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Just when you thought the motoring world couldn't come up with any more surprises, one ambitious young designer has come up with the world's first wooden supercar, the Splinter.

Designer Joe Harmon, 27, has embarked on a project, along with other students at North Carolina State University, to discover the potential of wood as a car-building material - with the aim of building a supercar.

With sponsors like Delta/Porter-Cable, Daubert Chemical, Klingspor and Becker Acroma, the future looks bright for Joe and his colleagues.

There's no denying Joe's Splinter can compete with other supercars in the hotness stakes, which is why the likes of McLaren and BMW should keep an eye on this guy and his team of designers.

We caught up with Joe to find out how the Splinter's coming along, and ask the obvious questions about fire hazards and woodworm.

Check out these amazing pictures of the car in production, plus images of it when complete. This is one splinter we wouldn't mind having.



Joe Harmon: We are building a wooden car mostly to learn and share ideas. The knowledge that we are gaining from building the car is alone worth the time, effort, and money we are spending on it. We hope that it will spark some creativity in other people. People are so caught up in thinking that the wood will burn or crack or splinter because they fail to see wood as just another material that has its advantages and disadvantages. The way we use wood is almost identical to the way carbon fibre and fibreglass are used, so there is really nothing to be afraid of.

How long will it take to build?

Joe Harmon: We have spent about a year and a half so far, and we have about another eight months to go. In starting a project like this from the ground up, we run into so many challenges that we have to work through. There is a learning curve that we have to traverse for almost every part we make. Fortunately, as we have gone along, this curve has become shorter and shorter. We have also found that there is a deceptively huge amount of work involved in almost everything. The wheels, for example, are each made up of over 300 pieces.

Have you had any interest from potential backers?

Joe Harmon: We are financing the car ourselves, and haven't sought any help from financial backers. We are not sure what we will do with the car when we finish it, so we don't want to have to make any promises to investors right now. However, we have been lucky enough to have gotten loads of help from people in the industry like Delta/Porter-Cable, Daubert Chemical and Becker Acroma, to name a few. We have had a huge amount of materials and technical support donated from companies like these that like to stay on the forefront of what's going on in woodworking.



How fast can it go?

Joe Harmon: We aren't particularly interested in opening the bag of worms associated with a top speed claim, but based totally on projected horsepower and curb weight, frontal area, and gearing, the car will be capable of speeds in excess of 240mph. That said, there are certainly myriad real world conditions that would affect this figure, and the event that this will ever be tested is not guaranteed.

Do you think there will be a genuine interest in the market?

Joe Harmon: I don't harbour much doubt that a lot of people will want to have one, but I would be surprised to see any wooden cars on the road any time soon. The amount of labour involved in the manufacturing process is very high, and I am not sure if people will ever get over the fear of the safety aspect. To use wood to the extent that we have probably wouldn't be practical on many vehicles, but we do feel that we have come across some ideas that could be carried over and used in normal vehicles.

Surely if it sets on fire it is more likely to go up in flames?

Joe Harmon: The circumstance most likely to cause a fire in the Splinter is the ignition of a ruptured gas tank. While there is no conventional car that would fare well in such an incident, certainly a greater percentage of the Splinter would be consumed in a fire than of an ordinary vehicle. Either way, if a car catches on fire, you get out of it as soon as you can! We have put a large amount of effort into absorbing, reflecting and evacuating different heat sources in the engine bay, and we will fit an automatic fire extinguishing system for extra protection. Fire will not be any more of an issue in the Splinter than it is in any internal combustion vehicle.
 

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Do you think the Splinter can compete with the top supercars?

Joe Harmon: Speaking in terms of performance, the potential is definitely there. We don't have the time or the resources to put the Splinter through the same kind of testing and refinement that one would see in an Enzo or a Carrera GT, but we have designed it to have world-class characteristics in all the areas that make a supercar super, like power-to-weight ratio, weight distribution and centre of gravity.

What top speed are you aiming for?

