There’s a paucity of new materials being used. Does an old construction technique have a future?
Early aeroplane construction made use of fabric stretched over a lightweight frame. Ex test pilot Charles Weymann adapted this technique for car bodies, patenting his construction method, selling patents and opening factories in France, Britain and the USA in the early 1920s. Using flexible joints for the underlying timber stopped unseemly squeaking, hidden wires held the doors in shape, and the ‘fabric’ comprised layers of chicken wire, muslin, cotton and, finally, self-coloured synthetic leather. Despite the fragility of the structure in the event of an accident and the risk of rotting fabric, the system was well-received and used extensively by coachbuilders. However, as metal body technology improved, by the early 1930s, demand had declined drastically although the technique continued to be used on bus bodies in the UK and the name Weymann continued on until the end of the 80s, when one-time transport manufacturing giant MCW (Metro Cammell Weymann) was broken up.
We wrote about BMW’s 2008 GINA concept last year. Although it now seems to have been consigned to history as more a bit of PR mixed with Banglesque blue sky thinking, rather than a future production possibility, that would be a pity. The idea of a lycra-like material that will stretch to allow opening and closing of panels and, even, changing the shape of the car itself, offers a range of interesting possibilities. Even if BMW have now returned to their conservative ways, it’s hoped that someone else might take up the mantle.
But, if you do yearn for a fabric body, a 1930 Gurney Nutting bodied Bentley Speed Six is outside your budget, and you can’t wait for a 2030 GINA, maybe try the Japanese Rimono EV concept. Intended for production next year, it uses fabric body panels though, rather than trying to emulate steel with taut fabric, it deliberately gives a soft look to the bodywork – possibly not good if you’re barreling down a motorway, but quite nice if you’re imagining a city populated with friendly, slow-moving EVs. The panels are removable, so you can presumably alter the style, as well as popping them in the washing machine.