After the announcement that Lamborghini will indeed build its lightweight Sesto Elemento, we sat down with one of the engineers tasked with making the car work in the real world. Maurizio Reggiani, Lamborghini research and development director, explained the steps necessary to bring the Sesto Elemento concept car to reality.
When the lightweight wonder bowed at the Paris Motor Show last year, it was merely a technical proof-of-concept. The car's body and chassis were built from Forged Composite, a new form of carbon fiber developed by Lamborghini and golf club-maker Callaway. The goal was to build a Gallardo-based car that weighed no more than 1000 kg -- 2200 pounds.
"It was a technological demonstrator," Reggiani said. "It was only to say that a car like this can exist."
A positive response after the Paris show convinced Lamborghini to begin developing the Sesto Elemento for production. It's a fantastic performance car because its low curb weight enables outstanding acceleration, cornering, and braking. Reggiani says the car feels "like a motorcycle" because it has very little inertia and is extremely responsive to driver input.
The 20 copies of the Sesto Elemento that will be built won't be street legal, as they lack certain safety features like airbags. Not that it matters: Lamborghini expects "99 percent" of buyers to keep their Sesto Elemento in a private collection or use it only on the track. Reggiani compares to the car to a Picasso painting, something only to be admired and protected.
Bringing the carbon fiber concept to life was no small feat. Lamborghini spent hours stress-testing the body and chassis; although plenty of computer modeling was done ahead of time, Reggiani said only physical models could show any weaknesses caused by drilled holes or the flow of resin during production. The result is a car that weighs just 999 kg, like the concept, yet is as torsionally stiff as the aluminum-and-steel Gallardo on which it is based.
Reggiani said a key difficulty during production is aligning the body shells -- the Sesto Elemento is essentially made in two large pieces, one for the front of the car and one for the rear. They cannot easily be adjusted, so it's critical that gaps are within tight tolerances or the doors won't close properly. To work on the engine, mechanics have to remove "about 50 percent" of the Sesto Elemento's bodywork.
The seats also are part of the carbon fiber assembly and cannot be moved. Instead, electrically adjusted pedals and steering wheel help drivers find a comfortable seating position. Lamborghini can custom-fit foam to adjust the seat contours to the driver's preference.
Production of the Sesto Elemento will begin in late 2012, and Lamborghini hopes to deliver all 20 cars by early 2013. No official price has been announced -- although estimates say it could cost upwards of $2-$3 million. Reggiani says price is irrelevant anyway, as there are only 20 copies available and customers will be carefully selected.
After the Sesto Elemento, expect to see Lamborghini developing more and more lightweight solutions. The company has vowed to cut its cars' carbon-dioxide emissions 35 percent by 2015, but doesn't want to compromise performance in the pursuit of economy.
"If I made a four-cylinder with 200 hp, yes, I can reduce the CO2 emissions, but then it is not a Lamborghini," Reggiani said. Cutting vehicle weight will allow Lamborghini to continue building powerful super cars while at the same time reducing their fuel consumption.
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