Charge of the light brigade
Aussies are out to show the world, writes Craig Duff
AN AUSTRALIAN-developed carbonfibre auto passenger cell has been adapted from Boeing aerospace technology and attracted interest from carmakers such as Toyota and Holden.
The hi-tech carbon-fibre/plastic composite is the same material used in F1 cockpits.
Working out the tools and techniques to mould the material into the bends, nooks and crevices that make up an occupant cell has given an intake of auto students an insight into the next-gen challenge of building cars made of lightweight composites that cure at low temperatures.
It is also the latest major update on the FR-1 lightweight concept vehicle created by the nonprofit AutoHorizon Foundation to showcase local automotive talent, using the industry’s most innovative companies to oversee students in a hands-on hi-tech training centre.
The mission of AutoHorizon founder Brian Tanti is to encourage automotive design and engineering talent by partnering with TAFE auto departments and then getting teachers from companies that are pushing the boundaries of their fields.
And it is one of the many reasons he’ll cite why the non-profit foundation should be high on the funding priorities for state and federal governments.
‘‘We’re giving local students hands-on training and understanding of cutting-edge auto technologies, from the carbon-fibre FR-1 cell to work in the latest electric-power systems,’’ he says.
‘‘Those skills then move through the industry as graduates enter the workforce, but if we don’t challenge them, our brightest automotive stud- ents will go overseas for training exactly along the lines of what we aim to provide.’’
He says that with each change in government, at either level, he must reiterate Auto Horizons’ role and repeat the pitch for funding.
‘‘It’s part of life for non-profit organisations,’’ he says, ‘‘though most don’t take a lot of convincing after they see the work we do.’’
The FR-1 runs on custom hardware developed in association with Marand Precision suspension specialists.
It is powered by a 6.2-litre Holden V8, matched to a Ferrari transaxle to power the lightweight roadster via the rear wheels. Tanti says a Porsche transaxle was an early option, but it was ultimately rejected because it would have raised the car’s centre of gravity.
‘‘We’ve tried to apply best practice at every element from design to production and this car’s a symbol of what Australian can do.’’
Tanti says SEMA — the massive US aftermarket auto show — is keen to show the car at next year’s event.
‘‘The FR-1 is attracting attention and SEMA will help us put the word out to the world that Australia can hold its own at a global level.’’
Breakthrough: AutoHorizon founder Brian Tanti with the FR-1 concept car chassis and (right) state-of-the art engineering exclusively designed
for the FR-1.