Today's cars may seem too sophisticated for tinkering, but the DIY auto movement is thriving, yielding designs and innovations too radical for mass production. Here are four awesome examples of modern garage-guy ingenuity.
1. Manufacturing and Design
The Rally Fighter from start-up Local Motors is a burly, menacing vehicle no major manufacturer would ever include in its standard lineup. With its 33-inch tires, 20 inches of suspension travel and rugged inner skeleton, the street-legal desert racer is too niche for mass production. But Local Motors knows that this beast is exactly what a small subset of buyers wants. How? Those buyers designed it.
The company was co-founded in 2007 by former Marine and Harvard Business School graduate Jay Rogers on the notion of combining the crowd-sourcing and DIY movements with staid auto manufacturing. Amateurs and professionals submit designs to Local Motors's Web site, and users vote on the winners in a monthly contest. If, among other factors, a vehicle generates enough buzz that the company thinks it could sell at least 500 of them, the engineers fine-tune the design to make it feasible. Then Local Motors sets up a micro-factory—think automotive plant meets semi-pro DIY garage—where buyers build the car themselves under guidance from the company's instructors for an estimated $50,000. "We're not trying to make cars for soccer moms," Rogers says. "We're trying to make cars for people who are really deeply interested in automotives. Local Motors can bring these low-volume, highly desirable vehicles to market."
Before builders show up, they will watch an instructional DVD at home: basic pre-training for the less handy. "They need to know the difference between a socket wrench and an Allen wrench," Rogers says. Next, the customer will come in with up to two "build partners" for consecutive three-day weekends of work—roughly 60 hours in total. At the start, their Rally Fighter will simply be a welded chassis waiting for parts (pre-molded body panels will also be ready, but unmounted). Up to four groups of customers can be overseen by a single builder/trainer. Rogers describes these Local Motors employees as a mix of teacher, engineer and garage buddy—as he puts it, "personable folks who love sharing knowledge about cars."
Customers get a set of tools and start assembling: front and rear axle and suspension first, then fuel tank and filler neck, the brake and accelerator pedals, the master brake cylinder and the brake lines. The builder/trainer monitors each step, making sure that the work is done properly, but he steps in only when necessary. Rogers says the work won't require master-mechanic expertise. Customers will prep the engine—possibly a clean-diesel from either BMW or Mercedes—mount the engine, transmission and driveshaft, and install the radiator, hoses and fans. And this is just the halfway point. The Local Motors engineers will do some higher-skill work in the days between each customer's session, and the next weekend will be a blur of finishing touches, including doors, wheels and tires, and setting the vehicle ride height and other adjustments. At the end of it all, the customer drives out in his very own desert racer. (The cars will be street-legal, but because they're considered custom vehicles, they won't need to pass National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests.)
For someone like Jay Zuppardo, who has Rally Fighter No. 30 reserved, this sounds more like fun than work. He can't wait to get inside the micro-factory and prep his Fighter for the desert. "I could go buy a Jeep or an FJ Cruiser, but it's not going to do what the Rally Fighter is designed to do. I want that car," he says, "and I want to get involved in what it takes to shove it down the line."
Three years ago, rock legend Neil Young drove his 1959 Lincoln Continental to the shop of Wichita, Kansas–based super-mechanic Johnathan Goodwin and asked him to turn it into a hybrid. Goodwin had already made a name for himself by converting Hummers and other trucks (including Arnold Schwarzenegger's Jeep) to biodiesel and boosting fuel economy from 12 to around 25 miles per gallon. The result of that meeting, the Lincvolt, should be on the road this summer. (Young recently dedicated an album, "Fork in the Road," to his new love.) A 150-kilowatt electric motor, powered by lithium-ion batteries, pushes the three-ton Lincoln down the road. But the real heart of the car is an engine under the hood that can run on biodiesel, diesel, ethanol or other fuels. When the batteries run low, that generator recharges them on the fly, so there's no need to pull over and plug in. Goodwin estimates that the car will exceed 70 mpg.
Adding horsepower to a modern computer-controlled car isn't really a home-garage job anymore—today's tuners have to be hackers. That's where shops like Heffner Performance come in. Among other mods, the Sarasota, Florida, company alters customers' cars to add more power. A recent project is a souped-up Audi R8. At 420 horsepower, the factory model falls a little short, according to company president Jason Heffner, so he and his team added twin turbos that boost horsepower to 625. "The trickiest part was sorting out the electronics," he says. Ten years ago, he explains, the engine controller just ran the engine, but now the airbags, brakes, traction-control systems—they all communicate with one another. When you modify the engine, Heffner says, "all the aspects of the car need to work hand in hand."
