Software helps to customise designs

American Ferrari collector Jim Glickenhaus built his 800 horsepower SCG 0003S race car from scratch.
American Ferrari collector Jim Glickenhaus built his 800 horsepower SCG 0003S race car from scratch.PHOTO: REUTERS

Computers are allowing designers and engineers to develop a car virtually with only a handful of experts

GENEVA• Supercars are famed for their exclusivity, but they do not get much rarer than the 800 horsepower SCG 0003S being shown by American Ferrari collector Jim Glickenhaus at the Geneva car show this year. Only 10 will be built.

The 66-year-old is one of a new breed of automotive entrepreneurs to take advantage of advances in software and computing power to start his own car brand, using virtual engineering and testing techniques.

And he is addressing a growing market, with members of the super-rich from industrialists and financiers to rock stars increasingly looking for customised designs that give their cars the ultimate individual touch.

"Software allows me to indulge in ideas, like the shape of the headlight or an air-conditioning vent. In the past, the manufacturing costs of making just one or two components would have been prohibitive," Mr Glickenhaus said, pointing to the front of his white carbon-fibre car on display in Hall 1 of Geneva's exhibition centre.

His company, Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus, works with Maniffatura Automobili Torino (MAT), a boutique engineering and design company set up in 2013 to design, develop and manufacture one-off racing and luxury cars.

"Some of the race cars today, they look like robots. I wondered if you could make a car which was aerodynamic and beautiful. So we built this," he said.

MAT has its stand next to other boutique car design companies, including Pininfarina, Touring Superleggera and David Brown Automotive, in what amounts to a renaissance for so-called custom coachbuilding, spurred by software and new manufacturing techniques.

The SCG 0003S was made for Mr Glickenhaus to race, but customers who want one of the few being built can get it for US$1.8 million (S$2.5 million).

"I'm not making a profit on the cars, but the money helps fund the evolution of the next version," he said.

Using a fortune amassed from running the family Wall Street firm, Glickenhaus & Co, he worked with Mr Paolo Garella, chief executive of MAT, to build his car from scratch.

The tailor-made car industry took off in 2006 after Pininfarina built a one-off Ferrari, the P4/5, for Mr Glickenhaus. Mr Garella worked at Pininfarina at the time before starting MAT.

Other examples followed, including a modern version of the Lancia Stratos which Pininfarina made for Mr Michael Stoschek, chairman of German auto supplier Brose Group, and the Ferrari SP12 EC, which was made for rock guitarist Eric Clapton.

Since then, Mr Glickenhaus has become more ambitious. Rather than focusing on unique design, he wants his SCG 0003S race car to set lap records on the northern loop of Germany's Nuerburgring, a holy grail among speed freaks.

"It's a different emotional experience if you are standing in the rain watching a car that you built compete against Mercedes and Porsche," he said.

Computers allow designers and engineers to develop a project virtually with only a handful of experts. Pre-digital age, car design often entailed hundreds of workers involved in sculpting clay, making components out of metal and then testing the parts for rigidity and reliability.

"There was often a fight between designers and the workshop that built the car. The life-sized drawings rarely translated into something engineers were able to reproduce," Mr Garella said.

Designers would have to wait for the workshop to come up with something that was feasible from a manufacturing point of view before pursuing further development - and often had to take a step backwards because the vehicle body was now interfering with something it should not.

"Today's design and engineering software work in harmony, allowing us to design and engineer simultaneously," Mr Garella said.

Custom coachbuilding has experienced a revival in the past decade, revolutionising an industry which traces its roots to an era when owners of horse-drawn coaches commissioned a body to go on top of an undercarriage.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the market suffered as mainstream car makers started to make niche models in-house and after new safety regulations all but ruled out extensive modifications without requiring new crash testing.

Software has changed that.

"You can show a regulator via software that the car meets minimum crash-test requirements. That helped to make my car road legal in New York," Mr Glickenhaus said with a smile.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2017, with the headline 'Software helps to customise designs'. Print Edition | Subscribe