The Elva is the lightest road car we’ve ever made, but how did the engineering team remove those extra kilograms when our cars are already featherweights?
One look at the Elva and it’s immediately clear where it differs from every other McLaren road car: its Ultimate roadster styling means there’s no roof and no glass. But don’t imagine that open cockpit alone accounts for the Elva’s extremely low weight: at just 1148kg (dry lightest), the Elva is an astonishing 50kg lighter than the track-bred, race-car inspired McLaren Senna. As the Elva’s Programme Manager, Jonny Swinhoe, explains, the team went to extreme lengths to identify and remove those kilos, one gram at a time. ‘We went through an exercise to take 85 grams out of each mirror arm,’ he says, as an example. ‘That’s the level of attention to detail we had to apply, to get the weight off the car.’
As well as rethinking the design of every component, the Elva project also meant pioneering new manufacturing techniques. ‘We wanted to have the best sounding exhaust we could imagine,’ Jonny says. ‘A great engine sound is so important to connect the driver to the car – especially an open cockpit car. But a complex exhaust system can add weight, so we made it from a combination of titanium and a superlight alloy called titanium-inconel.’ Chief Engineer, Andrew Kay goes into a little more detail. ‘As it’s not possible to weld different materials, our engineers had to develop a new hybrid joining method to join the two together. This involves sleeving a tube of inconel inside a tube of titanium and then using a hydroforming process to join and seal the tubes together.’
Not only is the car light under the skin, the skin itself has also been scrutinised and trimmed. The Elva has a carbon fibre body – by anyone’s standards, the hallmark of a lightweight supercar, but the McLaren Elva team went even further. ‘We did a detailed analysis of each carbon panel,’ Jonny explains. ‘We designed the ply layout to make sure we had stiffness where we needed it, but lightness where we didn’t.’ In other words, carbon fibre is made from sheets of woven carbon cloth, that are layered on top of each other and then bonded with resin and baked. The Elva team added the layers (or ‘ply’) where needed – for example, where a hinge was incorporated into a door – leaving layers out if they weren’t. ‘The use of computer simulation and 3D ply development was a new approach,’ Jonny says. ‘It allowed us to optimise weight and structural performance in areas of complex geometry, without losing the visual impact. We wanted to make the panels as light as possible, but also get the right aesthetic.’ In other words, don’t expect to see the difference under the Elva’s exquisite paint finish – those missing grams are invisible.
This kind of ingenuity also led to a profound change in the cabin. Jonny explains, ’Without the roof, we had an opportunity to completely rethink the normal ingress and egress [engineer-speak for getting in and out of the car]. So we reduced the length of the seat, so there’s now space to step into the cabin, between the seat and the steering wheel, and then sit down. These shorter seats are much lighter than the standard seats you’ll find in other McLarens, while of course maintaining passenger comfort.’
So lightness was the guiding principle, the mantra of the whole project, but never for its own sake. McLaren believes in light weight because of what it means for performance and for driver engagement. In the Elva, it’s a lightness that can be felt, a lightness that brings a unique level of agility and connectedness to the driving experience. It defines the car as much as that radical open cockpit design, and it makes the Elva the new standard bearer for our lightweight engineering philosophy.