Saturday, February 15, 2014

Project Dragon Update: Intro and More

Project Dragon is the new car that we are planning to introduce later this year for both road and track use.  The 1800lb car will feature a 430hp V8 engine and 6spd syncro gearbox.  Our goal is to build a car with excellent performance, safety and reliability.  This car will be a pure drivers car with no electronic driver's aids.  Frankly we prefer cars that require our active involvement in driving.  We know that we can never compete with the likes of Chevrolet, Ferrari, Porsche, etc when it comes to technology.  So we have chosen to go in the opposite direction.  I've been calling this car the 'Luddite' as a result.  It really is the antithesis of the modern supercar.  We are not technophobes, in fact we love technology, especially this one, or this one and even this version.  We simply believe there are many driving enthusiasts who are looking for simpler sportscars that keep you engaged in the art of driving.  A perfectly rev-matched downshift is truly a thing of beauty...

We are working with Palatov Motorsport with a chassis that they have engineered.  Their car is known as the D2 and we are effectively designing a variant.  Ultimately we believe we can develop alternative bodies that clients can interchange onto this existing chassis.  We will offer the D2 for sale here in CA and have ordered a D2 body for our first test mule.  Our car will feature different cosmetics as well other technical differences including, suspension, brakes, trans and more.  I'm viewing Project Dragon much like the BRZ/FRS, Camaro/Firebird or other cars that share a platform and have varied levels of difference.  We will offer a windshield for those clients that want more protection and/or required for registration.

We've recruited a couple of good friends and engineers to help us with the technical validation of Project Dragon.   Ryan Kuhlenbeck will help with the mechanical integration and electrical systems.  This man's hobby is creating world-class wiring harnesses using OE connectors and methods.  He will take the supplied harness from GM and make them into things of beauty and most importantly, benchmarks of reliability. Dave Thilenius will be our man behind the wheel to help us with Ride & Handling along with pushing the car hard enough to see how it fares in severe track use.  Both of these gents (I do use that term loosely), have done much work at Sector111 and have been instrumental in the success and quality of many of our products.  

Additionally, Bill Thomas, from William Thomas Roadsters, is on board as our point man on the East Coast.  Bill's technical knowledge and expertise with light cars will be a great boon to our development.  Plus he can drive fast and will put our test mule through the paces on East Coast tracks this Spring.  Bill is especially pleased with our choice of MV as a design inspiration!  I've also got Jonathan Frost (Skip Barber Coach) queued up to do some test driving as he has driven the D2 on track and is currently coaching Stingray clients at SMMR.

We decided to do a very elemental body to start as the D2 already features a full body.  Additionally a simple body would not consume all of our limited resources.  To this end, we hired several designers from around the world to submit sketches to us.  We received several great renderings that ran the gamut of full bodies to more partially 'clothed' styles.  My love for the Atom was another reason to create a car that would be elemental.  There is nothing like blasting around in a semi-open sportscar!

We have now chosen one design that we are planning on producing.  The design meets my critical eye and will fit with the ethos of our car - especially at this stage.  I'm confident it will age well and not be viewed as too trendy in the coming years.  No new design ground will be broken, but the car will still be polarizing and aggressive.  Details and finishing are important to the over look and feel of this car.  These are still in-progress as the design still needs refinement.  We plan to use hardware and fasteners that will be exposed but look appropriate and fit with our aesthetic.  Expect a full front and rear wing kit for downforce and an added dose of aggression.  Our long time clients know about the design/technical innovations that we've implemented in the Lotus market, expect a few interesting things as well with Project Dragon.


The venerable LS engine is a reliable, powerful and cost effective engine.  GM introduced the eRod version of the LS3 for hot rodders and kit car manufacturers that were looking for a 50 state emissions compliant engine.  This lightweight crate motor comes with a factory ECU, catalytic converters, header, e-pedal, OBDII port, wiring harness AND a 24month/50k mile warranty.  Smog compliance plus the windshield will allow us to offer a special construction car (AKA kit) that can be registered in most US states and Canada.

The driving feeling delivered by 424lb-ft of torque coupled to 1800lbs will be completely different from the high revving motors we are used to in our Lotus/Ariel/BAC cars.  The ability to leave the car in a higher gear and have it pull from the corner will ultimately allow the driver to shift less gears and stay focused on his braking points, turn-ins, apexes and exits.  Over twenty years ago I owned a Yamaha FZR400 which revved to the moon.  It was a great bike and I loved ringing that engine out - it made no real power down low.  At the time I test rode a Ducati 900 Supersport and was immediately taken by the added torque and the ease of accelerating out of the corners.  That Ducati revved much lower with a very torquey engine and was lightweight.  Well soon thereafter, I bought a Duck and came to like both styles of power delivery - and the required change in riding/driving styles.  The Dragon works in the same way as  the Ducati when compared to the other light cars we adore.  Variety is the spice of (driving) life.  8^)

The transaxle that has been run in the D2 is a 5spd gearbox from a Porsche 911 (964version) and is a durable solution.  It has seen over 25 days of track use in the D2 test mule (see above).  This will be the base trans that we will offer.  Of course, we convinced ourselves that an even more righteous trans should be tested because we are lunatic track drivers.  The Porsche 997 GT2 6spd trans became the object of our attention.  This syncro box is available with a factory LSD, internal oiling and stronger syncros.  It is an expensive solution but one that we think will deliver higher levels of durability for the track day junkies that we hope to attract with this car.


We know that this car will be driven on the street and track.  The choices we are making for various components will take these intended uses into consideration.

Cosworth's latest dash technology has been selected for our car.  It has a fully configurable display with multiple screens.  This allows the user to toggle between a road screen and a track screen.  I tend to favor round gauges and have difficulty reading purely digital screens - I still like to see needles sweeping.  See the picture of the digital gauge with a needle. Shift lights have really become a boon to my track day driving and this dash has lights and a great rpm sweep that changes color.  A key criteria is the size - just right.  This dash gives us all the options we can hope for and offers optional data logging.  We've ordered one with all the bells and whistles to aid our technical validation of the car and log the ample data streamed via the eRod ECU.  We are planning on keeping the interior of the car, including the switch gear, very simple.  This Cossie dash will allow us to achieve that goal.

At the PRI show I met up with my friends at Schroth USA (HMS Motorsport).  Joe Marko, owner of HMS, is planning on visiting us to scrutinize the restraints in the car to ensure that we've routed everything correctly.  Joe turned me onto a cutting-edge, Schroth, 9pt racing harness - it will be something that we will likely offer.  Yes, you read that correctly, 9points!  I'll feature it in a later blog once we have it sorted.  He will also be reviewing a modular seat padding system that will allow us to custom fit a broad range of drivers into this car.  The car has a 18" wide seat so wide drivers will fit along with tall guys - we got 6ft5" Ryan into a D2 last year.

We are working with other companies to develop optional exhaust, wheel, suspension, brakes and more.  Expect some tasty upgrades to become available.

Our test mule chassis is nearly completed.  Palatov will be creating a new rear subframe to accomodate the GT2 trans.  We hope to have a running mule in March and will run her at SMMR soon thereafter...

No comments: