IF CHRIS THEODORE WERE A MOVIE CRITIC, he'd give two thumbs up to “Grand Prix,” a cult classic for the racing set.
The product guru whose fingerprints are on's early minivans and the GT supercar was watching the 1966 flick when inspiration struck.
“They zoomed in on a Lotus Formula 1 car,” Theodore tells Ward's. “And that's when the idea came to me.”
The car was like a torpedo with wheels. And its simplicity compelled Theodore to contemplate a commercial adaptation that evolved into Uni-Chassis.
“The engine's rigidly mounted; transaxle's rigidly mounted,” he says at the World Congress. “And the two are joined by a combination backbone-torque tube. All the stiffness is in the chassis. The body just rests on top of it.”
The configuration promises frameless vehicles boasting torsional and bending stiffness exceeding 13,000 lb.-ft. (1,763 Nm) and 3,917 lb.-ft. (5,311 Nm), respectively.
Substituting carbon fiber for the aluminum backbone-torque tube would double stiffness while reducing weight 30%, he says. Tubular shapes also more easily accommodate carbon fiber's properties, which can mitigate the material's inherent cost premium.
Uni-Chassis' scalable setup will accommodate a range of segments. “You can do a luxury sedan if you want to,” Theodore adds.
“Probably the biggest commercial application is plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles,” Theodore says, noting current designs are handcuffed by “inefficient” battery packaging.
“Imagine a structural battery box right here,” he says, pointing to the torque tube of his proof-of-concept.
Theodore says his cinematic aha moment happened about four years ago and prompted him to reveal his idea to racing legend and niche-car maker Carroll Shelby.
“I said, ‘Carroll, you've seen everything. Have you ever seen this?’ And he said, ‘No. Don't show it to anybody until you patent it.’”
A patent is pending. Theodore plans to have a test car on the road by fall, featuring the 5.4L supercharged V-8 used in theGT.
For complete coverage of SAE World Congress, go to: wardsauto.com/reports/2011/sae