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    3-wheelers.com e-interviews

    Ron Will

    Designer for General Motors having worked in the Corvette studio, also designed the Subaru Outback and creator of the Turbo Phantom.

    3-wheelers.com

    I understand that you were a designer at GM for the Corvette Studio when you first penned the Turbo Phantom and that you created a rather stunning 4-wheeled concept that won a National award in 1961.  What therefore, made you choose a 3-wheeled design rather than four?

    Ron Will

    I had hoped to build a small production of these cars, maybe a few dozen or more a year.  Having worked for GM, I knew how difficult and expensive it was to pass and certify all the automotive regulations.  The motorcycle regulations were a fraction of the number required compared to a four wheel car.  Three wheel vehicles under 1,500 lbs were still considered motorcycles, so that became my target.   To meet the 1,500 lb weight I had to use lightweight construction everywhere possible. The body chassis combination was built like one big surfboard with an upper and lower fiberglass shell filled with lightweight Urethane foam.  There is no metal frame.  The body is the chassis.  Suspension and engine mounting is achieved by bonding on flat plates to the inner fiberglass surface. It works quite well.

    3-wheelers.com

    I have never seen a Turbo Phantom in the flesh though at 7ft wide it must have been quite a sight.  Was the vehicles width part of its styling cues or part of its handling abilities?

    Ron Will

    It was as wide as possible for maximum stability.  Also the passenger’s legs are between the front wheel arches, so it also had to be that wide for engineering reasons.  I also had the front wheels covered with skirts for aerodynamic reasons.  However, the wheels were still located out to the maximum width for stability.  The skirts then had to tip out when cornering to allow for the wheel movement.

    3-wheelers.com

    What happened to the three prototypes that were built?

    Ron Will

    There were never three running prototypes.  There was a full size clay model to make the molds, and a full size frame design model for seating, suspension and engine placement. There was also a 3/8 scale wind tunnel test model that was run in the GM wind tunnel. I also have a 1/12 scale fiberglass design model. There were several miscellaneous parts made in advance for the 2nd and 3rd models, but we never got that far before we ran out of development money.  I still have some of the smaller body part production molds.

     There is only one Turbo Phantom at the moment, and it’s in my garage.  When we moved out to Arizona, I sold the full size mold to a fellow who thought he might build one.  Later I found out that one body was made and then the mold was lost or destroyed in a fiberglass shop that may have gone out of business. The only other body that was made is now in Ann Arbor, Michigan where another enthusiast is building his own Phantom.  I have pictures of that car under construction.  It does use a metal frame with the Phantom body on top.

    3-wheelers.com

    I believe that the Turbo Phantom never reached production as it became too expensive to produce.   If manufacturing cost could be reduced would you ever consider bringing the Turbo Phantom back to life? 

    Ron Will

    The Fiberglass sandwich construction is a relatively inexpensive process, but it would still take a million or more dollars to set up even a small production doing a hand assembly.  That’s not very expensive  in terms of  car production, but more money than I can put my hands on at the moment.   It would be fun to try though.

    3-wheelers.com

    Were there many Turbo Phantoms created from your plans? Do you know of any survivors?

    Ron Will

    The plans that I was working on were for a much simpler tandem design with a tube frame that would be easier for a kit car builder to make at home. It was called the JET FIGHTER COMMUTER because of its Jet fighter and canopy appearance.   Unfortunately there was not even enough money at the time to complete that vehicle or the plans.  We did advertise the plans with a drawing of the design and received thousands of letters from not only the US but countries around the world.  Had we built the simpler car first, I think we would have succeeded.  We simply bit off more than we could chew and realized it too late.

    3-wheelers.com

    With hind site, modern manufacturing techniques and technology, is their anything about the Turbo Phantom you would change if you were to redesign it today?

    Ron Will

    I think I would move the passenger back more for crash safety.  It was not a car designed to be driven as a daily driver.  It was more of a specialty car for special occasions or shows.  It was fun to drive and because of the wide track it was extremely stable.  The government did test the car on a skid pad and was able to generate about .8 G’s.  The testers were very impressed because many of the other 3 wheel cars of the time that they tested we very dangerous on the skid pad.

    3-wheelers.com

    I believe that the Subaru Outback was largely your concept and design.  You must have been quite proud to see it on the assembly line?

    Ron Will

    It’s one thing to see your design as a single clay model in the studio, but it’s quite another experience to go to the factory and see your body design being stamped out by the thousands and end up sitting in a show room.  When the car is first introduced you are not sure of its success.  When it does succeed as in the Outback case, you feel like you just won the Academy Award.

    3-wheelers.com

    Last year you penned a rather fascinating 3-seater 3-wheeler called the Falcon Future to help a group out with their design the the X-100 MPG prize.  The vehicle looks quite innovative, given the opportunity is it something you would like to see manufactured?  (I will include links to your images here)

    Ron Will

    The Falcon Future design is probably a more practical version of the Phantom.  It uses a very innovative engine technology powered by Natural Gas that should easily get over 100 MPG.  The contest required extensive manufacturing ability for us to win the contest.  We were one of only two high School groups allowed to get in the contest of over 100 entrants.  Because of our lack of manufacturing experience we did not make the final cut of contest winners.  However, the concept is good and if we had a full team of engineers to back us up we should have been in the final round.  We are continuing on and the running prototype car will be finished in the fall of 2010.

    3-wheelers.com

    What makes you favor the 2 wheels at the front and one wheel at the back design?

    Ron Will

    Again, the issue is stability and safety.   The most critical maneuvers a car can make is turning and braking.  It is far superior to have the two wheels in the front doing that job. When a car has an emergency braking situation, all the forces go to the front wheels.  That’s why if cars have only two disc brakes; they are always on the front wheels.

    3-wheelers.com

    All your concepts and vehicles appear to be very futuristic in their design.   Would you prefer a modern aero-dynamically styled 3-wheeler over a vintage Morgan?

    Ron Will

    They are both fun in their own ways.  I had a friend who owned a dozen or more three wheel cars, including a Morgan.  I loved to go out riding with him to experience what it was like motoring over 50 years ago.  In the long run, I prefer to break new ground with modern designs to see how aerodynamic and efficient I can make them as well as how exciting a new design I can create.

    3-wheelers.com

    What are you predictions for 3-wheelers in the future?

    Ron Will

    There are many three wheel projects going on around the world anticipating the need for higher mileage and exciting to drive vehicles.   I am sure one the major manufacturers (maybe VW) will tackle a true lightweight commuter vehicle for world markets.

    The US is probably in for a big jump in fuel prices next year or so when our big supplier in Mexico can no longer supply us with oil. Their giant oil field is about to stop producing.  China car sales jumped by 40% this past year surpassing the US car sales.   The world oil supply has peaked according to many expert oil industry analysts.  The demand for oil continues to rise and we are in for a serious conflict of demand and supply in the near future.  Even large new discoveries of oil are too small to meet the rapidly growing demand.

    Only extremely efficient vehicles like lightweight three wheel commuters and the switch to an abundant fuel like Natural Gas can save us from this collision course in the future.

    3-wheelers.com

    Thank you very much for taking part in this interview for 3-wheelers.com's 10th birthday and indeed for helping me with information in the past.  Your time both then and now is much appreciated.

    Ron Will

    Good luck with the update to your website.  I’m happy to be a small part of it.

    For other e-interviews please click here

    Ron Will

    Ron with his Subaru R1

    Subaru Outback (image from Wikipedia)

    Turbo Phantom

    Falcon Future

     

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