2004 Volvo Extreme Gravity Car

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(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 children.

"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 soap-box-derby racing."

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 worthwhile."

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."