An open road, an open throttle, and an open top – these are the raw materials of the classic American summertime joy ride, and convertible cars are at the heart of it. They’ve had their ups and downs over the decades. A sunny chapter in convertible history seems to be unfolding in Detroit’s new ragtops for the 2013-14 model years. The road-tripper’s favorite domestic convertibles – cars like the Camaro, the Corvette, and the Mustang – are again revealing design and performance signs of their muscle-car spirit in safer, more efficient 21st century bodies. It’s been a long trip back to the future.
From Tops to Flops
Convertibles have been on the scene from the beginning. In the early days, every car was designed as an open top, with modified horse-and-buggy foldable or removable tops to keep out the elements. That changed in 1910 when Cadillac introduced the first closed-body car. Suddenly, car buyers wanted freedom of choice and turned to technology for an easier transition between the two. Exploration of proper hard tops that could be retracted
Car styling is the pinnacle in the world of design and the epicenter of this creative community is in Southern California. Most auto manufacturers have a studio located here and continue work on advanced and next generation vehicles. When one sees BMWs, Mercedes or Hondas on the road, chances are they were originally dreamed up in sunny Southern California.
Three times a year, a cohort of freshly minted designers graduate from Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena, California, one of the world’s leading car design schools. Students, with backgrounds in everything from illustration to engineering, are drawn here from all corners of the world where they undergo eight accelerated terms, taught by top industry experts. Finally, at the graduation show, they display their vision of the future hoping to send tremors though the industry.
The next generation car designers are taught all aspects of the business through corporate sponsored projects and internships at leading manufacturers. They gain hands on practical experience in sketching, renderings, clay and computer modeling, – in their quest to to infuse passion into the designs.
What do you do as a clay modeler?
Car designers use digital sketches to conceptualize their vision, but it helps them immensely to view their idea as a physical, 3-D form. We create a clay model according to a designer’s specifications. They give us a drawing and return occasionally to study it and request changes. They might say, “Let’s drop this lower,” or “Let’s add more here.”
Is the clay different from the kind that children play with?
It’s brown and a little harder. We warm boxes of it to about 160 degrees in big, six-drawer ovens so it gets soft, like putty. We wear gloves to work with the hot clay, which we smear over a solid, hard-foam model produced by a milling machine. The clay hardens when it cools.
What qualifications did you need for this job?
The ability to sculpt well. Either you have it or you don’t. At one point I thought I’d be self-employed as a fine artist, but I decided I work better
If you are one of the many people who let a windshield reminder sticker govern when they get an oil change, here’s our advice to you: Drop that habit. Instead, follow the automaker’s recommended service intervals. In many modern cars, your best bet is to rely on the vehicle’s oil life monitoring system to let you know when it’s time for a change.
Let the Manual Guide You
Oil change information is in the maintenance chapter of your owner’s manual. If for some reason you’ve misplaced your owner’s manual, many automakers have put their manuals online. You can also search our Edmunds Maintenance Schedules. We have an extensive maintenance database on vehicles dating back to l980.
In many instances, you’ll find that the owner’s manual lists two service schedules. These are based on “normal” and “severe” or “special” driving conditions. Read the descriptions carefully to see which schedule reflects how you drive. In our experience, the vast majority of people fall into the normal schedule.
Trust Your Oil Life Monitor
In recent years, a number of automakers have installed oil life monitors of varying complexity in their vehicles. The more basic versions are more maintenance minders than actual systems. They’re based on mileage,
NHTSA has failed to live up to its promise to make safety improvements to the way it handles defect investigation, an audit from the U.S. Office of Inspector General (OIG) reveals. Particularly with regard to training and staff oversight, NHTSA has fallen short of its earlier promise to improve its internal safety procedures.
Specifically, the investigation focuses on NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigation (ODI).
In 2011, following its handling of Toyota’s unintended acceleration crisis, NHTSA consented with the OIG’s recommendations make process improvements to how it identifies and addresses safety defects. The list of 10 recommended improvements included directives such as coordination with foreign countries, developing a formal training program, and documenting justifications for when it doesn’t meet its deadlines. In light of General Motors’ 2014 ignition-switch safety recall, the OIG checked in to see how well NHTSA was meeting its expectations. The answer: not great.
“While NHTSA completed actions to close all 10 recommendations from our 2011 review, we identified concerns with how ODI is implementing some of its corrective actions—especially NHTSA’s lack of quality control mechanisms to ensure that its staff consistently applies the new policies and procedures,” reads the audit report.
