A Porsche Design Makes Waves
Revolutionary gravity speed car reflects surfboard culture of Southern California
A gravity car that has little, if nothing, in common with your average soapbox racer is currently getting its finishing touches at the North American styling studios of Porsche, the German sports car maker with its legendary history of motor racing.
Inspired by the favorite pastime between L.A. and San Diego, the team of young designers turned the conventional soapbox wisdom upside down. Instead of a cigar shape with four wheels and a cutout for the driver, they created a surfboard on wheels or, more precisely, three wheels.
The Porsche Soapboard will certainly make waves when it debuts in this year’s Gravity Car Derby Festival 2003 in Irvine, CA. Initiated and organized by America Works for Kids, a nationwide organization that helps foster children become confident, working members of our communities, the August 23 event brings together soapbox race fans from Southern California, an enthusiastic local crowd and businesses whose support and sponsorships allow some hundred deserving youngsters to experience the fun and personal growth of participating on a gravity car derby race team.
A sponsorship not driven by marketing considerations but rather by the sheer delight of helping promote a worthwhile cause and, at the same time, having fun doing what one does best is the principal reason for Porsche’s first-time entry in this event. By adding such a prominent name to their starter list the organizers expect to generate additional interest in a charity event that has become increasingly popular over the last three years. Thus, Porsche’s one-off styling exercise will not just create buzz within and outside of the design community but will ultimately boost that day’s booty for the benefit of the foster kids.
This year’s Design Showcase Division promises entries by some of the major automotive design studios of Southern California. Yet, regardless of sweeping a victory or just making a big splash the Porsche Soapboard will be auctioned off on ebay after the event with the proceeds going to America Works for Kids as well.
Part of the day’s excitement comes from the race regulation that doesn’t allow for pre-assigned seats for the young pilots. “One of the biggest challenges we face is not knowing who is going to drive this vehicle until just before the race, “ observes Martin Meade, project leader of the Porsche Styling effort and an avid surfer himself. The age range of the drivers is between 7 and 12 years of age and they could be of any size. The answer to this problem was pretty obvious. “With a surfboard you need a wet-suit, and we have one,” says Martin. “The stretchy nature of neoprene to house the driver gives us the ability to fit a large or slim person of any height and still have them be comfortable.” So the lucky pilot will be zipped into the vehicle and will really become one with the board while taking on the 475-feet long racecourse.
But it is not only the looks and the design of the Porsche Soapboard that are unique. Compared to your ordinary neighborhood soapbox racer, its material and components are pure high-tech thanks to the generosity of the studio’s suppliers. The wheels are aerodynamic in section and have the lowest rolling resistance tires available. This allows the use of a proper braking system adapted from a racing bicycle. The chassis is a monocoque construction made of carbon fiber with a honeycomb core material for added stiffness. The front windscreen is vacuum formed acrylic and is designed to streamline the air around the driver in the prone position who holds course with a handle bar covered for protection and low wind resistance.
Porsche Styling, based in Huntington Beach, CA, is part of Porsche Engineering Services in Troy, Michigan, the U.S. branch of Porsche Engineering Group, the German-based subsidiary of Porsche that manages the Company’s worldwide customer project engineering activities. Porsche is the only car manufacturer that provides technical development and production expertise to its peers and industrial sectors beyond automotive. Because of the importance and specific needs of the North American marketplace Porsche established a customer project-engineering site in the mid-west in 1991. After more than 10 years of business, Porsche Engineering Group’s U.S. branch has established itself as a pre-development specialist for vehicle body development to the American passenger car and commercial vehicle industry. Founded in 1998 to take the pulse of Porsche’s key market – the United States -- Porsche Styling is now a sophisticated, well-equipped design team of 17 professionals that can take on the most challenging industrial design projects. And should the need arise, the team can always tap into the resources of the Style Porsche Design Center in Stuttgart, Germany.