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Tom Nies

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The “Smalltalk” of Super Cars

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Arden Thomas, the Product Manager for Cincom Smalltalk™, recently wrote on his blog:

The “Smalltalk “ of super-cars.

I enjoy occasionally noting things with design principles similar to Smalltalk – a simpler “less is more” approach, that focuses on what’s important, and leave out what is not, combined with careful design.

So, I was watching a rerun of the popular BBC show, “Top Gear” last week.

They included a race between two supercars – A McLaren F1 (a design I have long admired) which was introduced in 1992, and a Bugatti Veyron, a car introduced in 2003, and at 2.6M, the most expensive production car in the world.

Both cars are amazing feats of engineering and design, but both are rather different in their approach.

The Veyron takes a “more-is-more” approach.  Think one turbocharger is good?  Then two must be better – and the Veyron uses four!  Twelve cylinders is quite a number, so the Veyron uses sixteen. The Veyron’s motor puts out roughly 1000 horsepower.  How to keep it all cool?  The Veyron has ten radiators total! The Veyron has a 7 speed DSG transmission (I do like the DSG design), all wheel drive, and weighs in at 4162 lbs.   The car is amazing – a technological tour-de-force, but I’d hate to get the maintenance bill! :-)

Contrast that with the McLaren F1.  The first thing you notice is the innovative seating.  The driver sits in the center of the car! (how cool is that!?), with two flanking and rearward passenger seats.  The F1 was the first production car to use a carbon fiber chassis.  Carbon fiber is light and strong, and the F1, at 2513 lbs., weighs much less than the Veyron does.  The F1 uses a BMW V12 engine, naturally aspirated (627 hp, no turbochargers), and a six speed manual transmission.    Air is carefully handled for ground effects, and high pressure zones created by the spoiler are used to cool the brakes – nice integration.

The design philosophy of the F1 seems to focus on carefully designing and integrating only the important things.  The F1 is also notable for what it doesn’t have – no all-wheel-drive, no ABS braking or traction control, no turbochargers – simply unnecessary with a good design of the fundamentals. It is meant to be a drivers car.   Good design, less-is-more, and innovation:  definitely a Smalltalk approach!  :-)

So how did the 1 mile race go?  As always, top gear is very entertaining.  Off the line, the McLaren walked away from the Bugatti, leaving the Bugatti pilot exclaiming “How is this happening!?”  At about 1/3 of a mile, the much higher horsepower of the Veyron overtook the McLaren.  See it here: McLaren vs Bugatti

Of course, like computer languages,  performance cars bring passion and strong opinions, such as the McLaren boss declaring the Veyron a “piece of junk”, and “described how the V12-powered F1 trounced the 16-cylinder Veyron so many times off the line that the filming crew got frustrated because his car was supposed to be beaten. Eventually the Veyron stopped dropping its clutch on take-off and was able to catch up to the McLaren F1”. 

Read  more: Piece of junk

I suppose you could make an argument for either machine winning.  Still, the McLaren, which was designed over 15 years earlier than the Veyron, is amazing.  Credit the F1 with a simpler, easier to use and maintain design.  I admire the McLaren, and its design principles, the most.

Other notes:  McLaren’s latest car is the MP4-12C, which is the spiritual successor to the F1.  The MP4-12C  adds technology and more innovations to the F1 principles, such as a type of “brake steering” for more driver control. The F1 still measures up well against the MP4-12C, which incorporates more modern technology, however, the 12C will not be a lone child – expect more potent variants in the future!