“In addition, while ODI developed a training program in
Driving is how you get things done yet it also stops you from getting even more things done. If only the act of driving were a thing of the past and you could become a passenger, get out your work, and let the vehicle be a real-life Jeeves. Well, a few companies are getting us closer to that futuristic feeling, though there’s still a long way to go.
John Hanson, national manager for environmental, safety, and quality communications for Toyota, says it’s gone this far because of the current state of the art in sensors and processing. “There are three basic aspects to how it works,” he says. “It’s the vehicle’s ability to perceive its environment—actually see what’s going on. The second part is it can process what it’s “looking at.” It’s one thing to see it, another to understand it. The third part is the response. After it perceives its surroundings, can it respond, and do it quicker and with more precision than the driver?”
But Hanson says the autonomous ability wasn’t created to lose the driver but to gain safety. “It’s not so much an endgame but was specifically a research
If a Lamborghini Gallardo pulls up next to you at a stoplight, you’re likely to feel a range of emotions (beyond, you know, envy). Its form is likely to project a sense of power, speed, and sophistication. And, ignoring the logo and other telltale details like headlight shape, bumpers, and corners, the form of the vehicle should shout out “I’m a Lamborghini!”
Auto designers, sketching with pencil and paper, shaping in clay, or smoothing lines in CAD, are out to show all that. But however well-trained they may be, the curves and contours they come up with often need only satisfy a handful of people within their company before they are slated for production. Is there a way to calculate the potential consumer’s emotions when seeing the overall shape of a car?
“What do consumers see in highly aesthetic designed objects like cars?” asks Levent Burak Kara, a professor of mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. “There’s not that much emphasis on the perception. It’s complex because the bulk form is integrated with all the surface details. On a BMW there are lots of surface cues that give away that it’s a BMW, but until today
Not many things have shown us the potential of machinery more than the automobile. It altered our lives, obliterating what we believed could be within our daily reach. So here is a list—sure to be debated—of the top seven engineered cars of all time.
Some make the list for affordability. Some make it for being a part of history. The rest? According to automotive designer Jeff Teague, just because they made you want to drive. In fact, Teague, whose father was well-known AMC car designer Richard Teague, had the opportunity to witness several of the following through his family’s legacy. You probably would have liked to have seen their collection.
Now let’s rely on Teague’s recollection.
1907 Mercedes Touring cars: “Even back then their engineering quality just surpassed what Americans did at the time,” he says. “They were using aluminum, they were casted, all of the parts fit well. The bushings were great and can even hold up today.”
Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost: Maybe you might be partial to the Rolls Phantom but Teague will take the Silver Ghost from 1907. “Incredibly good looking,” this was one of the early model cars to give off
Nothing against the Mustang, GTO, Barracuda, Challenger, or the other classic nameplates of the American muscle car age, but the Chevrolet Corvette merits special attention this year. America’s first and arguably favorite mass-produced sports car is marking three major milestones in 2013: 60 years since its 1953 debut, 50 years since the genre-defining Sting Ray, and the first peeks at an already popular redesign for 2014.
It had the very same straight-six-cylinder Blue Flame engine found in every other Chevy of the day, but the first-generation Corvette was very different from any other American car before it. As the first mass-produced U.S. car to integrate Detroit practicality with European styling and performance, the polo white two-seater was a symbol of the U.S. automotive industry at the peak of its post-World War II exuberance.
The new ‘Vette proclaimed its sports-car aspirations through brash choices in design and engineering, like the crossed flags of victory on its emblem, open-top design, and an exclusive triple carburetor system to pep up the 150 HP engine. Within two years Chevy added a V8, more horsepower, new color choices, and other sporty tweaks, and the Corvette peeled out into history. In 1963,
Some racing fans favor NASCAR, some Indy, and still others Formula 1. But there’s another area of racing they may not have considered: vintage racing.
Vintage cars aren’t just for auto shows, they’re also for the track. The Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) is hosting about 20 events this year. Technical director Roger Linton knows what goes into getting cars race-ready. The son of well-known racer Otto Linton, who competed from 1948 to 1968, Roger Linton has also worked on cars for many races and competed in a good amount of vintage races himself.
“Vintage cars are amazing but don’t have the important techniques we take for granted today,” he says. “Some were beautiful like the Italian stuff but didn’t have flow dynamics and the machining capabilities. Sometimes it’s a workaround that makes it interesting.”
