KZN’s wooden Ford has se­ri­ous com­pe­ti­tion in a wooden supercar

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - AL­WYN VILJOEN

KZN’S wooden replica of a 1964 Ford F100 used to be quite unique, but now Joe Har­mon has lifted the bar with his Splin­ter — the first high- per­for­mance, mi­dengined supercar built from wood com­pos­ites.

Har­mon, a de­sign graduate of North Carolina State Univer­sity, dis­played the lat­est in­car­na­tion of the Splin­ter at the Essen Mo­tor Show last week. He led a group of fel­low stu­dents to build the first Splin­ter in 2007 as a graduate school project and his com­pany Har­mon De­sign has since im­proved non- stop on the model they first dis­played in 2008.

“Wood is our only nat­u­rally re­new­able build­ing ma­te­rial; it takes an ex­traor­di­nar­ily small amount of en­ergy to pro­duce and is to­tally biodegrad­able.

“With a bet­ter strength- toweight ra­tio than steel and alu­minum, it can be made into a lot more things than peo­ple tend to give it credit for.

“We wanted to push the line on what was con­sid­ered wood’s lim­i­ta­tion as a build­ing ma­te­rial while ful­fill­ing a life­long dream of de­sign­ing and build­ing a car from scratch,” he states on his web­site.

In his Splin­ter, the body and chas­sis, along with large per­cent­ages of the sus­pen­sion com­po­nents, wheels, in­te­rior, and other de­tails have been made from wood. The body is made from wo­ven strips of cherry ve­neer with a balsa core.

“We carved a buck by hand from solid red­wood blocks and made a set of fe­male molds from it. Th­ese molds were used in con­junc­tion with a vac­uum- as­sisted resin- trans­fer process to form the wood ve­neer body pan­els,” he said.

The wheel cen­tres are made from ro­tary- cut oak ve­neer, cov­ered by a wal­nut sun­burst on the out­side face and a cherry sun­burst on the in­side face.

Each wheel con­sists of over 275 in­di­vid­ual pieces.

The chas­sis is made from a se­ries of bent and molded lam­i­nates which were sec­on­dar­ily riv­eted and bonded to­gether.

A cus­tom mould was built for ev­ery com­po­nent of the chas­sis, and th­ese com­po­nents were formed, fit, trimmed, and bonded to­gether to com­prise the over­all struc­ture. To achieve the com­pound curves re­quired by the body de­sign, the team wove strips of ve­neer into a cloth.

Two looms were de­signed and built by the team to gen­er­ate this cloth ma­te­rial. This in­no­va­tion greatly in­creases wood’s util­ity in com­pos­ite con­struc­tion.

The in­spi­ra­tion be­hind the Splin­ter was a WW2 air­plane called the De Hav­il­land Mos­quito. Equipped with two Rolls- Royce V12 en­gines, it was the fastest pis­ton- driven plane of its era, and was made al­most en­tirely out of wood.

As such the Splin­ter has an equally pow­er­ful en­gine — a seven- litre small- block V8. With an eight- throt­tle- body in­take man­i­fold, a camshaft ground specif­i­cally for our ap­pli­ca­tion, and a cus­tom- built crossflow ex­haust sys­tem, we ex­pect it to make close to 700 bhp.

JOE HAR­MON de­signer ‘ We wanted to push the line on what was con­sid­ered wood’s lim­i­ta­tion as a build­ing ma­te­rial while ful­fill­ing a life­long dream of de­sign­ing and build­ing a car from scratch.’


The Splin­ter supercar is a de­sign ex­er­cise to show how un­der­rated wood is as a medium, but it will never pass crash tests.

A team of stu­dents spent weeks weav­ing strips of ve­neer into a cloth that could be curved to make a body strong enough to han­dle the stresses im­posed by the seven- litre small- block V8 in the rear. Seen here are both first and sec­ond mod­els.

Shown with­out its cover and gull­wing doors, the Splin­ter’s wooden frame still looks like an ar­ti­san’s mas­ter­piece. Even the wheels are works of art in their own right, as each is com­bines rub­ber, steel and three dif­fer­ent types of wood.


ABOVE: The well- known wooden replica of a 1963 Ford F100 is no longer as rare a propo­si­tion as it was when it ex­cited petrol­heads in How­ick. “Woody” as the bakkie is called, is now turn­ing heads in Dur­ban.


Joe Har­mon and his de­sign pro­fes­sor Bong- Il Jin.

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