FOR THE BEST READ ON ALL THINGS WHEELED IN KZN, EVEN WOODEN VEHICLES
KZN’s wooden Ford has serious competition in a wooden supercar
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.