Stealing Australian Jonathan Oxer's 2004 Mazda RX-8 would freak out any thief. That's because Oxer can turn the engine on and off, lock and unlock the doors, check the car's performance, and use GPS to track its progress on a Google map, all from a Web browser on a computer or smartphone. Oxer began his 18-month-long effort to boost his car's intelligence because he hadn't seen anyone else build a car-puter accessible 24/7, from anywhere in the world. He mounted a stripped-down computer in the trunk, ran USB cables through the car to connect the computer to the diagnostics system, soldered another connection to the stereo's circuit board, and added 3G mobile broadband, which gave him online access and turned the car into a hotspot. Now he's swapping the computer for a power-sipping microcontroller that should run for weeks and recharge when the car is running.
I know that we have come a long way with technology for the electric car, but I also think the emphasis needs to be more focused on making the Batteries for the cars more efficient and affordable before you will see the wide use of these cars that we need!
I personally like the entire article. I'm not really going to critisize it though. I understand our position in technological advances, so I'm not going to tell them what they need to do, because eventually they will do it. But the rally car was really cool, and I wouldn't mind having one. And I would stay away from old cars like that. The way they are built basically turnes them into death traps.
Hackers have been moving from stripped downed hardware without much is in the early 50-60s, to automobiles, banking, networking, learning and more today. I think Hackers will have an increasingly political role in the future in terms of visibility and change (http://www.tiket.cl)
The one under power looks awesome, bet it would drive awesome too. But I'm going to laugh my ass off when someone gets hit from behind :P
I want to build my own car too!! And that intelligent Mazda looks good because I reckon I could actually do that.
Also Wired, you have to kill these spammers.
The rally racer is awesome, and I wish I had the money. Some people may be put off by having to pay to build it yourself, but that makes me want it even more. I have always wanted to learn more about building a car. This would be getting to do that and being taught by someone who is a pro at building cars, and making sure I don't mess it up. My goal is now to build my car there.
Battery powered cars need to be produced in larger numbers to provide the money for further development. This is how the auto companies have paid for the development costs of future models. The long term cost of venture capital is one reason further development of automobile friendly Li-I batteries is slow.
The current Li-I battery technology has one major drawback - the very high operating temperature. It is not likely to be the long term technology used for future electric vehicles, but will serves as a stepping stone to one that will.
Once you have a motor on a frame, swapping the batteries is a no brainer.
Very interesting stuff, this hi-tech battery power...I am still some chagrinned, I, some years back, operated, as sales/service mgr. of an auto battery store. My concern is,I know from my training that any re-charge over about four-five amps. preferably overnight will do the least damage to a battery. The hurry-up fast charging done to most batts, due to time constraints, will degrade the old lead acid units much quicker.
I'm hoping these battery engineers are creating units that will in fact be quicker to charge, also, realizing that to run one down, causes the corrosion bugs to start, in affect degrading units also....I suppose I'm saying, the trickle chargers available today are the best method for preserving your units. O.K.@ 67,I'm no longer as impatient as I once was. Just wanted to air my concern! Thanks, Will Basham
The quickest way to long distance usage of battery operated vehicles is to design the battery units for easy swap. A battery array that is inserted into the vehicle on a track with rollers. You pull into the swap out station along the interstate - a a service tech rolls out a new set of fully charged batteries on a cart, pulls your old ones and rolls in the new ones. You pay your 20 bucks and head on your way. Faster than a petrol fillup. The tech then rolls the old ones into the charging bay adn hooks them up for recharge. The service stationn is equiped with a substantial onsite solar array that reduces the drain on the power grid and the environmental impact.
Cars driven by electric motors will be the future for the automotive industry. The writing is on the walls.
I highly doubt these cars will use Li-I batteries. I suspect they will be based on something more like a microbial fuel cell that can quickly be refilled. The Li-I technology is really just a transition technology.
There are already working models of batteries that use a genetically engineered microbes (microbial fuel cell) to generate power. Sounds crazy, but with the advances in Genetics we will be finding new ways to produce electric power from all kinds of microbes and chemical combinations. Someday we will have these fuel-cells in our homes to meet our energy needs.
The battery swap certainly sounds like an answer to the 'speed of recharge' issue. Rather like swapping your empty Calor gas bottle for a full one.
Maybe even a standard drive-over mechanism could be employed so you never even need to leave your seat - integrate that with a McDonald's drive thru and I'm there ..