What is a monocoque?
In the realm of supercars, a lot of fancy words get thrown around quite a bit. At times it can feel like many of them are made up. That may hold true for some of these words, but it does not for monocoque. What is a monocoque and how does one work? In simple terms, a monocoque is a type of structural design that is utilized in many supercars, but we can go into more detail here.
What does monocoque mean?
Before we go any deeper, it’s worth diving into the origin of this word. Monocoque is actually a French term that means single shell. It refers to any structure that bears all loads, both compressive and tensile, along its skin.
You have to imagine something not too different from an egg. Despite what you may assume, an eggshell is wonderfully strong, especially considering how little material is used in its construction. If you squeeze and/or pull at an egg, all of the forces are conducted entirely through the skin. There is no other structure utilized. In this way, an egg is a monocoque design.
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What is the advantage of a monocoque in supercars?
There are actually a lot of drawbacks to a monocoque. They are hard to design, difficult to manufacture, and expensive, but even with all that there is one big advantage, and it comes in weight. A car that utilizes a true monocoque design will be astoundingly light.
Difference between unibody and monocoque
If you’ve ever looked under a car and seen a frame, or even tacked on rails and ribs such as can be found in a unibody car, then you are definitely not looking at a monocoque design.
Unibody designs were first employed in cars as a weight savings technique, albeit for fuel efficiency reasons. A monocoque takes that idea to the extreme. In a monocoque design, the body panels themselves are key structural components.
Where else are monocoque designs used?
Unsurprisingly, monocoque designs were first employed in aircraft as early as 1912, though few aircraft utilize such a design today. Monocoque designs are used in modern rocketry within rockets such as the Atlas and the Falcon 1. The place where they are most well known though is in supercars.
Lotus employed the first monocoque design in Formula 1 back in 1962, and McLaren utilized similar techniques in the McLaren F1 road car in 1992. Today, the highest end supercars still utilize the design, most notably a monocoque can be found in the Aventador S and the new Aventador SVJ. Typically though, the monocoque consists of the cabin, with a more typical frame in the front and rear.