01/12/10 Getting the chassis ready for production is quite an ordeal. Each tube needs to be saved in a separate file, with its own coordinate system, and documented. There are 64 of them which makes the BOM drawing look like a pincushion, after a few days of work.
On the plus side it's something I only need to do once (famous last words). At any rate it beats having to make each tube by hand in the Bridgeport.
In the process of doing various tweaks I've decided to beef up the frame in a few spots. Yes, it did add ten pounds to it (for a total of 90). I figure it's going to be a 160+ mph little device so 10 lbs is a small price to pay for a bit of extra safety... Not that this line of thinking is getting me any nearer the original weight goal.
The full package is now out for quotes, we'll see what I get back.
01/13/10 In parallel with updating the first prototype we've now started construction of the first production dp4 - this will be a GSXR-1000 powered, RWD model with a mid-level spec and it is the first car available for sale. Final pricing and details are still being worked out but should be announced in a few weeks. Contact me for more info.
To officially kick off the build we've put together anodized suspension boxes. To me they look much cooler than the bare aluminum ones of the proto.
Some quotes on the complete CNC tube package are in and are in line with expectations, so that is good. We'll be making a decision and pulling the trigger shortly.
In anticipation of production ramp-up we are looking to free up all the shop space we can get - and this brings me to a somewhat awkward announcement. Yes, the original dp1 plug and mold are now for sale, either separately or together. The dp1 chassis design has evolved past fitting in the original shape and I don't anticipate needing them again. Obviously I'm not expecting to get anything but a small fraction of the $75K I have invested in this tooling. If the stuff is of genuine interest, make me an offer - don't be afraid to 'offend' me. I'm more interested in having it go to someone who'll make some use of it than getting any significant money. With the tools go the rights to produce parts, of course, and I'll supply the CAD files too.
01/14/10 Back to dealing with floor and bodywork - the base configuration of the dp4 will have a simple aluminum floor. It will still be curved in an inverted-airfoil shape (and can be tweaked with strakes and vortex generators) but won't have the complication or the cost of the full tunnel belly.
One possible advantage of the aluminum floor is the increased ground clearance - 2.25" vs 1.0" for the full tunnel version. Still not exactly off-road material (that's a separate car ;) but could be more appropriate for autocrosses and other rougher pavement applications. Or for someone wishing to experiment with underbody airflow management on their own.
01/22/10 Everything is connected to everything else. I've been working on the 35% version of the torque splitter as well as the lower-cost alternative for the dp4 AWD system. Naturally I'd like them to be interchangeable, as well as common with the dp1 setup. So this required changes to both the center drive design and the frame itself. I then looked at the frame changes and realized that another tweak would simplify the floor mounts and make the whole thing both safer and stiffer. Which meant that pretty much all the work done there needed to be redone - so much for only doing it once :) When compared to the frame that's in the prototype dp4 now, out of the 64 tubes only 3 are unchanged and one added.
It is a delicate balance between making good use of what's already done and getting trapped by 'legacy' solutions that are less than optimal just because there's a bunch of parts on the shelf already. I've seen too many instances of the latter and I recognize it in many products out there today. So to the extent possible, I'm going to keep updating the designs to be the best I know how to make them at any point in time. I think ultimately the customers will appreciate it.
A case in point - up until recently the frame changes could still be accommodated in the existing fixture, but the latest round would require a whole new one to be built. When Tristan asked if that's really necessary, my reply was that it takes a couple days to build a new fixture but then we'll know that every car we make in it is the best we can make it. Much preferable to every car being compromised just because we didn't want to redo the fixture. The new frame extends 2" lower and mates much nicer to both the composite and the aluminum floors, simplifying them quite a bit.
It also adds protection to the driver and other components in case of an off-track excursion. In the previous version, designed more with simplicity of manufacturing in mind, all the lower tubes were in a single horizontal plane which made a small portion of the driver's seat, the engine and the radiators hang below it. Probably OK 99.99% of the time, but... I'll feel much better having people drive this version at 160 mph than the previous one. Of course the prototype is being updated as close to this spec as possible - keeps Tristan busy :)
A lot of work has also taken place on the suspension boxes, they are now almost 5 lbs lighter each and hopefully somewhat cheaper to make. Radiators are redesigned from the scavenged dp1 prototype ones as well. And of course, separately, the modular uprights are progressing well - but that's a whole other blog that will be started soon as they are part of the dp2 project. And yes a lot of these parts will be available for builders of their own cars. I get a lot of requests for that.
01/24/10 More detail work. Finished the design of the radiators and so now I can finalize the front ducting structure which attaches to the floor and doubles as floor support. There will be a similar affair at the rear, minus the radiators of course. Both will work with either aluminum or composite floor. The cooling air exits partially through vents on top of the nose and partially through the back and the cockpit liner separates the driver from all that.
To make sure the solution also works with the prototype I had to create a separate folder with the full CAD of the prototype as it sits. Digging back into the archives from September it was interesting to see how much progress had taken place. The changes are subtle but significant. And numerous.
