Examining the Skeleton of the modern motor car.
Call me a Luddite, hurl vitriol to my face, shake your head in disbelief, but one thing cannot be denied. Since strolling onto this site as a wet behind the ears enthusiast, the act of reading, researching and writing about cars has improved my level of knowledge to that of a rounded enthusiast. Few can ever learn everything, but the journey is often more interesting than the destination. And as the saying goes, if beauty is only skin deep, here, the inner beauty of the car is allowed, encouraged even, to shrine through.
Formula One was something of a catalyst, showing the way with their tyre temperature thermal cameras, often making for more excitement than the race itself. Witnessing those temperatures rise and fall drew me like seagulls to tractor’s rear amid a freshly ploughed field, dazzled as those pale blues and burning reds danced a Celsius Cabriole, if you will.
Obviously we see but the tyre, only the sensors (and cameras) can permit such internal vision. Having these secrets revealed has made me realise just how a tyre delaminates (it’s no real surprise), but having the results literally unfurling before one’s eyes somehow makes it more real. Few people understand how to nurse their tyres; modern racing drivers are often lauded for doing so, eliciting that hard earned victory or being derided for not understanding how the tyre works, thereby triggering an unwarranted pit stop. Consistency and balance are always key.
But turning away from the racetrack to the structure of our daily vehicles, we witness metal being pressed, shaped, formed. As to exactly what metals or, combinations of metals these are, my naive ignorance believed for many years that simple, ordinary steel builds cars. Historically speaking, this was true. Scratching beneath the surface of the modern motor, therein lies the most colourful cornucopia of materials. Well, handily coloured in diagrammatical form only as the body in white on the production line is the uniform silver grey. Without such diagrams, that ignorance of mine might still be having tea and crumpets with rusting hulks.
Take the 2021 Volvo S90 body shell seen in the headline image above. Regardless of the car’s appearance when fully clothed, this image excites not only my inner child for its colourful demeanour but reveals the complex nature of this well engineered, safety conscious model. Had I been on the engineering team I’d have hung this beautiful scene on the wall with its manifest of materials. Feast your eyes on the varying strengths and marvel at just how little mild steel is used. The more tech-savvy could maybe enlighten us as to the differences between very and ultra high strength steel and to where its positioning is applied in the initial roll of metal.
My understanding of chemistry remains firmly rooted in the classroom some thirty years ago, but I seem to recall that different metals do not take to being combined with others especially well. Uncivilised, unwelcome reactions occur, welding joins adding to the problem, but I haven’t seen a rusty un-accident damaged vehicle in many years so something must be working.
The floor pan of this 2012 Giulietta resembles a plastic model kit. All that’s missing is the sprue where the plastic is injected. But of course every strake, curve, fold, bend and shape is there for a reason. But to these eyes, this pressing is a piece of artwork. I wouldn’t hang it on the wall at home as this would entail all manner of household lamentations (never mind obscuring the TV), though place this in a sculpture park along with an enigmatic title and it could generate enthusiastic comments from those having the sight of Henry Moore.
A car that when fully assembled garners the kind of attention that sees eyebrows furl and metaphorical question marks hover above heads is the Hyundai Veloster. With its quirky triple door affair, this must have taken some midnight oil to achieve in engineering terms. Whereas the Alfa Romeo pressing has integrity and flow, this girder appears brutal, jarring with a heaviness which sullies the impression. No fan of above nor under-surface of this car, am I.
A wholly different approach, the generation of electric car and its central nervous system. Almost a body scan in appearance, the intricacies shown here would defy any chance of me escaping the labyrinth. Where does one start with planning such a multi-layered, complicated affair? Having no answers to that or indeed any of the above conundrums, I can at least appreciate the endeavours of those blessed with more technical ability than this humble scribe.
These images demand deeper looks, thoughts and appreciation. The car contains many levels of fascination for us. While any form of personal transport continues to be made, there will exist conversations and debates as to how the thing looks. But allowing these glimpses beneath the skin helps us understand their inner beauty.