Carbon fiber has long been regarded as an automotive application that many want, but few can afford. A majority of full-carbon cars will cost you upwards of $200,000, but one small manufacturer offers is trumping the trend with a model at half that cost.
Lucra’s LC470 is an automotive street racer comprised of 100 percent carbon fiber. The small company manufactures around 50 of these cars per year. The project, originally developed in 2006, began when Lucra saw a space in the market for a reasonably-priced supercar.
“When we first developed the car, fiberglass was the suggested material to use because there was this perception that due to cost, carbon fiber wasn’t an option,” says Project Manager Eric Shimp. Lucra felt that because tools like CNC machines have become more accessible to smaller companies, the barriers to entry weren’t too prohibitive. “It is a little more expensive, but as far as the perception to the buyer, full carbon really turns them on,” says Shimp.
Hand Lay-up versus Prepreg
The composite work itself is done through Carbon by Design. Though the company does a heavy amount of aerospace work these days, its roots are in automotive and John Schauer, who founded the company, says it’s become proficient at various composite manufacturing techniques.
Chief among these is simply being able to wet lay-up carbon fiber applications with no pressure intensifiers. “Most people that build carbon (especially out of Asia) use a polyester resin with no gel coat because they can’t get the air bubbles out. So they spray about six coats of automotive clear, sand it down and polish it to address that issue. But that doesn’t really do anything. It makes it look good when the customer gets it, but six months later, it’s faded and brittle,” says Schauer.
Carbon by Design sprays a marine-grade UV-protected gel coat in the mold. It then lays the fabric and the resin behind that, which the company says results in an air bubble-free surface—a technique Schauer calls a lost art. “We really feel the basis of all lamination starts by doing it with your hands. If you’re a good hand laminator, you’ll be good at infusion as soon as you learn it. If you’re good at that, you’ll be good at RTM, and then you’ll be good at prepreg. It’s just a learning curve from beginning to end. But mold making and hand layup is extremely important in order to create a bubble-free surface,” he says.