2010 Paris Auto Show
What is it?
Lamborghini Sesto Elemento Concept
What's special about it?
Lamborghini has made an early pitch for the star of the Paris Motor Show with its astonishing-looking Sesto Elemento concept car.
Besides its breathtaking exterior design, though, the carbon-based Sesto Elemento carries a far deeper meaning and will mark a turning point in supercar history, says Lamborghini, by ending the power wars and starting a power-to-weight war.
Incorrectly assumed by many to be the replacement for the Murcielago LP640, the Sesto Elemento boasts an eye-popping 3.8 pounds-per-horsepower weight-to-power ratio — which puts it in the superbike class rather than the supercar class.
With a version of the Gallardo's V10 power plant pumping out 570 horsepower, Lamborghini claims the concept will sprint to 62 mph in just 2.5 seconds. That's because almost everything in the Sesto Elemento is made from carbon fiber (hence the name, Italian for sixth element, which is where carbon sits on the periodic table).
The key to all this performance — and a top speed well in excess of 200 mph — is a curb weight of 2,200 pounds (999 kg), though Lamborghini President Stephan Winkelmann hinted cheerfully that this is a "conservative" weight and that it may hit the scales even lighter than that.
"The power-to-weight will soon become the biggest thing for the supercar market, not the top speed or the power. That's why its engine and gearbox and the tires are not made from carbon fiber, but almost everything else is," says Winkelmann.
Not only does it run a carbon-fiber monocoque chassis "tub," but it also has its entire body, its front crash structure, the suspension and even the exhaust made from carbon, too. Even the wheel rims are carbon fiber. The whole front end of the bodywork has been molded as one single piece of carbon fiber, called a Cofango (which combines the Italian words for "hood" and "fender panels") and the entire rear bodywork is made the same way. Both pieces can be lifted off the car easily by one person.
There are no seat frames to add weight and flexibility. Instead, the seat base is shaped directly into the carbon tub and Lamborghini has added just cushioning and a backrest (made, naturally, of carbon fiber). To get comfortable, the driver now electrically adjusts the pedals and the steering column.
Instead of a traditional alloy bracing beam inside the dashboard, the Sesto Elemento runs a thin carbon framework and the doors are made from just two pieces of carbon fiber — an inner and an outer skin — and nothing else.
In fact, the only significant metallic parts in the midengine Sesto Elemento, besides the engine, six-speed paddle-shift gearbox and driveline, are the aluminum rear subframe and the steering rack.
While achieving an absurd power-to-weight ratio was Lambo's guiding principle here, Lamborghini's technical director, Maurizio Reggiani insisted the Sesto Elemento's handling would be like nothing on the market today.
"With less weight, it will change direction in a way that you won't believe unless you drive it. There will be no play in the suspension, no flexing, no inaccuracy at all. You ask it to do it and that's exactly what it will do, down to the width of a hair," Reggiani insisted.
The concept's shape takes clear elements from the limited-edition Murcielago-based Reventon supercar, but makes even more of a feature of its deep front end, complete with a double-lipped spoiler.
It's designed so that its front intakes draw in cooling air, then redirect it to the radiators and the brakes, where it then exits either through huge triangular vents in the hood or behind the front wheels.
The heavily crafted front end is in stark contrast to the rear, where there is virtually no overhang and, besides a diffuser, a bumper and a thin taillamp/spoiler piece, the entire rear of the engine bay has been left open.
The V10 draws its air from two intakes in the roof, and there are 10 cutouts in the polycarbonate engine cover — one for each cylinder — and two more bodywork holes for the radical exhaust system to exit. This is a first, because it's made of a carbon-ceramic powder in resin that is extremely heat-resistant and has never been seen in the car industry before.
While Winkelmann acknowledges that the Sesto Elemento is a long way from being a production car, the rest of the Lambo line will follow its carbon-intensive lead. Winkelmann hinted that not only will the Murcielago replacement use a carbon-fiber chassis, similar in concept and production to the one underneath the Sesto Elemento, but the Gallardo replacement in two to three years could be a carbon-based life form as well.
Lamborghini now has two carbon-fiber laboratories: one at its home base in Sant'Agata, Italy and one outside Seattle in conjunction with Boeing and the University of Washington. It also has a new carbon-fiber factory geared up to build the Murcielago replacement, and its first pilot build car ran down the production line more than a month ago.
Edmunds.com says: We're not sure that unveiling a car with 570 hp can ever be considered opting out of the power war, but we wholeheartedly endorse the rightness of lightness. — James Edwards, Contributor