Joe Harmon: To me, top speed is more of a by-product of a proper supercar than a goal for one. There are so many other factors that take precedence over top speed that it wouldn't make sense for us to set a top speed goal. If we make the car light enough, powerful enough and slippery enough, it will be able to move faster than we had hoped.

What are the pros of working with wood?

Joe Harmon: Wood is a truly amazing material to work with. It has a higher strength-to-weight ratio than aluminium or steel, and it possesses a versatility that makes many different types of construction techniques possible. The look, feel, and smell of a natural material like wood are not seen elsewhere and cannot be faked, and the satisfaction involved in making something from a piece of wood is awesome.



And the cons?

Joe Harmon: There is not much room for error with wood. All the laminations, fits, glues, and finishes have to be dialled in. There is no welding up a hole or bending a piece to make it fit. The main con is probably the fact that wood has almost no ability to stretch. Think of trying to conform a piece of paper to a globe. Compound curves like those seen in the Splinter's body panels are extremely labour-intensive and difficult to make in a wood laminate.

What's your background?

Joe Harmon: I graduated from the School of Design at North Carolina State University in December 2006. My major was Industrial Design. I am currently finishing up my Master's Degree in Industrial Design from the same school. I have always wanted to design cars.

How do you avoid problems such as woodworm and rot?

Joe Harmon: The magic of modern coatings along with the proper selection of woods virtually eliminates problems of worm and rot. Keeping the car out of the rain won't hurt, either! Just like with carbon fibre, UV light is a big concern. On a painted car, this problem goes away, but a natural finish like the Splinter will have must be protected. The best protection is shade, but the coatings we have gotten from Becker will greatly retard UV degradation.

Will it be lighter than a conventional car?

Joe Harmon: We hope the car will weigh about 2,500lbs, which is less than 100lbs heavier than a late-model Mazda Miata, but with well over three times the power. The light weight is achieved through careful design and composite construction: the Splinter is not made from any carved-out, solid chunks of wood, but rather molded laminates. This type of construction is essentially identical to that employed in cars or other objects which are made of fibreglass or carbon fibre. By building thickness in a moulded part with a lightweight material, one exponentially increases the stiffness. One of the things that additional time and funds would allow us to accomplish would be a lightening of the chassis and various other components. We lean heavily towards the side of overbuilding our parts because we don't have time to stress test everything to make it only exactly as strong (and heavy) as it needs to be.

Could you build an F1 car out of wood?

Joe Harmon: An F1 car could definitely be made from wood. Some extremely creative engineering would have to go into it to overcome the strength-to-weight and ease of moldability benefits of carbon fibre, but it's definitely doable. Getting permission to race it would probably be a bigger challenge than engineering it. It would be fun trying to find out.
 

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That's just crazy, surely :eek:

Why anyone would really want to come up with such an idea is beyond me... 240 mph in a wooden supercar, no thanks. I'd end up with more than just splinters if I lost control of that!
 

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That looks very nice, but I was about to question the pics in the first post... they could've been something Davefish knocked up :tongue:

I can't see it making a sensible business case for production, although it is obviously a showcase for the guys skills and makes for an exciting CV.
 

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They have already made a car from wood, with wooden seats, wooden wheels, wooden brakes and a wooden engine, the only thing was..........it wooden go!!!!!:D:D:D
 

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Doesnt wood burn quite nicely? What happens to all the heat at 240mph? Oh yeh, it turns into fire.

We had people do stupid things like this on my course at uni, theyd bankrupt themselves making a new concept car that theyd thought would make them millions, even tho Noble dont make a profit and TVR went bust.

Awesome on paper but complete shite in reality.
 

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Personally, I commend them for their ingenuity and willingness to explore something different. Wood isn't an obvious choice for many reasons but with enough backing to find and use the right treatments/processes, it might just work.

If they were building a mass produced city car I would take issue with it but for me, this is what supercar building is all about… pushing the boundaries!
 
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