Monday, April 21, 2008

Don't let the curvaceous body fool you, the Volvo Extreme Gravity Car is all about speed – in a straight line. It's also designed to be "human centric" as Doug Frasher, Senior Strategic Designer at Volvo Cars, describes the highly stylized soap-box-derby racecar. "In most derby cars, the human form is hidden from view behind smooth panels and Plexiglas. I've designed the Volvo Extreme Gravity Car to show off the human form, to accentuate the body's natural aerodynamic lines."

Built for charity, the Volvo Extreme Gravity Car will compete head to head against five other gravity car designs from Mazda, Porsche, Bentley, General Motors and Nissan on August 21st at the 2004 Extreme Gravity Competition in Irvine, California at the Ford Motor Company's Premier Automotive Group headquarters. This year marks the fourth time the race has run, but it's a first for Volvo.

The race, founded by Don MacAllister of America Works for Kids, is a charitable event that raises money for foster children to help them become independent, working young men and women in the community. Additionally, through Gravity Series, Inc., foster children will gain valuable, paid work experience as they become involved in all aspects of the event.

Volvo's Extreme Gravity Car breaks almost all the rules of a typical soap-box-derby racecar. Take the rider's forward facing "rumps-up" positioning for example. Traditional derby cars lay the rider back in a recumbent position with their feet leading the way. Volvo's Extreme Gravity Car mounts the rider in the prone position, allowing for a very small frontal area and aiding in the car's aerodynamic shape. The fiberglass faring rests on the rider's shoulders, giving the car its taught, skin-tight appearance. The car and driver are almost one with each other. With the right body proportions, the human being and the mechanical vehicle mate perfectly.

"Obviously, this car is made for a fairly limber and tall driver," continues Frasher, "because you have to literally get down on your hands and knees and crawl into it." Inside, the Volvo Extreme Gravity Car continues to break all the rules. Steering the vehicle is accomplished via small aluminum handlebars hidden beneath the faring. The car is braked via a bicycle style handbrake that slows the rear wheel.

To reduce weight, the Volvo Extreme Gravity Car's frame is constructed of high-strength, water-jet-cut aluminum, while the aerodynamic fairings are comprised of fiber carbon. Weighing in at a spry 35 pounds (without ballast), the car is just one inch shy of 8 feet in length, 22 inches wide and 20 inches high. "Rolling resistance is a gravity car's worst enemy," says Frasher. "To reduce resistance I've located the two main wheels in-line with each other. The smaller outboard wheels simply provide additional stability." Frasher estimates that the Volvo Extreme Gravity Car could hit nearly 35 miles per hour by the time it reaches the end of the 64-foot long ramp. The rider will definitely feel the speed, too. With just an inch or so between the rider's nose and the car's front wheel, the experience will "be fairly hairy," comments Frasher with a wry smile.


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