May 28, 2013
Back in school, we got through many a boring History or English class by sitting in the back of the room designing cars. We would just design the car bodies of course, because that was all that really mattered, and also, let's face it, we didn't know a whole lot about cars back then. We knew about engines, suspensions, and steering from building plastic models, but we glued on a lot of tiny parts without any clue what they were, or even whether we glued them in the right place. The instructions were kind of vague.
So back then all we did was draw sleek and aerodynamic bodies, and figured someone else would do the rest, like Karmann did for Ghia. Inspiration for our designs came from the racing cars of the day, or a little before our day, like the Ferraris, Jaguars, Maseratis and Aston Martins that raced at LeMans. Back then, if you had a LeMans car and it wasn't gorgeous, you were obviously doing something wrong. Street cars designed to that racing legacy, like the E-type Jag and Ferrari Daytona, became legendary. Those were the cars we wanted to design.
So now that we're finally building a car of our own, after all these years, you'd naturally expect us to put the majority of our design and construction efforts into a sleek and aerodynamic body. Somehow, though, we're not. Our priorities have changed since High School. Not all of them. We still don't like English or History class. But our attitude toward cars changed as soon as we learned to drive. Nowadays we're mostly concerned with the way cars handle, and how fast they are. That's where the Locost comes in.
We've always liked the looks of the Lotus 7. It's half race car, half street car. It functions as both, and its form follows its function. Like everything else on the car, the body has simple lines that do nothing more than exactly what they need to do. In design terms, that makes the car elegant. Locosts, with their generally taller engines, don't quite have the same sleek lines as a Lotus 7, but they still look good from a lot of angles, our favorite being the one where the car is racing away from you.
A nice feature of the Locost body is its relatively small size. The body is made up of fourteen separate panels, and no single panel is very big. This gives the homebuilder without access to giant steel presses the ability to form the panels with simple hand tools. Or even to form them out of fiberglass. Or buy them from someone else who formed them out of fiberglass. Which is what we did with the nose, and plan to do with the fenders. Not that we couldn't form our own fiberglass panels, because we totally could, but we have to consider the cost as well.
Long time readers, and even not-so-long time readers, may recall that we already formed one of those 14 panels, the hood (a.k.a. "Bonnet") out of .050 3003-H14 aluminum last winter, using the aforementioned simple hand tools. We built the hood before we put the engine in the car, because we suspected the hood wouldn't fit with the engine in the car, and now that the engine is in the car, we're sure the hood doesn't fit.
So we needed to cut some holes, and while we weren't sure exactly where to cut them, the holes had to be cut so we couldn't let that stop us. Besides, we'd managed to figure out this sort of thing in the past. Not always with brilliant results, but we've learned since then that if you start out with small holes and make them bigger, it usually works better than the other way around. So we got out our Sharpie and drew a few lines on the hood where we thought the valve cover and the carburetors were, and started drilling.
We got close. The hole for the valve cover was just about perfect, and we only had to enlarge the holes for the carburetors a couple of times. We also trimmed the valve cover hole for the throttle cable and vacuum hose, and in the end the hood fit pretty well and looked okay, even though a couple of things stuck out. We're not sure how we're going to cover the holes, but we are ruling out duct tape, even at this early stage. Half of us actually think the hood looks pretty cool with parts hanging out. Unfortunately it's the non-voting half.
In anticipation of the arrival of aluminum for our side and rear body panels, we started cutting out paper templates. The sides were straightforward, needing only one crease and a few 90-degree bends. The rear panel was more tricky. It wraps around the curved structure in back, and then the edges have to be bent over the round tubes. Which may work okay on the straight tubes but from all accounts doesn't work at all in the corners. The Locost book acknowledges this, but claims that the kinks in the aluminum will be on the inside where they won't show. Much.
A lot of Locost builders avoid kinks in the corners by trimming the panel a little shorter there, and not wrapping the aluminum at all. We'll probably do the same. In any case we won't wrap any tube more than 90 degrees, so that we'll be able to remove the panel for painting and replace it without destroying it. It remains to be seen where the rivets will end up, but we're hoping that most of them won't show, although some of us don't mind the look of exposed rivets. Although some of us do.
With the nose, the hood, and paper panels attached, our Locost is looking more and more like a car. At least like a paper car. We hope it looks more like a real car with aluminum. Most Locosts, or at least typical Locosts, leave the aluminum panels bare. It's a look, I guess. But we don't like it. It makes the car look unfinished. You wouldn't see a Ferrari or an Aston Martin racing down the Mulsanne straight with only half of the body painted. Our Locost might not end up all that sleek and aerodynamic, but it will be green.
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