I stepped into Sir Frank Williams’ complex expecting to see Felipe Massa’s Formula One car in bits and pieces, but my visit revealed that their engineering department would make Tony Stark run for his money.
I knew Williams Advanced Engineering built the C-X75 for Jaguar. What I didn’t know is that despite getting target numbers that still seem pretty impossible to reach today, it only took them eighteen month to go from a blank piece of paper to the first working prototype. All in all, they built five four-cylinder hybrids before Jaguar decided to bin the project—at least two of which are still parked at home. The blue one in their lobby reminds everybody that Advanced Engineering was originally set up in 2010 to produce the C-X75 road cars.
They knew where to look for a team. Williams employs a whopping 650 engineers, 150 of whom work for Advanced Engineering on 34 different projects at the moment. Only 15 of those projects are in the automotive sector. The rest are in energy, aerospace and defense. Just like in Iron Man.
Next to Jaguar, one of their publicly known customers is Nissan. Williams tuned up their Nürburgring-recorder Time Attack GT-R back in 2013, and although they remained under wraps during my visit, Advanced Engineering still has a few fast Nissans coming up. They include the Patrol Nismo SUV, a ridiculously powerful V8 seven-seater designed to please the Middle-East, and reportedly the next GT-R, which is said to feature a high-performance Williams hybrid system.
One must talk about the Bond cars as well. Williams got to build another five Jaguar C-X75s for SPECTRE, only this time, they had to use a space frame and a supercharged V8 instead of a carbon tub and their twin-charged hybrid powertrain. It took them 10 weeks to design and build the first car, and sixteen for the total run. Five powersliding stunt cars in four month is not rapid prototyping; it’s pretty much black magic.
So is their EV technology. As the sole battery supplier of the first two Formula-E seasons, Williams is continuously working on reaching higher power outputs and better thermal efficiency.
All produced and serviced in house, the current packs have as much juice as about 10,000 AA batteries, which is enough to charge your iPhone daily for 13 years, or to power an average family home for three days. Don’t tell Elon Musk.
Most of Williams’ projects have a green angle as energy efficiency is one of their key areas if expertise. That comes handy in the automotive sector nowadays, especially as they can sell technologies with a company set up around it ready for taking over, but as I mentioned earlier, more than half of their customers arrive from outside the car industry.
Brompton, makers of those brilliant folding bikes, commissioned them to come up with an electric variant. When it comes to the military, Williams builds not only special parts for various companies, but also provide highly complex simulators and other software based on their own F1 units next door.
General Dynamics gets their Scout SV tanks’s data system from them. No wonder why it’s a no photo zone as I walk around their disassembled Bond cars that just got back from the set, stretched, burnt, but still in one piece.
Williams has not one, but two wind tunnels at the premises, which brings me to their most interesting project: optimizing supermarket fridges. Here’s how they sum it up:
We are working with a startup company in the UK to develop aerodynamic devices that clip onto the shelf of supermarket fridges to channel more of the cold air back into the fridge and stop it spilling into the aisle. Being tested by Sainsbury’s and Asda and showing up to 30 percent improvement in the energy usage of a fridge.
They also say that this can cut three percent from the UK’s electricity consumption.
Sir Frank Williams set up Frank Williams Racing Cars in 1966 and built his first own F1 chassis in 1978, only to score nine Constructor Championships in the following three decades. Yet I bet he didn’t expect his crew to find a connection between scale models in wind tunnels and supermarket fridges. But the people at Advanced Engineering do.
Next door, at the F1 team’s headquarters, they build their own gearboxes from blocks of precious metals. And that’s the thing about Williams: they can produce almost anything somewhere between the main gates and their helipad.
You know how light Felipe Massa’s complete titanium exhaust is? Well, lifting it up regularly still won’t count as exercise for the guy who welds it by hand.
For an engineer who wishes to shape the future and see his or her work in action as soon as it can be done, this is the place to be.
Photos credit Williams and Máté Petrány/Jalopnik
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