individual pieces.

The compound curvature of the exterior was achieved by weaving strips of veneer made from cherry skins and end grain balsa into a cloth using two looms designed by the build team specifically for the project.

A wide variety of glues were used to keep all of the wood pieces together, including epoxy, urethane, urea formaldehyde, and polyvinyl acetate.

Harmon said the entire car weighs an estimated 3,000 lbs (1,360 kg) and because it's made of wood he claims it boasts a better strength-to-weight ratio than steel and aluminum. While it wasn't built specifically as a performance machine, he pointed out that the combination of the Splinter's weight, shape, gearing and power could mean it's capable of reaching speeds of up to 240 mph (386 km/h). However, the car is unlikely to be put to the test in this regard.

Nearly a half-dozen different sponsors provided tools and materials to the mostly self-funded project that was inspired by a WWII airplane called the "de Havilland Mosquito." Made almost entirely out of wood, the plane was equipped with two Rolls-Royce V12 engines and was supposedly the fastest piston-driven plane of its era.

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