Automotive

Splinter sprouts high-performance wooden sports car

Splinter sprouts high-performa...
The Splinter as seen from the side
The Splinter as seen from the side
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Front view of the Splinter wooden car
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Front view of the Splinter wooden car
The Splinter body is made from a cloth woven from cherry skins and end grain balss
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The Splinter body is made from a cloth woven from cherry skins and end grain balss
A rear view of the Splinter
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A rear view of the Splinter
The monocoque chassis of the Splinter
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The monocoque chassis of the Splinter
Each Splinter wheel has 275 different wooden pieces
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Each Splinter wheel has 275 different wooden pieces
A 700 hp Chevrolet LS7 powers the Splinter
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A 700 hp Chevrolet LS7 powers the Splinter
The Splinter as seen from the side
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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.

A 700 hp Chevrolet LS7 powers the Splinter
A 700 hp Chevrolet LS7 powers the Splinter

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.

The monocoque chassis of the Splinter
The monocoque chassis of the Splinter

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.

The Splinter body is made from a cloth woven from cherry skins and end grain balss
The Splinter body is made from a cloth woven from cherry skins and end grain balss

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.

Source: Joe Harmon Design


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8 comments
Mel Tisdale
This project is akin to human powered flight. Very interesting to see, but one is left wondering what the point is.
On a more serious note, one wonders what would happen to the occupants in the event of a major road accident. They are going to be moving violently about in a cell whose edges will be made of splintered wood. Better pack some tweezers along the jack, wheel-brace etc.
ikarus342000
I am wondering why so many persons think in regard to a car first on an accident. But cars are made for driving first I presume. An interesting idea and a nice build. Wood is very resilient and combined with the right glues it will make a strong car to. By the way, the oldest car company in private hands, the MORGAN is for a great part also made from wood.
Bob
Interesting insulated exhaust manifold. This reminds me of a cartoon in the 1970s where a group of scientists where hired to figure out how to replace plastic parts with wood because of the oil shortage.
jerryd
Great work as another who builds wood/epoxy cars, MC's.
Wood done well is a great lightweight very strong material. Though I wouldn't be building tie rods from it as in tension it's strength isn't what it is in compression.
I use FG, Kevlar or metal in those few spots.
Bob Flint
For non smokers only, no cigarette lighter?
vblancer
More and more cars are made of "composites" rather than metals. Wood is the original "composite". Some very fast and very strong home built planes are still made of wood. As pointed out some of the fastest prop planes ever made were wood and wood composite structure has come a VERY long way since 1940 when they were building the Mosquito which was one of the most effective aircraft of WWII.
In fact the fastest recon aircraft of WWII was a Mosquito and they did not even arm it as the trade of of weight to speed meant the plane was safer without arms because nothing could catch it!!
These days between the different wood composites and the varying adhesives mean this car, if built, could be a very effective, very stiff and very good handling car. When you see something like this forget pine 2X4s! There will not be any. Instead think various wood veneers stacked and pressure molded the way many of the best and stiffest gun stocks are today.
By the way did you know that most of the bottom of EVERY Formula One car on a Gran Prix grid is WOOD?!?!
vblancer
More and more cars are made of "composites" rather than metals. Wood is the original "composite". Some very fast and very strong home built planes are still made of wood. As pointed out some of the fastest prop planes ever made were wood and wood composite structure has come a VERY long way since 1940 when they were building the Mosquito which was one of the most effective aircraft of WWII.
In fact the fastest recon aircraft of WWII was a Mosquito and they did not even arm it as the trade of of weight to speed meant the plane was safer without arms because nothing could catch it!!
These days between the different wood composites and the varying adhesives mean this car, if built, could be a very effective, very stiff and very good handling car. When you see something like this forget pine 2X4s! There will not be any. Instead think various wood veneers stacked and pressure molded the way many of the best and stiffest gun stocks are today.
By the way did you know that most of the bottom of EVERY Formula One car on a Gran Prix grid is WOOD?!?!
Gregg Eshelman
F1 doesn't use wood for the reference planks now. http://www.formula1-dictionary.net/plank_or_skidblock.html
The DeHaviland Mosquito was also a very RADAR stealthy aircraft. The radio waves from the RADAR equipment of the era would pass right through the plane. The engines weren't large enough hunks of metal for the systems to detect.
WW2 RADAR didn't have a sweep display that showed contacts as dots with direction and distance. The displays back then were a line on an oscilloscope display. Vertical displacement was for the target size. Other means were used to determine direction. The movie "Pearl Harbor" got that totally wrong with its sweep display.