(from Volvo Press
Release) Don't let the curvaceous body fool you, the Volvo
Extreme Gravity Car is all about speed – in a straight line. It's
also designed to be "human centric" as Doug Frasher, Senior
Strategic Designer at Volvo Cars, describes the highly stylized
soap-box-derby racecar. "In most derby cars, the human form is
hidden from view behind smooth panels and Plexiglas. I've designed
the Volvo Extreme Gravity Car to show off the human form, to
accentuate the body's natural aerodynamic lines."
Built for charity, the Volvo Extreme Gravity Car will compete head
to head against five other gravity car designs from Mazda, Porsche,
Bentley, General Motors and Nissan on August 21st at the 2004
Extreme Gravity Competition in Irvine, California at the Ford Motor
Comapany's Premier Automotive Group headquarters. This year marks
the fourth time the race has run, but it's a first for Volvo.
The race, founded by Don MacAllister of America Works for Kids, is a
charitable event that raises money for foster children to help them
become independent, working young men and women in the community.
Additionally, through Gravity Series, Inc., foster children will
gain valuable, paid work experience as they become involved in all
aspects of the event.
Volvo's Extreme Gravity Car breaks almost all the rules of a typical
soap-box-derby racecar. Take the rider's forward facing "rumps-up"
positioning for example. Traditional derby cars lay the rider back
in a recumbent position with their feet leading the way. Volvo's
Extreme Gravity Car mounts the rider in the prone position, allowing
for a very small frontal area and aiding in the car's aerodynamic
shape. The fiberglass faring rests on the rider's shoulders, giving
the car its taught, skin-tight appearance. The car and driver are
almost one with each other. With the right body proportions, the
human being and the mechanical vehicle mate perfectly.
"Obviously, this car is made for a fairly limber and tall driver,"
continues Frasher, "because you have to literally get down on your
hands and knees and crawl into it." Inside, the Volvo Extreme
Gravity Car continues to break all the rules. Steering the vehicle
is accomplished via small aluminum handlebars hidden beneath the
faring. The car is braked via a bicycle style handbrake that slows
the rear wheel.
To reduce weight, the Volvo Extreme Gravity Car's frame is
constructed of high-strength, water-jet-cut aluminum, while the
aerodynamic fairings are comprised of fiber carbon. Weighing in at a
spry 35 pounds (without ballast), the car is just one inch shy of 8
feet in length, 22 inches wide and 20 inches high. "Rolling
resistance is a gravity car's worst enemy," says Frasher. "To reduce
resistance I've located the two main wheels in-line with each other.
The smaller outboard wheels simply provide additional stability."
Frasher estimates that the Volvo Extreme Gravity Car could hit
nearly 35 miles per hour by the time it reaches the end of the
64-foot long ramp. The rider will definitely feel the speed, too.
With just an inch or so between the rider's nose and the car's front
wheel, the experience will "be fairly hairy," comments Frasher with
a wry smile.
Volvo Takes Design Award
After weeks of design
work, engineering and testing the Volvo Extreme Gravity Car finally
got the chance to go head-to-head against competition from five
other major design studios. The results: Grand Prize for design, 3rd
place overall, a strong showing considering it was Volvo's first
attempt at the fourth annual charity race to benefit foster
"I'm very pleased with how the car performed," commented Volvo
Strategic Design Chief Doug Frasher, creator of the Volvo Extreme
Gravity Car. "Our design was unconventional, to say the least, so we
knew we were breaking a lot of the conventional wisdom of
Grudge-match-style qualifying races allowed the Volvo to outrun the
entries from Nissan, Bentley and Mazda. "We noticed that our car was
always first to the bottom of the ramp, and were excited by this
hint that our design has some great potential," said Frasher.
The transition point between the ramp and street, however, subjected
the car to repeated impacts. In a move to ensure safety, team Volvo
removed all 45 pounds of ballast from the vehicle's rear section to
minimize the risk of breaking something critical at the bottom of
the ramp. Even so, there were increasing signs of stress on the car
after each race and action in the Volvo pits was intense.
In the end, the entry from General Motors took the checkered flag
with the Volvo taking home the "Best Design" award. "We were
thrilled to be the recipient of the Best Design award since it was
judged by our fellow competitors," noted Frasher. "Overall, we loved
the event. It was a fun day of racing and the seeing the expressions
on the faces on the kids during their races made the whole effort
The Extreme Gravity Competition, founded by Don MacAllister of
America Works for Kids, is a charitable event that raises money for
foster children to help them become independent, working young men
and women in the community. Additionally, through Gravity Series,
Inc., foster children will gain valuable, paid work experience as
they become involved in all aspects of the event.
"We are developing the most exciting extreme gravity racing series
in the world and really appreciate the support of these professional
car design teams,” said MacAllister. “A portion of proceeds from the
sale of each team’s original design renderings, as well as racing
merchandise will be donated to support inspirational training
workshops for foster kids."
Volvo is already preparing for next year. "We have another car
that's already in development," Frasher said. "And I think we'll see
the checkered flag in 2005."