1/25/10 Updating the prototype with the new floor mounting scheme, we had to access the car from below. The initial plan was to lift one side up with the engine hoist. So Tristan put wheels on one side, started lifting the other by hand as a test, then just kept going and put it up on the side.
Reminds me of the FSAE tilt test. With a car this light it's a one-person job to tilt it up and makes it easy to work on the floor and anything underneath. The low CG allows it to be quite stable in this orientation, at least with the engine side down. Just need to make sure nothing leaks when all the fluids are in (FSAE test is technically 60 degrees, not 90, but I saw many cars being tilted all the way to 90 like this at Fontana with no issues). Would make for a convenient storage option, too, taking up no more floor space than a motorcycle - at least conceptually. Probably not the best idea to keep it on sidewalls for long periods of time but some kind of storage 'stand' could be devised. I'll work on that later.
Test-mounting the floor is next. The radiator ducting won't be ready for at least a couple weeks so we may rig something up in the meantime.
Final details of the spec and pricing are still being worked out but we are now basically ready to start taking orders. Early customers will get extended support, free maintenance service at our facility and participation in Palatov Motorsport trackdays at ORP. This is a limited-time opportunity - contact me if interested.
02/12/10 Lots going on, as always - some may have noticed the dp4 pricing and specs are now officially released. Modular uprights are now designed (first version, anyway) and the first batch is being built. Have a few orders even. But back to the dp4 - I've been meaning to post a few pics but keep getting sidetracked with work. So here they are:
All the stuff in progress will shortly come together. The cockpit liner is just about done, the floor and body are almost ready to be attached and lots of other stuff is falling into place too. It's busy. Busy is good.
03/05/10 Time flies. The new trackday season is about to start so we need to get the prototype ready for further testing. The 'cockpit liner' is supposed to be here this weekend and it's the final major piece that we've been waiting for. In discussions about it the term 'Pilot Pod' came up which I think is a good way to describe it. So the 'cockpit liner' is now officially Pilot Pod (TM).
In the meantime some minor things are being worked on. Tristan made a fiberglass radiator duct for the prototype. The production version will be made in a mold but radiators will be somewhat different so it made the most sense to just make a one-off for the proto. The layup was done right on the big iron table - worked great.
We also need to install additional floor supports and body mounts, and to make sure everything is square and level. To that end the car was hoisted up onto the table so we have a good reference surface. The hoist picks the whole thing up easily and I even guessed the empty CG pretty well - in the first picture below the car is just hanging there by the strap :)
03/08/10 Now that the Pilot Pod is finally here we can put the car back together and get it ready to run. It'll take a few days but now it's 'just' a matter of getting it done. The goals for the Pilot Pod were to serve as a seat, isolate the driver from the rest of the car and to provide support while still allowing room for elbows so that the driver can fasten his/her own belts. Seems to work well.
The parts still need to be trimmed and then we'll see how well all this fits into the frame. The intent is to use 'bead seat' kits inside the Pod to tailor it to individual drivers. I'm quite pleased with how the elbow pockets worked out - there is plenty of room but still good shoulder and upper body support. Even the dead pedal notch seems to be in the right place and the flat sides of the footwell are very nice for bracing one's knees - no more bruises! Once the Pilot Pod is in the car I'll have a number of different size people sit in it. Fits me just fine :)
03/19/10 The fitting of the Pilot Pod into the prototype took a bit more effort than hoped for. Some of it is not entirely unexpected, since the Pod was designed for the production frame and the prototype frame is different in many ways. Other things we ended up needing to change after actually sitting in the car. Not a huge deal since the first Pod was made in a quick temporary mold (hence the somewhat rough appearance) but now we're incorporating the changes into the production tooling.
Anyway, changes are updated in CAD, tooling updates are in progress. We will be using bead seats from BSS with the Pilot Pod and we will be distributing their products. After we do a test install in the dp4 proto I'm thinking the Atom could seriously use a pair of bead seat inserts. The stock unpadded seats in that car are excruciating.
More than one person has suggested that we should do a computer racing sim rig using the Pod. Yes, we probably will at some point after the real car is fully sorted. If someone is really interested in one let me know although it's likely to be a very low priority project for a while.
In other news, now that we're getting close to painting the prototype, we've asked Isaac at AnticInk to come up with some ideas for car graphics. Some are shown below. Hopefully this will also lead to some cool T-shirt designs and other miscellaneous stuff soon.
03/26/10 The bead seat kit is here so we did our first fitment. The instructions are pretty specific but there is definitely some procedural stuff and techniques that need to be worked out. Overall the initial fitment went smoothly and now the seat is curing under vacuum which it's supposed to do for another 7 hours or so. Then we'll pull it out, trim and (eventually) cover it.
As part of the process I got to sit in the car for over half an hour. It's quite comfy! I'm really looking forward to driving it. The weather has been pretty iffy lately and it looks like it's going to rain for the BMW trackday on Monday so we won't be doing that one. We'll get it out there soon though.
In the meantime, seat belts are fitted, pedals adjusted, floor painted... It's getting there.