A Case For Carbon Fiber

A Case For Carbon Fiber

Just Add Lightness
Colin Spencer | May 25, 2017

Carbon fiber’s sleek stylings, sheer strength and absurdly low weight truly qualify this composite as one of the future, or might I say, from the future. Its multitude of uses grows daily, and truth be told, we can’t get enough of it here at ModernLook. So we made it today’s mission to find out what makes this mystery weave so prevalent in the products, sports and machines we love.

So you’re probably wondering where this carbonized stuff comes from. First let’s establish what the process of carbonizing is. Simply put, carbonized fibers are achieved through heating strands of various different cores under extremely high heat so that their structure physically changes at an atomic level. Cotton threads, bamboo slivers, rayon and other cores have all been thoroughly tested by various inventors and scientist from as early as 1860, optimizing different varieties of carbon fibers to suit different applications.

Thomas Edison used carbon fiber as filament in one of the first incandescent light bulbs.

The Man. The Myth. The Edison.

The Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymers, or CFRP’s, that we’ve familiarized ourselves with today are a much different beast than what Thomas Edison and others were playing around with centuries ago. How did these humble lightbulb filaments evolve to fit today’s applications?

The answer is always race car.

When it comes to racing, and more importantly winning, the goal has always been to reduce weight and add power. The fastest cars will be big on power and low on weight, allowing for tremendous acceleration and face-altering top speed. One needn’t look far to see this train of thought. Take, for instance, lead designer for Lotus in the 70s, Colin Chapman. Operating under his motto, “Add lightness," Chapman’s radical designs combined with space age construction giving us cars like the Lotus Elan and the famous Lotus 77 Mk.II Formula 1 car. These models were exceptionally light for their day, utilizing fiberglass for the entire body. Production cars were void of radios, cupholders, metal door handles and anything else that wasn’t entirely necessary for driving. See? Just add lightness.

Colin Chapman used carbon fiber to reduce the weight of Lotus F1 cars

A legend in his own right, Chapman was an extremist when it came to weight reduction

Utilizing fiberglass to cut weight was an important step in the right direction, but these cars lacked strength. A better material was need.

Did you guess carbon fiber?

Since 1971, car manufacturers have utilized carbon fiber with great success. That year, the Rally of Morocco winning Citroën SM rolled on a set of carbon fiber wheels. Still questioning this composite’s strength? The Corvette Z06 has a carbon fiber frame, rather than traditional metal alloys. The 96’ McLaren F1 employed a fully carbon fiber body shell, vastly improving over the aforementioned Chapman designed Lotus’. Hyper cars, like the Ferrari LaFerrari, are quickly adopting a nearly 100% composite construction. With a 217 mph top speed and a 0-60 time under 3 seconds, weight and strength have been meticulously engineered to meet the steep safety standards associated with such performance. Alas, speed, strength and weight come with a cost, and as it turns out, 7M USD per unit is a bit out of our budget. That's 32k for every mph you add to your speed.

There is good news for Carbon Fiber fans, however. As demand rises for this wonder composite, more manufacturers pop up to create a supply. Who knows, maybe in a few years your Prius will come standard with carbon fiber body panels?

Can’t get enough carbon? View some of our recent motorsport inspired collections here.


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