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.