Possibly, during a certain stage in one’s life, one may become interested in acquiring a sports car. This is not strange, since these cars tend to catch our attention, be it zor their design or their speed, and in many cases, both. Since our younger days, we worked on modifying our vehicles, trying to achieve a sports car that was within our reach. We would perform modifications to the engine, the differential, transmission, exhaust and intake systems, the bodywork, etc., etc., etc. Without a doubt, sports cars have the ability to produce a real manifestation of the younger spirit we all carry; regardless of our age, we become naughty children. The speeds that sports cars are able to achieve, takes our greater curiosity into trying to find out what is the vehicle capable of, joined by the rush produced by adrenaline running through our bodies. This is an unparalleled, but dangerous, combination if we don’t know how to control it.
Even if you do not like this type of vehicle, I am almost sure that if someone stopped and asked you to spontaneously, “name a sports car brand”, brands such as Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini would certainly come to mind, and this is no surprise. Even if these vehicles, for many of us at least, are simply in a list of dreams; those we hope to fulfill some day when we finish studying, working hard, getting married, working hard, have our children, working harder, educating them and getting them married. (IF everything works out that way!) Then and only then, who knows if we may be able to allow ourselves the indulgence. I always remember how my father used to tell us; “as soon as you all get married, I am buying a sports car for your mother and I; no one else will be able to get in it, because only two people fit in it”. For many of us, a sports car may be our graduation present from life’s university. It may be our way of saying I made it all this way and I deserve it.
However, when we talk about a sports car, we are not only talking about its style and engine. There are other elements of equal importance that must be considered when it comes to designing these machines. The location of the motor is one of the many elements that are taken into consideration when designing a vehicle’s chassis. It doesn’t matter where it is located, be it in front with rear wheel traction, or in the rear and driving the rear wheels, or a transversal motor with front wheel traction. Each one of these options will significantly influence the driving characteristics of the vehicle, and this is crucial at the end of the day. Another important aspect in this type of vehicle is the weight distribution, which should be distributed as evenly as possible between the front and rear of the vehicle to provide better stability while driving. All sports cars aim towards being as close as possible to the ground, because this provides a lower gravity center, (thus, providing better control when driving on curves) as well as reducing the amount of air that passes underneath the vehicle (which improves stability).
With regards to bodywork, sports car designers must take into account the aerodynamics of the vehicle. Air creates friction on the bodywork and they must find ways to allow air to move through the bodywork in a way that is favorable to vehicle and driver, as well as providing stability when driving at high speeds. As a matter of fact, panels are installed in the bottom of the vehicle to reduce friction from air passing through. Air’s friction on a vehicle is known as the friction coefficient and the number for sports cars goes from 0.27-0.38. The lower the coefficient, the less resistant the vehicle is to air.
Having an engine capable of producing lots of horsepower requires that the other vehicle components are able to support the power generated when it is being driven. It is not only about a powerful engine and beautiful bodywork; it is much more than that. If we can reach high speeds in minimum time, then it will also be equally important that the vehicle is able to come to a stop without posing a risk for driver and passengers. Brake systems in a sports car use components that are specifically designed to achieve this goal: brake pads, calipers, disks and brake lines are different to those used in conventional passenger vehicles. All of this is used in combination with electronic systems that avoid brakes from locking when the driver needs to stop quickly.
Wheels are another important component in the brake system. Not all of them are able to resist the high temperatures generated during acceleration, driving through curves and halting, especially with this type of vehicle. Tires used for these vehicles must have a good grip to the road, both wet and dry, and the first one is usually more difficult. To improve traction on wet roads, wheels must be designed in such a way that water may be displaced as quickly as possible from the interior part of the tread, avoiding that they lose their grip. Using wheels with low specifications that are not in accordance with the maximum speed that the vehicle is able to achieve, may have an adverse effect in its behavior and driving. To this, we must add specifications for temperature, traction and tread design wear. Temperature is classified as A, B and C; being A the best classification. The tread design traction is classified in AA, A, B and C, being AA the best classification. The grade to which the tread design wears is determined by its number; a classification of 400 should last double the time than a classification of 200, but not all manufacturers use the same classification system. It is important to know how the tire’s manufacturer classifies its particular wear, because in some instances, it may differ. This important information may be found stamped on the side wall of the tire.
A sports vehicle’s suspension tends to be different from the passenger vehicles, because the passenger vehicle seeks to have a softer suspension, whereas the sports vehicle suspension is not characterized by softness. The coil springs, shocks, stabilizing bars, among others, must also have the capacity of resisting the forces and stress generated when driving through curves and changing lanes while driving at high speeds. This is the reason why the suspension tends to be rigid. Even so, with advances in the use of new materials and electronic suspension controls, designers have been able to improve this and today these are essential parts of luxury sports cars. Without a doubt, traction control systems and electronic stability programs “ESP”™* are extremely beneficial when it comes to controlling a vehicle in extreme situations, because they provide greater security in case that these situations arise, where if it weren’t for these controls, it would be more difficult to control the vehicle, specifically while driving on curves, starting or halting.
Last, but no less important, is the vehicle’s weight. The use of aluminum and other lightweight materials in components such as the engine, transmission, brakes, suspension systems, and sometimes in the bodywork, contributes significantly to improve the vehicle’s performance. The lesser the weight, the opportunities to maximize the use of that available horsepower increase.
Initially, sports vehicles were characterized for being designed for only two passengers, but the new consumer requirements of today, mainly due to the demand for sedan type vehicles, has increased, thus providing more flexibility and converting the sports vehicle one in which the whole family can enjoy. This in turn, increases the possibility that the household boss and administrator approve this purchase.
Today, there are several sports vehicles that are more accessible to a greater consumer segment, which helps us not have to postpone this decision for long. There is a sports vehicle for everyone. How do you know which one is right for you? That depends on your budget, your needs, how you feel when you sit in it, how your heart begins to beat every time one passes by you on the road, how the adrenaline begins to run through your veins when you hear the sound of the engine. This is why, in a large majority of cases, the purchase of a sports vehicle tends to be an emotional decision, although not necessarily the wisest. However, taking into consideration what a sports car should be, transform your emotional decision into a rational one. I am sure that you will make a purchase that will make you proud.
*ESP is a Registered Trademark of Chrysler.By: Raymond Carvelli
Technical Affairs Manager, Suzuki del Caribe