Supercar / Sports Car

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The Supercar is a modern road-legal race car usually designed as spin-offs from a manufacturer's sports prototype or Formula One racing programs. Supercars have been designed and manufactured by some of the world's top sports car makers: Ferrari, McLaren, Lamborghini, Porsche, Bugatti, Lotus, Audi, BMW to showcase their technology.

For an amateur race car designer this would seem like pretty formidable company, but it has been the case that many of the supercar manufacturers in fact got started producing one-off designs that were hand-built.

Modern supercars are characterized by their scratch-built double seat chassis, mid or front-engine rear-drive layout and full-covering aerodynamic bodywork. Almost all are made with composite monocoque chassis but that does not mean that space frame designs should be discounted.

Many supercars use wings and underbody venturi tunnels to provide downforce that enables much higher cornering speeds.

Power and Weight Stats
Horsepower (Typical Range) 450-900
Race Weight (Typical Range) 908-1589 kg
2000-3500 lb

Design and Construction

Race Car Models of This Type

Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren F1, Lamborghini Diablo, Bugatti Veyron, Lotus Esprit, Audi R8, Porsche 918, BMW M8 and many more.

Build Your Own Supercar

Knowledge Level

Due to the scratch-built nature of supercars, the designer must be knowledgeable in handling, chassis, suspension, powertrain, aerodynamic and safety design. These six major areas of the car design work as an integrated unit and the designer must have an understanding of how changes to one area affect the others. Much of the design work is iterative, meaning re-designing areas based on new changes to another area. After the iterations are completed, the design will be complete and optimized.

If you are intending on building cars to sell, it would be wise to research your target market and consider the features that your buyer will be looking for. It is also critical that you understand the motor vehicle regulations, injury/death liability and insurance regime in the countries where you intend to sell your car.

Building successive cars, each with higher levels of professionalism in design and build quality, is the best approach to getting into this business. It will also allow you to attract attention, support and investment.

If you are planning on building your own road-going car, you will still need to understand the motor vehicle safety and licensing regulations and insurance requirements, lest you build a car that is not considered road-worthy or insurable.

Design Challenges

Weight Distribution: Having a good static weight distribution is important. Depending on the engine/drive configuration, the static weight distribution will likely be heavier at the end where the engine is located. Positioning components at the opposite end to compensate can help to balance the car. Consider the weight transfer of the car and its effect on braking and acceleration. Left/right static distribution should be as close to 50/50 for identical left/right turn behavior.

Suspension: Maximizing the contact patch of the tires with good suspension geometry is of key importance. Suspension, wheel and tire weights (Unsprung weight) affect the compliance of the suspension, which in turn affects handling, so keeping all these components as light as possible is an advantage. The suspension pickup point locations impact the chassis design. Studying the suspension designs of similar supercars can help establish the geometry used and behavior.

Chassis: Maximizing torsional rigidity is important to keep the handling responses consistent. The modern supercar manufacturers use carbon fiber/honeycomb monocoque designs and in theory and amateur builder could design and construct their own monocoque. The monocoque has superior strength when well designed, but when damaged, the damage can be nearly invisible and very expensive to repair. Spaceframe chassis designs, while "old technology", can be designed to very high levels of strength and supplemented with carbon/honeycomb crumple zones for safety.

Providing openings to make internal components accessible for maintenance is also important, and quite often at odds with the needs to maximize torsional rigidity. The driver and passenger compartment in a spaceframe often presents the greatest challenge to achieving a high torsional rigidity because the compartment forms a large hollow box.

Powertrain: Weight distribution is heavily impacted by engine and transaxle/transmission weights and positions. Intake, Cooling and exhaust need to be considered in relation to chassis design, bodywork and aerodynamics. The engine and transmission or transaxle is best chosen from cars with a similar configuration (Front or mid-engine).

Aerodynamic: Aerodynamic devices on supercars are standard fair these days, but they don't have to be. Many a car has made a reputation for brute horsepower and mechanical grip. Front downforce can be generated through shaping of the nose section to create a high pressure flow above the nose, and a corresponding low pressure flow under the nose section. This can take the form of an integrated wing type structure or an airdam. Central downforce is usually generated via venturi tunnels formed by an underbody tray. Rear downforce is generated through diffusers and wings that are tuned to maximize the benefits of both. Converging the rear bodywork gradually has the advantage of reducing drag for maximum top speed, but can be awkward looking on a road going car.

The overall balance of the car is affected by the front, underbody and rear aerodynamic performance so the positioning of these aero devices must be considered. Turbulence generated upstream will also have an effect on the performance of aero devices further back on the car. For maximum flexibility, aero devices should have a wide operating range and adjustability if possible.

Minimizing the drag created by the bodywork and wings is important to maximize speed.

Safety: Providing a substantial crash/rollover safety cell for the occupants is vital along with a racing seats and multi-point harnesses. Other safety features should include a fuel safety cell, fire protection, and nose/tail and side crumple zones for impacts. Safety should be the prime consideration in all design decisions.

If you intend to drive a vehicle on a public road, always consult and understand the motor vehicle regulations of your country/state before designing or building any race vehicle.

Design Resources

Learn the basics about race cars and race car design from our free online knowledge series

Download our free race car design aids to assist you designing your race vehicle.

In-depth books and learning resources we recommend for supercar design.

Join our forum to ask and find answers to your supercar design/construction questions.

Construction Challenges

Due to the precision that is associated with the tuning and performance of supercars, ensuring the chassis is dimensionally accurate and straight is key. The use of a solid, flat and level build space is important. Jigs are often used in this case to ensure that structural tubing stays in alignment during welding/brazing.

The builder should have solid joining and metal working knowledge and skills when fabricating the chassis/rollcage/suspension. While mild steel (1018/1020) is very forgiving, some metals are best welded using a specific method (mig/tig) and some require heat treatments before and following welding to restore their toughness and strength.

Having sufficient space for the chassis and bodywork construction is important, as a cramped workshop can be difficult to work in.

The tools to fabricate the chassis and bodywork can add considerably to the cost of your project if you don't already have a workshop, but borrowing or renting items is also an option.

Build Costs

Many components for a supercar can be sourced from production GT/Sports cars instead of being fabricated if doing so is acceptable. This will lower the overall cost. Suspension components are an area where it may pay to use higher-end parts if they reduce weight and provide superior performance.

The bulk of any supercar's performance is in the way it interfaces the chassis with the road through the suspension and powertrain, so focusing on quality parts in these two areas will create a superior car.

Build Effort

Because the car is scratch-built, there will be significant effort in design and construction. There is however, an equally great satisfaction and sense of accomplishment at being one of the very few people in the world who have built their own road car from the ground up!

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