In vintage, Linton says a problem is that car makers didn’t imagine these vehicles would run for 60 years and some even have “oil and water eating in the piping.” Looking at Lotus, for example, he says they would take every bit of weight out of the car and many of the rear engine cars ran the oil and cooling
Chris Gerdes isn’t your typical car guy. Yes, he likes to drive fast and push his vehicle to the limits, but he takes the tinkering to accomplish all of that to a completely different level. Fitting an Audi TTS with a bevy of sensors that track every nuance of performance, the head of Stanford University’s Dynamic Design Lab is pushing the limits of driverless car performance. The goal is to develop better safety systems for the next generation of vehicles, whether they are driverless or not.
Already the Stanford Audi has performed on the Utah Salt Flats, climbed Pikes Peak and raced to 120 mph on California’s Thunderhill Raceway, finishing the twisting 3-mile road course in under two and a half minutes. That’s all without someone sitting behind the steering wheel, and the track time is slightly less but comparable to a standard race car driven by a professional driver.
Despite the technological advancements, Gerdes, who has a PhD in mechanical engineering, is more than impressed with human driving performance. Race car drivers process speed and braking by getting a feel for the track through the steering wheel. “It really amazes me how quickly race car
Once a miniscule demographic that skewed decently toward farmers, the all-terrain vehicle (ATV) has become so popular that for many, it is a lifestyle rather than a vehicle. Nathan Dahl, a program manager for ATV Engineering in Polaris, Medina, MN, has witnessed it evolve as numerous clubs have formed for trail-riding and longer-term travel arrangements. So what have been some of the important engineering and designing moments that have helped this field grow by leaps and bounds?
The first major highlight to him was the introduction of ATV automatic transmission, which he says started at his company. “If you look at automobiles, it’s fairly expensive compared to what’s used in ATVs,” he says. “Going belt-driven made a difference. An automobile uses transmission fluid for its different speeds but a belt uses a primary clutch and secondary clutch that constantly tenses torques and speed and can adjust seamlessly throughout the operation.”
The second highlight to him was independent rear suspension, allowing for better riding, handling, and performance. “Prior to that it was solid axle,” says Dahl, who received his mechanical engineering degree from North Dakota State University. “Rear-axle vehicles with the introduction of independent suspension moved to
There are some who diminish the skills of racecar drivers by joking that they merely drive around in a circle. Such people would have a field day with funny car drivers. After all, they merely go in a straight line. At 200 mph and more. And sometimes only parachutes can save them.
Want a real joke? Put one of those naysayers behind the wheel for a 1,000-foot funny car race.
“Within 18 feet, you’re at four and a half g’s,” explains Joey Martin, engineering and manufacturing manager for Brownsburg, IN-based Don Schumacher Racing. “The whole race is pretty interesting. We’re talking about that fine line between trading mechanical grip to aero grip to paying attention to drag. Think of an Indy car. It has an average of 230 or 240 mph but corner speeds bring it down to 210. We do all of our acceleration in a very short period of time.”
You’re even adjusting for location. Say you’re in mile-high Denver. “You’re thinking about car height,” Martin says. “Change the front wheel, the frontal area, so many things.”
Joe Fitzpatrick, fabrication shop manager for Don Schumacher Racing, explains the lack
When your vehicle is named after a canine renowned for its olfactory powers, its nose had better be something special, especially if it’s to be poking through the air at 1,000 mph.
That’s the speed that the makers of the supersonic “Bloodhound” are hoping to hit once the vehicle is put together. It’s a solid 237 mph faster than the current land speed record, set in 1997. There has never been a land-speed record that has beaten a previous land speed record by more than 81 mph. The car’s jet and rocket engines will give it 135,000 horsepower. It has a Formula One engine, too—just to pump fuel.
But getting to 1,000 mph will require more than just power. Every component of the vehicle will have to be designed with the perfect balance of strength and lightness, especially the nose.
“It’s the first thing to break the sound barrier,” says David Ewing, the product marketing engineer for Renishaw’s Additive Manufacturing Products Division, West Babylon, NY. “It gets the brunt of the force.” When the car hits its stride it will experience more than 20,000 kilograms of “skin drag.” More than half of that will be
In May of 1903, auto enthusiast Dr. Horatio Jackson, his mechanic Sewall Crocker, and his dog “Bud”, set out from San Francisco to New York City in a Winton car. They completed the first ever cross-country road trip in a motor car in 2 months and 9 days, using 800 gallons of gasoline. In the summer of 2015, teenagers Cody Kor and Tyler Kor, along with their dog “Cupid,” will re-enact Horatio’s drive, taking just 2 days and using 10 gallons of bio-fuel in Urbee 2, the first 3D printed hybrid car.
