So you want to modify a car | The Carbon Fiber addiction

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by THEO JONES

If you’ve ever been to a car show or local meet in the last few years, you know that creativity and ingenuity among car enthusiast is second to none. People spend their hard earned dollars changing their daily drivers into pieces of art all in the name of self expression. Now I’m never one to speak negatively about anyone’s taste in modifications, but I want to take some time to address something that I see all too often in the world of casual car modification. It’s an addiction that is sweeping the car scene. I like to call it, “Carbon Fiber Fodder”. Carbon fiber is the one of the few things the almost all car enthusiast covet.  Ask anyone in the scene, especially those who favor the import side of the spectrum, what they wish they had more of on the majority will mention carbon fiber. It’s light weight, strong, and let’s be honest, it looks really cool. As cool as it is aesthetically however, many don’t realize that in some cases without the proper knowledge of one’s vehicle and intended use, it can sometime do more harm than good.

In the Automotive world, carbon fiber is a material used to keep weight down while producing a form that is optimized in power to weight while not sacrificing the strength and integrity of the vehicle.  High in manufactures such as Lamborghini and Ferrari use the stuff almost exclusively in their production vehicles, and in the world of Formula 1, it’s everywhere. Now I know what you’re thinking, if those guys are using it, then it must be good to use for my application. What we fail to realize is the amount of R&D that goes into the design of those vehicles.  I’m willing to bet that many of our daily drivers never really passed through the rigors of research that the higher end cars experience thus when one adds or modifies a car, in essence we may be doing more harm than good.  Our cars come from the factory operating in a manner that he designers thought was suitable. Adding or taking away parts jeopardizes not only the integrity of the vehicle, but the safety of the driver.

Now back to Carbon fiber.  When choosing parts, one of the main things one should consider is weigh distribution. Especially for those of us who prefer function over form.  Now I drive a 2005 E46 (BMW). From the factory it comes with 50/50 weigh distribution with a very low center of gravity. When I decided to invest in Carbon fiber pieces, I immediately decided to get a hood. I’d always wanted one and I loved the look and functionality of it.  I installed it in my garage and after installing and adjusting it, it took the car for a spin. While the approving looks were great, I immediately felt a difference in the way the car handled. It felt almost disconnected from the road. Cornering didn’t seem as responsive as before and there was definitely a feel of chassis flex. After checking over the car, I realized that the hood was causing the issue. While it was lighter, it was not only throwing off the 50/50 weight balance, but it allowed the car to flex more under cornering.  My goal at this point was to attempt to maintain the original feel while maximizing performance. To alleviate the chassis flex, I went with a reputable front tower strut bar.  This minimized the chassis flex considerably however the car still felt disconnected from the road. I pondered over the issue for a while but couldn’t figure it out. One day I took my kids to the local playground while there; my youngest daughter decided she wanted to ride the seesaw. I put her on one side and another child immediately jumped on the other side. What happened next turned on the light bulb for me.  When the other child jumped on, the seesaw was perfectly balanced.  While the kids were not amused by the lack of action, I had figured out the problem.  A car is like a scale. If you change something on one end, you must counter balance that by changing something on the other end. My issue was that I had taken weight away on just half the car. Later that evening, I grabbed a scale and weighed my original hood as well as the new hood. Once that was done, I looked for ways to remove the weight difference of the two hoods from the rear of the car. I started with the spare tire and trunk panels. After that, I began with battery relocation and even rear exhaust modifications were done. Once the weight was removed, the car came alive again. I had done it. My power to weight was increased and the balance was perfect.

Automotive modifications can be fun and beneficial if done the right way. Before adding to or taking anything away from your car, establish what you hope to accomplish and put in the research to make sure that you maximize your end result and not create a good looking death trap. Take your time and do it right the first time. If you can take all those things into account, the likely hood that you will be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor will in fact be that much greater.

Editor’s Note: Theo Jones is owner of the beautiful red BMW e46 in the pictures

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