It’s no secret that Bugatti is working on a more-everything successor to the Veyron, the 1500 HP, 288 MPH Chiron. I’m here to tell Bugatti right now to stop work on it, because it’s stupid and you’re wasting your time. You really want to make a supercar — I mean, a real supercar? Then I have one word for you: ALON®.
That’s probably not the series of letters you were expecting after that colon. Hell, it’s not a series of letters I’d expect after a colon, either. It sounds like some creepy alcoholism support group run by the Rosicrucians or something. But it’s not. What it is is (is is?) goddamn transparent aluminum, just like in that scene where Scotty talks into the mouse. And that stuff is the key to making the next truly revolutionary supercar.
Let me explain why this is even necessary. The plan for the Veyron’s successor is to do essentially the same thing as the Veyron, but more so: make an absurdly expensive two-seat luxury sportscar with horsepower numbers that, if they were years, would put you mid-Renaissance, and capable of speeds no owner will ever, ever go.
Sure, these are interesting engineering challenges, but, fundamentally, who gives a shit? It’s been done. Bugatti is saying the Chiron will go 0-60 in under 2 seconds — well, a GRC Ford Fiesta will go 0-60 in 1.9 seconds today. It’s been done, and they race them. And they’re Fiestas.
Who cares if it’ll do 288 MPH? You know who’s never going to drive one of these at 288 MPH? You, every hypothetical Chiron buyer from the near future. These cars will sit in garages and drive at 40 MPH through Bel Air and Miami Beach and fuck all else. You know it’s true.
So why should Bugatti waste their considerable engineering prowess on something that we already know will never matter? The answer, of course, is that they shouldn’t. What the should be doing with a supercar is really break some new ground, and I think being the first to build a car with transparent aluminum would be a fantastic way to do it.
Well, it’s not technically transparent aluminum — it’s...
Aluminum Oxynitride is an amazing and unique transparent advanced ceramic that is polycrystalline (made from powder) with a cubic spinel crystal structure.
But even the company that makes it acknowledges that it’s referred to as transparent aluminum, so that’s what I’m calling it. The stuff is currently used as transparent armor for smallish windows on military hardware, though right now the largest size panels of it are only 18”x35” or up to 24”27” with “engineered seams.”
At the moment, there is no infrastructure to make the large-scale panels needed for a vehicle, partially due to the cost of the material, along with the lack of demand. But for a no-limits supercar project, this seems more like a challenge than a limitation.
(I know a supercar like this should be mid-engined, but that’s just how the diagram turned out. Use your imagination.)
Just think about the possibilities here — if the VW Group puts their considerable resources into working with Surmet (the makers of ALON®) and develops manufacturing solutions to make large-scale, molded and shaped panels of transparent aluminum, this is the kind of thing that would be a revolution in automotive body design.
Picture a sleek, streamlined supercar that needed no seams or cutlines for the windows and lights. Picture an entire front clip that’s one sensuous 3-dimensional metal form, with some areas painted on the back side of the transparent aluminum to make it opaque, and gradually fading to transparent to allow for the window areas and the lights. The car would have an etherial ombre effect that’s really never been seen on a car before.
That would be a fucking supercar.
Of course you’d want it to be fast and handle incredibly well — but that wouldn’t be the focus of the car, which is fine, since that’s the most under-utilized part of most supercars as it is. This car would be all about a radical new material, and all the incredible possibilities it would open up for auto design.
Now, this isn’t to say ALON® is ready for this now — it’s not, not even close. There would need to be lots of development to see if the material can get to the point where it’s able to have the optical and structural characteristics needed. It’s not a miracle material, just a very promising start. But isn’t a supercar project one of the best ways to stimulate this sort of cutting-edge research and development? If successful, it would pay off well for both Surmet and the auto industry.
Sure, it’d be crazy expensive — but that’s half the point of a supercar already. And, where the technology developed by the Veyron to put out staggering amounts of horsepower mostly just stayed in the rareified supercar world, the technologies developed to produce large-scale transparent aluminum panels are just the kind of thing that would eventually get refined, made more affordable, and find its way across the automotive spectrum, saving weight compared to heavy glass, deforming/denting instead of shattering in a wreck, and, of course, opening all kinds of styling possibilities.
If a supercar is going to make any sense at all, it has to be something that really pushes the boundaries of what we’re capable of. Crazy horsepower and useless top speeds are things we’ve already figured out. We won. Yay. Time for a new challenge.
Bugatti — or some company that wants to take the ultimate supercar mantle from Bugatti — make a transparent aluminum supercar. It’ll be worth it.
UPDATE: After some emails with experts and reading comments, I feel I should clarify that ALON®, as it stands right now, is not ready for this sort of thing I’m proposing. I’m likely adding to the misconceptions that this is some miracle material. In fact, a source within this very industry made clear some of the issues with ALON® (high vibration cracking, for example) but also offered an interesting alternative:
New polyurethane/polycarbonate materials being developed by PPG/BAE/etc have a better chance of replacing automotive glass and offer much more feature over ceramics (i.e. tints, embedded circuitry, auto-opaqueing films).
So, please keep this in mind, and forgive my combination of ignorance and exuberance. However, my basic point still stands: it’s time for a supercar that’s more than absurd, unusable performance, and advanced research into things like this is a good thing.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.