Excerpt from the April 2023 issue of Car and driver.
Once I held a wheel that went into space. Well, I held a prototype for a wheel that went into space. My dad was an engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory during the Mars Exploration Rover program, and he took me on a family open house while the Opportunity and Esprit were under construction. I remember the blue NASA meatball on the building and a sign on the main walkway pointing one way for “Space Flight Operations” and the other for “Cafeteria”. Even today, that pretty much sums up all my desires.
Dad showed me the white-walled clean rooms, where scientists in bunny suits were testing cameras and solar panels, and the machine shop with its multi-story five-axis mill and vending machines full of drill bits. and lubricating oil. In the automated, CNC section, a machinist let me press the start of a new part. Later, he handed me the finished piece, an aluminum grinding wheel still soaked in milky cutting fluid. It blew my mind, this modern blacksmith shop, turning bits of material into spaceships. A few years later, rovers returned photos of the surface of Mars. I felt like I was up there too with my wheel, and I’ve been loving the store visits ever since. I want to see how things become things, which is why I thoroughly enjoyed two recent factory tours of assembly plants that end a century of manufacturing techniques.
Divergent sees the future in 3D (print)
Let’s start in the future, where our components won’t be sawn from billets or cast in waterfalls of molten steel, but grown from hot sands under a laser-green sun. Divergent Technologies specializes in additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing. The company is focused on expanding the industrial utility of 3D printing, which today is better for prototyping and small runs than large-scale production. Divergent hopes that by using AI-powered design to plan a part from an engineering model throughout installation, additive manufacturing can be made faster and more affordable.
Divergente can test its theories straight from the printers. Its founder, Kevin Czinger, and his son, Lukas, operate their hypercar business from the same complex, a futuristic glassy black cube in Torrance, California. A red 21C Czinger sits just inside the door. Behind, a gathering of assembly robots stand in a circle like sci-fi satanists preparing a ritual of UV lamps and high-tech epoxy. The rooms smell of glue and hot metal. It’s silent, with no crackle of welders or whirring drill bits, just a faint hum of electricity as banks of laser-sintering machines build chassis parts from dust, one glowing layer at a time.
Bentley keeps it old school
Across the Atlantic, in a brick building on Pyms Lane in Crewe, England, Bentley Motors balances its growing production needs with buyers’ expectations of old-fashioned craftsmanship. Tasks such as spraying the lacquer on the burl wood veneers and laying out the cut pattern on the more than 14 leather hides needed to outfit a Bentayga were left to computer brains. Polishing lacquered wood, checking hides for imperfections, and sewing intricate designs are still done by hand, partly because some things humans do even better, partly because it’s tradition.
For the diehard luddite, there’s always the Mulliner Classic continuation program, which offered a dozen customers the chance to get an all-new 1929 Bentley Blower and will soon begin a Speed Six series, all traditionally built. , with brass hammers, swearing , and Earl Grey. The ’29 Blower’s spoked wheels had never been in the same room as a CNC machine, but I got the same thrill from touching them as from the wheel of the rover. When we witness creation, we can travel through space and time.
Like a late-game activated sleeper agent, Elana Scherr didn’t know her calling at a young age. Like many girls, she planned to be a vet-astronaut artist, and became close to the latter while attending UCLA art school. She painted pictures of cars, but didn’t own any. Elana reluctantly got a driver’s license at 21 and discovered not only that she loved cars and wanted to drive them, but that other people loved cars and wanted to read about them, which meant that someone one had to write about them. Since receiving the activation codes, Elana has written for numerous automotive magazines and websites, covering classics, car culture, technology, motorsports and new car reviews.