Speed Without Power: Peter Brock’s Aerovault II Really Hauls
A great designer can do anything, including build a better car-hauling trailer
Gleaming in the soft afternoon light in Las Vegas, Peter Brock's sleek Aerovault II car-hauling trailer is clearly an object of high style, but it's also a brilliant design, both in terms of its function and its sturdy, lightweight (2,400-pound) structure. It's also an object lesson in how the style/design dichotomy discussed in our 30th anniversary issue can evolve in the life and work of a single person.
Brock, 80 this year, has had a long and distinguished career, beginning at age 19 at GM Styling, where he worked purely as a stylist. His finest accomplishment there was certainly the original Sting Ray racing sports car body created for Styling Vice President Bill Mitchell on the "mule" chassis of the ill-fated Corvette SS. As gorgeous as the Sting Ray was, in practice it was seriously un-aerodynamic, with a mediocre drag coefficient and a nasty tendency to lift the body off its wheels and the front wheels off the road at speed. Brock wanted a rising camber line, but Mitchell didn't. And what should prevail: the styling instincts of a veteran stylist—who was paying for the car—or the half-formed aerodynamic notions of a kid?
After leaving GM, Brock went to work for Carroll Shelby, but not in any design capacity. He really wanted to be a Cobra team driver, but was made chief instructor in Shelby's driving school instead. It was at Shelby American that his innate design capability came into play. Shelby didn't know Brock had ever been a professional car designer, so it was only with grudging acceptance (and against active opposition from most of the organization), that Brock conceived, championed, and honchoed the creation of the aerodynamic "Daytona" body that gave Shelby American the world GT championship, handily besting Enzo Ferrari, who immediately dropped out of factory sports car racing.
More impassioned by motorsports than design, Brock operated his own Datsun racing teams, from time to time turning out racing and sports car shapes on various platforms that could — and should — have led to series production but didn't. All the while, Brock was transforming himself from stylist to designer, adding in a bit of entrepreneurial commerce, selling parts, models, components, racing items, and his own skill as a writer-photographer specializing in off-road events.
His latest project is this superb aerodynamic shape, built in his own shop in Henderson, Nevada. Yes, it is highly styled, a beautiful — and beautifully built — construct, but also an object lesson in what good design really is and what it means to be totally committed to thinking through all aspects of appearance and function in vehicle creation. Any truly great design is first of all a reasoned solution to a perceived need. With decades of experience in moving race cars around the world, Brock had cataloged all the requirements for a good car trailer in his mind, and when it seemed an attainable goal, he commissioned a vendor to make the first Aerovaults. Capacity was highly restricted, so with the encouragement and active support of his wife, Gayle, Brock decided to make the trailer himself. It was a major commitment in capital and labor, but one that's now starting to pay off, with the expectation that Aerovault will be able to make and sell its trailers every week from now on.
Tooling would have been prohibitively expensive, so the Aerovault crew sought used machines, then designed and built modifications to make them usable for this specific product. The press brake, used to form structural ribs on the 0.12-inch-thick 6063 T-3 aluminum sidewalls, was lengthened, then lightened to allow the lift machinery to deal with the same weight it had been designed to handle. The semi-circular trailer nose piece of the same material is bent in a vertical three-roller tool, also reconstructed from inexpensive components. In a particularly clever move, the access doors cut into the front are partially laser-cut, bent in one piece, then the small tabs that were left are cut through. Result: perfect alignment of the associated parts. Alignment retained in the doors by bonding in shelves that act as bracing and are perfect for small items always present around race cars.
Notice that there is no structural framing above the load deck. The molded composite roof incorporates three fins that arise well forward for the central spine and a bit farther back for the side fins. Those ribs provide the required stiffness and leave the interior completely free of anything that might snag clothing or bump one's head. Brock is proud of the fact that there is a full 80-inch width between the wheelhouses, allowing quite wide vehicles to be carried within the legal maximum 102-inch overall width.
The load platform is made up of rectangular-section aluminum tubing welded into a single piece that is then covered top and bottom with sheet alloy, so the base plate is a light, strong metal sandwich. The belly pan is an aerodynamic aid and eliminates the accumulation of additional weight, whether mud, snow, or ice. The commercial 3,500-pound-capacity flexible torsion axles with electric brakes for all wheels are enclosed in the belly pan, again assuring cleanliness. They're covered externally with fender fairings, identical for both sides.
To avoid the problem of getting a driver out of the car once it's pulled inside a trailer, Aerovault has an incorporated a remote-control-operated electric winch in the nose to pull in the car. Blow your engine in a race? You can still get it on the trailer. Getting a car off is easy, too: Jack up the front, and let gravity pull the car out, keeping control via the winch. The entire tailgate is the loading ramp, and for cars with very low ground clearance, it can be propped up with light wedges.
At $25,990, Aerovault II is not a cheap, but it's complete and ready to use at that price. Brock reports that one early owner thinks he'll get the price back over a relatively short period due to an estimated 33 percent to 50 percent reduction in fuel costs. With its low weight, reduced drag, and increased stability, this trailer doesn't demand a big, heavy, thirsty truck to pull it. An SUV or even a reasonably powerful sedan will do the job. My choice would be the new, aluminum Ford F-150 with the low profile and superior aerodynamics of a Quickup module, the superb work of another great octogenarian designer, J. Baldwin.
It's worth noting that Aerovault's standard specification includes the highest-quality hardware and components. All lighting is LED for maximum brightness and low current draw. Hinges, locks, switches and other elements were chosen carefully for durability and reliability. There are few options, although an intriguing one is a satellite tracking system that alerts the owner's cellphone if any door is opened or the trailer moved. Given the typical content of an Aerovault, this is an option that may well be required by insurance companies. Another practical one is a sealed "transfer plug" next to the front door, so a trickle charger can be placed safely inside the trailer when it is left for long periods.
Brock says the near quarter-sphere front of the trailer was conceived to recapture and moderate the turbulent airflow coming off the tow vehicle, reducing overall drag of the complete rig, and that in practice it seems to be working as intended. As designed, not styled.
But doesn't it look fine!