It turned out that first foray into carbon fiber was just as spectacular when it was finally tested for crashworthiness, but in a completely different way. Catastrophic would be an appropriate word, according to Paolo Feraboli, who now leads Lambo's brand-new Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory in Seattle, Washington.
Proving how far Lamborghini has come since that ill-fated carbon-fiber Countach Evoluzione, Feraboli told us during the ACSL's grand opening that today's Aventador, which boasts a high-tech carbon chassis, aced its very first crash test in 2009. Chalk that success up to high-tech computer modeling and the practical application of lessons learned over several decades of trial and error. The dull red monocoque of that crashed Aventador now hangs on the wall at the ACSL like a functional piece of art, a reminder of Lamborghini's cutting-edge milestones of the past.
Lamborghini's future will be hewn from what the company calls forged composites. First seen on the stunning Sesto Elemento Concept from the 2010 Paris Motor Show, the patented carbon-forging process forgoes hand-laid sheets, injected resins, and high-heat autoclaves. Instead, wads of randomly oriented carbon fibers that sort of resemble the kind of dough you'd use to make pasta undergo a three-minute press inside a mold. The resulting parts are just as strong as other carbon-fiber bits, but can be mass-produced at a fraction of the cost.
While it's true that cost is often a secondary consideration for high-end supercars, it's still relevant. By reducing the cost and increasing the scale of composite pieces, Lamborghini can then afford to spend more money on other parts of the car.
It's not just body panels and chassis components that Lamborghini thinks it can build using forged composite technology. The Sesto Elemento featured forged-composite suspension control arms that haven't yet made it into production, but probably will soon. Looking even further into the future, Lamborghini has tested forged-composite connecting rods that could one day allow the Italian automaker's signature V12 engines to rev even higher.
Lamborghini officials were unsurprisingly cagey about when exactly we may see the proliferation of structural carbon-fiber pieces showing up in production models – particularly far-flung bits like those lightweight connecting rods. The current Aventador Roadster has a removable roof panel made using the forged process, and more products will be coming soon.
Buyers can already order forged-composite pieces in non-structural applications. A $7,000 option package for the Huracán includes air vents and console trim pieces made using the forging process. These bits are merely aesthetic.
The appearance of these new parts may take some getting used to. Most people have a specific carbon-fiber look in mind, based on the woven fabric and shiny resins that most composite pieces are made from. The style has become so ubiquitous that you could waltz into your local Pep Boys and push a cart back out with enough faux-carbon wrap to cover your entire car. You definitely shouldn't, but you could.
The forged-composite process results in a completely different look. Lamborghini describes it as a sort of carbon burl, and there were legitimate questions as to whether customers would accept the appearance. Apparently, those concerns have been assuaged – buyers have voiced approval for these forged-composite interior pieces with their wallets.
We think the forged composite pieces look awesome. While different from traditional carbon fiber's pattern, the result is futuristic and distinctive. And right now, it's only available from Lamborghini. Expect that to change in the coming years as Lambo's engineers share expertise with other brands under the sprawling Volkswagen Group umbrella. Our guess is that forged composites will show up in Audi models pretty soon.
While Lamborghini's forays into composite materials offer considerable promise for the company's unique brand of supercar, the technology has already been proven in other realms. Boeing's massive 787 Dreamliner uses around 1,000 parts – gussets, window frames, and rib reinforcements, mostly – made using this patented forging process.
It took eight years to get these parts certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. That journey involved shooting small metal projectiles at carbon-fiber panels at extremely high speeds, crushing forgings under extreme weight, and even simulating lightning strikes on exterior panels.
Check out the videos below to see what a carbon fiber panel looks and sounds like when it cracks under extreme pressure and endures a simulated zap of 1.21 gigawatts. Because while nobody wants to see their prized supercar subjected to a random bolt of lightning, it's pretty cool to know that it could survive, right?