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What is made from aluminum, carbon fiber, advanced composites, magnesium and titanium

If you guessed the US Military’s Joint Strike Fighter aircraft you would be correct, but this is Torque News, we meant the Chevrolet Corvette.

Since 1953 no other automaker has employed light-weight materials so consistently in a production car as the Chevrolet Corvette. GM credits Harley Earl in a recent press release with first conceiving of using fiberglass to keep the costs and weight of the Corvette low. At that time in automotive history most vehicles were “Body-on-frame.” That meant there was an underlying structure over which a body was laid. It made sense to reduce the weight of the vehicle by getting rid of the steel skin and replacing it with something lighter. European automakers had been using aluminum this way, but that was expensive and it came with other drawbacks such as corrosion where the aluminum met the steel frame.

Corvettes and Fiberglass
Over the decades the fiberglass shell over the Corvette’s frame has evolved quite a bit and to call it fiberglass now is really not accurate. Since 1997 only about 20% of the ‘Vette’s body panels have been made of fiberglass. The shell is actually a plastics composite called Sheet-molded-composite (SMC). This material differs from fiberglass in that it is more flexible, lighter, and it has a much better surface finish right out of the mold, which means a superior finish when painted.

Other Light Weight Corvette Materials
The Corvette Z06 has an incredibly low weight of just 3199 pounds. To get such a competent chassis to weigh in at such a low weight a lot lightness had to be added by Chevy engineers. The first difference between the Z06 and the rest of the corvette line is the frame. Although they do look similar, the Z06 uses an aluminum hydro-formed frame instead of the steel used in other Corvettes. Next the engine is of course mainly aluminum, though bits and pieces are of even more exotic materials. The hood is not SMC, but rather carbon-fiber. The roof (which is never SMC or fiberglass for safety) is not aluminum, but magnesium. The brake rotors (the heaviest un-sprung mass on the vehicle) are not iron, but carbon ceramic. Literally a decade ago Corvettes were using titanium exhausts while European exotic cars were still using steel. Overall, the Corvette employs every weight saving trick in the auto industry. Of course the balsa-wood floors are still used, perhaps for tradition, more than any other reason?

While many Italian, German, and Asian automakers trumpet their newfound ability to make million dollar wonders from carbon fiber, it is the Chevy Corvette that has led the world since 1953 in affordable, lightweight supercars.


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