Reinventing the Wheel, McLaren-style

In the world of car design, Frank Stephenson is a giant but you probably have never heard of him. Frank is the visionary that gave the world the Ferrari F340 and the first BMW X5, not to mention the Maserati MC12 and of course the Mini Cooper (BMW incarnation)…just some of this generation’s most iconic rides.

His unique and prolific design ideas may come from his upbringing. He was born in Casablanca, Morroco of a Norwegian father and a Spanish mother but, due to his father’s job, spent his childhood years in Malaga, Istanbul and then in Madrid; he attended college in Pasadena, California and his first job was at Ford in Cologne, Germany. Whilst with Ford, he ‘stole’ a three-winged spoiler idea from the Focker Dr.1 and put it onto the Escort Cosworth, although the intervention from the accounts’ department forced the automaker to ditch the design before it got to production.

Frank at McLaren.

Now, though, he has moved to McLaren where he claims he has far greater leeway. So what is his next idea? Well, it is to make wheels more like trees. Apparently, Frank has been spending quite a bit of his time obsessing over the Californian Sequoias, also known as the Giant Redwood; more particularly, just how the world’s tallest tree stays upright when it has really shallow yet sprawling roots.

So, the idea this time is based on bio-mimicry. In nature, the strength of the Sequoias comes from the sprawling tangle of roots. Likewise, Stephenson is planning a wheel that lacks symmetry with a host of curvy or ‘bent’ spokes. Of course, the flaw in his plan could be the inability to counterbalance a non-symmetrical design, a fact that Frank does acknowledge.

He hasn’t stopped at wheels either. Next on his list is the windscreen wiper, which Stephenson describes as “one of the oldest bastions of bad design on a car”. His point is that Jet Fighters don’t have them, so why should cars. At this point, you may be thinking that Frank Stephenson has got something other than tobacco in his pipe, but he may well have a point, you know.

A number of car companies have been flirting with the idea of dispensing with the windscreen wiper. All you have to do is run an electric current through a conductive screen to set up a vibration that will clear the windscreen of rain (even frost, if you heat it as well), thus doing away with the heavy old wipers and water bottles, and allowing the designers to make the cars more aerodynamically efficient. All we can say is that we are looking forward to seeing the Sequoia wheels.

Frank’s idea of a perfect bridge?

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