At the 2010 Paris Show, Lamborghini unveiled the Sesto Elemento, the conceptual forerunner to the second-generation Murcielago. Made of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics (CFRP) virtually from bottom to top, the Sesto Elemento (for "sixth element," because carbon is number six in the periodic table) is said to weigh "under 1000 kilos" (2200 pounds)-and thus it undercuts the 1000-kg mark set by Ferrari with its own lightweight supercar concept, the 2007 Millechili, said to preview the next-generation Enzo. As for Lamborghini's striking two-seater, it uses the chassis and the running gear of the Gallardo Superleggera. It thus is more compact and less extreme than next year's Murcielago replacement, which remains faithful to the big-bore twelve-cylinder engine.
Says Stephan Winkelmann, CEO and president of Lamborghini: "At Lamborghini, we consider carbon-fiber to be the key for advanced lightweight engineering. That's why we have -- in close cooperation with Boeing and the University of Washington in Seattle -- established in Sant'Agata a carbon fiber competence center."
Like every Lamboghini since the Countach, the black beast with the featherweight body is an attention-grabber par excellence. Shaped in-house by the team under Filippo Perini, the sexiest element to come out of Sant'Agata for a long time looks like a crossbreed between a Mattel micro-racer and Darth Vader's next company car.
"Ever since the Reventon, we have honed our new form language, which is now chunky, angular, aggressive, purposeful and unmistakably Lamborghini," says Manfred Fitzgerald, the man in charge of brand & design. "Sesto Elemente is notably smaller than the Murcielago, but its stance and the proportions are totally in line with the uncompromising tonality of a contemporary mid-engine supercar. While black is the logical color for a carbon-fiber styling exercise, various contrasting red accents add an extra dash of sportiness. After all, this is not a fashion item but a proper street racer. Proving the point are the massive brake cooling ducts, the XXL air intakes and the ground effect properties of the rear apron, the rear undertray, and the prominent rear aerofoil."
The stiff monocoque is made of a single piece of injection-molded resin. Complete with aluminum reinforcements, the cell weighs a little over 220 pounds. The finished body-in-white with CFRP front frame, crash boxes, and hang-on panels weighs in at less than 440 pounds. Other pounds-shaving measures include a suspension made of SMC (30 percent lighter than alloy) and carbon fiber wheels. The exhaust system is formed from Pyrosic, a glass-ceramic composite. Although the 4WD system, the sequential transmission, the V-10 engine, and the steering rack have shed precious few calories, the power-to-weight ratio works out at an incredible 3.85 pounds per hp. With 570 hp on tap, the Sesto Elemente is allegedly capable of accelerating from 0 to 62 mph in only 2.5 seconds, thereby matching the mighty Bugatti Veyron for take-off urge. The calculated top speed is well in excess of 190 mph.
Finished in a new matte-shimmer clear coat, the Lamborghini show car proudly displays every pore of its carbon-fiber skin. It is a very technical looking piece, with plenty of razor-sharp lines merging, intersecting, or avoiding each other. Viewed from above, triangular, trapezoidal, and hexagonal styling elements prevail, most of them highlighted by fire-red accents.
"Every line has a function," states Fitzgerald. "In quite a few cases, it is simply to reinforce the panel concerned. Smoothing the air flow is another important issue, as is to ensure the thermal well-being of the drivetrain and the aerodynamic stability at high speed."
To achieve an ideal 48:52 weight distribution, the lateral radiators are mounted as close as possible to the engine. To make the weight savings visible, the car does without conventional grilles and louvers. Instead, you can see straight through to the heart of the matter, be it the carbon-ceramic brake discs, the upward-pointing carbon-fiber tailpipes or the silver transmission housing.
Inside, the new concept car is pure carbon fiber from wall to wall. Conspicuously absent are additional trim materials, decorative elements, and superfluous add-ons. The seat cushions are attached directly to the firewall, but the steering wheel and the pedal box are fully adjustable. Miniaturization is the name of the game in terms of infotainment, air conditioning, and convenience features. The dashboard is not a pretty leather-trimmed fascia but a minimalist lightweight aluminum cross member structured like the tower of a high-voltage power line. Instruments, airbags and secondary controls are bolted on almost like in a high-tech kit car.
While the front axle carrier and the crash box are made of carbon fiber, the rear subframe complete with the engine and suspension mounts is aluminum. Most of the screws and bolts that hold the complex structure together are machined from titanium.
Will the Sesto Elemente go into production, or it is just another short-lived fantasy car conceived on cloud nine? "With RTM [Resin Transfer Molding] Lambo, we are about to industrialize a patented process every future model will benefit from," states Winkelmann. "Sesto Elemente showcases the new technology. It is in this respect an early pace-setter for the next Murcielago, but there are no plans to build it." Fact is, while the next Gallardo (like its Audi R8 sibling) will stick with the Audi spaceframe matrix, the second-generation Murcielago, which we'll see in Geneva, is almost entirely made of carbon fiber. If Lamborghini plays its cards right, the Italian concern could make itself indispensable by making this valuable know-how accessible to other members of the VW group.