The two teens are sons of Jim Kor, the president of Winnipeg-based engineering group Kor EcoLogic, and Urbee 2 is the second prototype of Urbee, a self-initiated vehicle research project that he started with his team of designers and engineers in 1996. “We used to work on interest-driven research projects and most of them were focused on energy efficiency because of my personal interest,” says Kor, who believes powering cars on renewable energy is vital to our civilization’s survival. “Urbee has been an offshoot of all those projects.”
Originally designed for the 2010 Automotive X-Prize Competition, Kor’s vision was to build
The Mustang – Ford’s revolutionary pony car – turns 50 this year. The iconic four-seat muscle car is revered for its revved up performance, its revolutionary profile, and its lasting reverberations in American popular culture.
Ford and several Mustang fan organizations have big plans to celebrate the milestone, kicking off in Norman, OK, with a bi-directional long-distance Pony Drive. Twin convoys of Mustangs and their devoted drivers will head en masse to two simultaneous Ford-sanctioned events at speedways in Las Vegas and Charlotte over Easter weekend. But you don’t need to be there – or even be a Mustang fan – to appreciate the car’s dual impact on automotive engineering and popular culture. In celebration of the Mustang’s milestone, here are 10 of the most notable facts from the pony car’s past.
10. Father of the Pony
The genesis of the Mustang begins with the professional rise of engineer Lee Iacocca – the man often considered, over his objections, to be the “Father of the Mustang.” From the beginning, the Mustang was a pacesetter in design and performance, but it was not easy to get it out of the Ford starting gate. This pony was
It’s a point of pride to talk about getting great mileage from your vehicle these days. But to those with a puffed-out chest talking up their hybrid or electric cars, well, consider the “supermileage” vehicle creators something of a punch to the gut. These slower vehicles may not be flooding the highways anytime soon, but 1,000 mpg is nothing to scoff at.
Yes, we said 1,000 mpg.
Cory Newton helped make one of these vehicles, which run on fuel, come to life. “We did the supermileage vehicle as a capstone senior project for our mechanical engineering degree,” says Newton, who received his diploma this year at Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, and now will pursue his M.S. degree in mechanical engineering there as well. “The single goal of it is to obtain high gas mileage where a normal car has many goals. If that’s my goal going in then you should be going with rigid carbon fiber. You won’t be doing anything over 35 mph and average around 15 mph. It also means you don’t want to have heavy duty tires.”
Reducing Rolling Resistance
Newton’s team wanted to decrease their rolling resistance to as
Let’s face it: one of the big complaints about ice fishing would be that it’s…uh…cold. Well, how about just driving to the spot you like, parking, and fishing in your vehicle at a comfortable 72 degrees? The SnoBear is a track system vehicle that can hit 20+ mph and allows you to not only fish in toasty conditions, but, just as importantly, quickly move to the next spot if there isn’t anything biting.
Moving on tracks made of Camoplast, the body is fiberglass on the outer shell and has solid foam for warmth. The motor is actually a 1.6-liter Hyundai. The original version, however, had a Daihatsu 3-cylinder, according to engineer Tom Lykken, the original designer.
Mario Nozzarella, general manager of SnoBear USA, Fargo, ND, explains that one of the keys to the design is that the PSI of the tires is less than one. “Obviously the more pressure on the ice, the more apt that it will go through it,” Nozzarella says. “Another element is the Acralift System [the hydraulics], which will raise and lower the vehicle so when you drive out on the ice you can push a button that retracts the tracks and
Srinivasa Narasimhan, an associate professor at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, is part of a team working on programmable automotive headlights to make poor visibility conditions on the road easier to manage by sensing, reacting to, and adapting quickly to any environment while moving at highway speeds. “We’re looking at post-processing images,” he says. “If the rain or snow is so bad that you can’t instantly post-process it, you want to control the lighting to improve the situation. That’s where the headlights came about.”
Initially, they had two cameras and a small projector but it was very slow. “We tried to show some simple proof of concept in the lab and realized the big challenge is keeping it working while moving at high speed,” Narasimhan says. “To do this, we had to bring down the latency of the system. Right now, the reaction time is 1-1.5 milliseconds, which is 500 times faster than an average driver’s reaction time if we want to stop at a red light or stop sign.”
One big change from the initial version is that the camera and the light source are now co-located. “Co-location means essentially at the same