Splinter: Wooden Supercar - Got Wood?

Regis Lefebure

Imagination is the principal element in the project. Harmon pushed wood use as far as he could: every element of the steering column, apart from the metal rack-and-pinion unit, is made of various species. The transverse leaf springs are formed of osage orange wood. Even the tie rods are hickory. There is extensive use of plywood, as in the suspension control arms, but every square inch was laid and press-laminated in-house, including the impressive spiders for the composite nineteen- and twenty-inch wheels.

Those wheels represent one of the biggest unknowns. Despite a fifteen-degree conical taper meant to spread loads over more wood fibers, Harmon thinks that the massive torque of his modified Cadillac Northstar engine may rip out the centers. To get heat away from the wooden structure, he has swapped the cylinder heads left to right so the exhaust ports are inboard, with the headers coming out the top of the engine below huge vents. The transaxle is a six-speed Corvette unit, which helps push the cockpit well forward, despite the 104.8-inch wheelbase. The hull weighs about 1100 pounds, and Harmon expects the final curb weight to be approximately 2500 pounds.

Some styling compromises had to be made to keep costs down. The windshield came from a Dodge Caravan and isn't exactly what was first sketched. The body was initially executed as a wood and Bondo male model, after which fiberglass female molds were created. The final veneer cloth was carefully laid so the surface patterns lined up aesthetically, just as a good tailor juggles his cloth for a pinstripe suit. In terms of appearance, there are some minor student-level styling lapses, but overall the ironically named Splinter is a magnificent object. A year from now, we should be able to drive one of the most fascinating American projects in many years. Harmon hopes that the Splinter will help him find a good job in design. Depending on what happens to the economy, we think he might find himself manufacturing supercars instead.

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