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Lamborghini’s Sesto Elemento

  1. Consider it to be supercar rehab. Or maybe
    a re-education. Whatever it is, Lambo wants you to stop obsessing about
    horsepower and recalibrate your synapses around something else: the
    power-to-weight ratio. The Sesto Elemento is a good place to start this
    process. Its power-to-weight ratio is approximately 562bhp per tonne. That’s
    not a car, that’s a ballistic missile.

    Words: Jason Barlow
    Photography: Ripley and Ripley

    This article was originally published in the November issue of TopGear magazine

  2. “It’s a big statement, and we are well aware that it’s provocative,” Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann says, “but it’s important to have a clear focus on the things that need to be done. I’m convinced that increased power is not the ultimate goal for Lamborghini, and it’s crucial that we reduce the weight of our cars.” 

  3. Winkelmann refers to the Sesto Elemento as a ‘technological demonstrator’. It’s a design study, and moves the machismo and militarism of 2007’s million euro Reventón special into a new space. But though the visuals are reliably extreme and we would very much like one sitting outside the TopGear office right now, what it looks like is actually less important than what it’s made of and the genius that’s been poured into its construction. 

  4. Why? Because the Sesto Elemento consists almost entirely of
    carbon fibre and weighs just 999kg. Given that it runs the Gallardo
    Superleggera’s powertrain - direct injection 5.2-litre V10, four-wheel-drive
    and all - that’s a seriously impressive figure, a thumping 341kg less than the
    current Superleggera’s dry weight. ‘Sesto Elemento’, by the way, means ‘sixth
    element’, which, according to the periodic table, happens to be carbon.

  5. The car’s also a proper runner, and Lambo
    claims that it’ll get to 62mph in 2.5 seconds. Sheesh. That’s the same as a
    Veyron, which has getting on for twice as much power, but also weighs twice as
    much. There’s your basic physics lesson right there. Lambo, the self-styled bad
    boy of the car world, prefers the word ‘extreme’ to ‘efficient’, but they’re
    also sharp enough to know that more of the latter gives them extra licence to
    deliver on the former. “You’ve seen the numbers,” says Director of Brand and Design
    Manfred Fitzgerald, “so you know we’re talking motorcycle values with this car.
    And that’s something to really look forward to…”

  6. So, 999kg. This, probably not
    coincidentally, is one kilogram less than the weight of Ferrari’s 2007 Mille
    Chili lightweight concept, which posited a similar all-carbon-fibre future, and
    presaged the foundation of a design lab at the University of Modena dedicated
    to uncovering new ways of reducing automotive mass. Also in the Modena
    environs, of course, is Pagani, another carbon-fibre specialist with a big
    reputation. Woking isn’t as glamorous, but it’s where McLaren is currently
    ramping up production of its MP4-12C, underpinned by its clever single-piece
    RTM (resin transfer moulded) carbon tub.

    BMW, meanwhile, recently announced a
    joint venture with the SGL group for the production of carbon fibre for use in
    its upcoming Megacity vehicle. The bigger the volumes, the more economically
    viable it becomes. Against this frenzy of activity, what makes the Sesto
    Elemento so special?

  7. Well, when it comes to the world of carbon
    fibre reinforced polymer or plastic (CFRP), there are lots of different ways of
    doing things and Lamborghini, it seems, has been quietly becoming expert at
    most of them. It built its first CFRP chassis for a Countach prototype back in
    1983, and 31 per cent of the Murciélago uses it. But that’s old hat compared to
    what’s coming next.

    Not only has the company established an Advanced Composites
    Research Centre at its Sant’Agata HQ, it’s also closely involved with a dedicated
    laboratory at the University of Washington in Seattle. More intriguingly, the
    Italians have formed an alliance with an up-and-coming aerospace company you
    might have heard of: Boeing (the airframe of its new 787 Dreamliner is 50 per
    cent composite, and features 23 tonnes of carbon fibre).

  8. All of which has led Lamborghini - a
    charming basketcase not all that long ago, remember - to develop new techniques
    in the use of carbon-fibre composites. The company claims that it’s currently
    the only car maker in the world to have nailed every aspect of the process - in
    3D design, simulation and validation, through to production and testing.

    “The Professor at the University of
    Washington is actually an ex-Lamborghini employee,” Fitzgerald says, “and he
    stayed in touch with us, so it was a natural step to take. He was engaged there
    with Boeing work, and we decided to go over and check out its facilities.

  9. “Our questions and Boeing’s questions were
    getting increasingly demanding, and we figured there was a more fundamental and
    principled way we could approach things. It’s a strategic alliance. It’s about
    calculating and simulating, taking a more intelligent approach. Carbon fibre
    clearly has benefits in terms of weight and rigidity, so if you can really
    command the process and master the technology, then you definitely have an

  10. The Sesto Elemento’s structure is all about
    reduction and integration. Its monocoque uses forged composite technology,
    which Lambo claims is a first in the automotive sector. This process takes
    materials with short carbon fibres and hot-presses them in a mould. The front
    subframe and crash-boxes are connected to this single-piece passenger cell, and
    they’re carbon fibre too. The front and rear bodyshell components are also
    manufactured in a single piece, which the engineers call cofango: a frankly
    unnecessary contraction of the Italian for bonnet (cofano) and wing (parafango).
    Quick-release fasteners mean that these can be swiftly removed.

