A supercar’s foundation

Even when you’re charging millions, literally, for the cars you build, they’ve still got to begin with an underlying chassis, or at least the basis for one. At McLaren Automotive, which builds some of the world’s most extreme performance automobiles, that means an underlying structure molded completely from carbon fiber. McLaren has used carbon fiber exclusively in crafting the substructure of its roadgoing supercars ever since it rolled out the world-beating McLaren F1 in 1993, a car that became the global gold standard for truly horizon-stretching performance. Carbon fiber has long been a preferred composite material in global motorsports, although it’s widely used in building everything from spacecraft to high-tech sunglasses. What, you ask, is carbon fiber? In this context, it’s a composite material that’s essentially a formed plastic reinforced with threads of carbon atoms spun to diameters of five to 10 micrometers, a fraction of a human hair’s thickness. The resulting composite has a strength-to-weight ratio that’s among the best of any man-made material. On the average, it’s five times stronger than steel, has double the tensile stiffness, is highly heat-resistant and enjoys low thermal expansion. Given all that, it’s an extremely attractive, albeit very costly, strategy for crafting a performance vehicle’s basic platform.

The structural component on the rolling stand will form the basic component to which the suspension and powertrain of future McLaren road cars will be attached. It’s one piece, and while its exact weight and tensile strength hasn’t been disclosed, this part will form the architecture of the next generation of McLaren supercars, which will eventually be 100 percent powered by electricity, starting via hybrid drivelines. McLaren says that newly developed, first-in-the-world processes, which also presumably remain classified, were used to strip out excess mass and weight from the carbon substructure. Again, the weight of this piece wasn’t disclosed, but we’re confident that two guys – or even one – could easily pick it up and carry it away. That’s the beauty of this stuff.

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