  11. The wishbones are carbon fibre. Of the major
    structural areas, only the rear subframe where the engine is mounted and the
    suspension points on the rear axle are made of aluminium. The prop shaft is
    made of CFRP, and does away with a central joint, and the wheel rims are
    carbon. Nestling behind them are carbon-ceramic brake discs. The exhaust
    tailpipes are made of something called PyroSic, which is an advanced
    glass-ceramic composite with high heat resistance. Even the doors have a
    minimalist structure, and feature just two pieces bonded together to create a
    single unit. Titanium alloy screw fastenings help pare weight back elsewhere.
    In other words, the Sesto Elemento isn’t so much a car as an entire ideology. 

  12. “It’s a combination of all the different
    technologies we’re exploring,” Fitzgerald confirms, “and we’re utilising them
    where it makes the most sense to do so. If you want to deliver higher volumes,
    you have to look at all the different production processes.”

    While Manfred has always been evangelical
    about Lamborghini, it’s clear he’s properly fired up by what this latest
    venture means. But he’s not a physicist, and admits that the brand’s core
    audience might not be in the market for a science lesson. After all, it’s a
    brave supersports car company that calls time on the power race when so many of
    its adherents are addicted to big numbers. That said, it would be a colossal
    failure of imagination to have an objection to an all-carbon Lamborghini with a
    power-to-weight ratio of 562bhp per tonne.

  13. Then there’s the way it looks. Granted, if
    you prefer your favourite Italian supercars to be shaped like, er, your
    favourite Italian women, then the Sesto Elemento is probably not for you.
    They’re pushing the limits here too. There’s not much in the way of sensual
    surfacing going on, and rather a lot of extreme edges and sharp creases. It’s
    not particularly pretty, but it looks outrageous, which is part of
    Lamborghini’s job description. Its body is finished in a new clear-coat paint
    with a shimmering matte effect. Its CFRP structure features a red weave that
    shows through, and gives the whole car a red glow. Unsurprisingly, it looks
    this way for a reason.

  14. “We’re able to pull off shapes and finishes
    we never could if we were using aluminium or steel,” says Fitzgerald, “and I
    don’t have to go back and change the radiuses which the production guys have
    told me just aren’t going to work. Using carbon fibre takes us into a totally
    new ballpark for design. The most important thing is to understand how to use
    it in the best way.”

    I tell him that the Sesto Elemento reminds
    me of the original LP400 Countach, probably the definitive insane Italian
    supercar and certainly a car with a serious curve allergy.

    “That’s not a bad comparison, and the DNA is definitely there. Why is the new car not curvy? Because curves and round
    forms have a femininity to them, and one thing Lamborghini isn’t is feminine.
    Masculinity is a brand value and it has to be seen in the cars.”

  15. It’s functional, too. There are pronounced
    vertical ribs on the bonnet, which help stiffen it but also guide cooling air
    to the radiator and brakes through the triangular openings ahead of the
    windscreen. The headlights have been minimised too; they’re bi-xenons with four
    LEDs in each pod. At the rear, a huge spoiler tops a series of aero treatments:
    there’s a central air deflector and an unusually proportioned diffuser.
    Speculatively, the Sesto Elemento should have serious stability and fat
    downforce numbers. The exhaust exits through a pair of periscopes under the
    rear wing and hot air escapes upwards through 10 hexagonal holes in the engine
    cover, while two further air scoops funnel air into the V10. It’s worth looking
    at this car from above.

  16. Its interior is reduced and integrated too.
    A carbon cross-beam spans the cabin, and has a TFT screen worked into it.
    Wherever possible, the elements that would previously have been solid have been
    carved out to save weight. Rather than separate seats, there are cushions
    formed from a lightweight material that are bonded directly to the chassis. The
    steering wheel and pedals adjust, and there are only three buttons on the dash:
    engine start, reverse and lights.

  17. The SE also sticks with Lambo’s venerable
    E-gear transmission, partly because feasibility is important, but also because
    dual-clutch systems tend to be rather heavy. And though carbon-structured cars
    have complex noise paths, the Sesto Elemento’s sonics are apparently every bit
    as tasty as a Gallardo’s. (For the record, don’t expect forced induction any
    time soon either.) Whatever, the SE might not be slated for production, but
    with functionality like this, it’s hard to believe that one or two won’t
    surface with a Reventón-style million-plus pricetag.

  18. It’s an impressive showcase, no doubt about
    it. But for Lamborghini fans it begs as many questions as it answers. For
    example, will all future Lambos be carbon? Winkelmann says not.

    “No. In the future every car we do has to
    have something of the feeling of the Sesto Elemento, but to what extent is
    difficult to define right now. It’s a question of cost, homologation, and it
    will take time and effort. We’ll show you more within the next six months…”

  19. The Murciélago replacement, Geneva 2011. Can’t wait. But back to the Sesto Elemento. Does it represent a new design chapter for Lamborghini?

    “Yes and no. Every car we do should be a revolution, not an evolution. This car shows new design elements, and the technology allows us to do more extreme things. We are interested in pushing the limits, but it has to be feasible both technically and economically. Steel and aluminium are commodities and carbon fibre is not. The composite material is something you can change.”

  20. And finally, does the end of the power race
    mean the arrival of a sober new Lamborghini? Even if they’re right, couldn’t
    that be problematic? Over to Manfred Fitzgerald: “You’re right, it could be
    tricky. That’s what we’re here for, it’s an obligation for a superbrand like
    Lamborghini. We’re setting the trends. But if you’re asking me if Lamborghini
    is losing its mojo… definitely not. We will always be about performance. But
    as to how you define performance, well maybe there’s a different equation we
    should be using. There are more ways to achieve it, more ways to excel. We have
    to educate people about what’s good.”

    Five hundred-plus horsepower in a car that
    weighs 1,000kg? Consider us educated.

What do you think?

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