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Craig had this strange idea of building a solar car to compete in the Nov 2001 World Solar Challenge in mid 2000. With no organisation behind us, no funding, no experience in anything more mechanical than a bit of wood working or putting a picture on a wall, we moved forward slowly.

Thanks to the generous folks in the solar racing community, and the many resources available on the web, we learnt a lot of things very quickly, and so I have put this page together as a way to help others in the same boat get a jump start on building a solar car.

Assume a budget of about AU$40,000 or US$20,000), you'll probably come up with similar answers.

First and foremost, get Speed of Light, The 1996 World Solar Challenge which covers many of the issues in perfect detail. After that, read The Leading Edge. Here are some other books we've picked up for our library so far:

  • Speed of Light: The 1996 World Solar Challenge by D. M. Roche - AU$49.50 - This is the essential reference. Buy and read this book before anything else.
  • The Leading Edge : Aerodynamic Design of Ultra-Streamlined Land Vehicles by Goro Tamai - US$41.91
  • Theory of Wing Sections - AU$43.75 - This book is extremely mathematical and I am not sure I would recomend it unless you are very serious.
  • The Fibreglass Manual : A Practical Guide to the Use of Glass Reinforced Plastics by Keith Noakes - US$29.91
  • Fiberglass Repair and Construction Handbook by Jack Wiley - US$25.91
  • Metalworking : A Manual of Techniques by Mike George - US$37.91
Next, decide on your objective. Our objective is to make it safely from Darwin to Adelaide at an average speed of at least 40km/h. This leads to primary requirements:
  • Safety
  • Reliability
  • Simplicity
  • Speed
  • Cost
You then have to start working through the different components of the car:
  • Frame/Body/Shell
  • Solar Array
  • Motor/Drive
  • Batteries
  • Wheels/Suspension/Steering/Brakes
We went with:
  • A space frame made out of mild steel (easy and cheap to get and work with).
  • A shell made out of fibreglass and divinycell.
  • A solar array made with hand crafted panels
  • A T-Flux motor and chain drive
  • 10 lead acid batteries weighing in at about 120kg
  • Motorcycle wheels, disk or drum brakes, double wishbone front suspension, trailing arm rear suspension, boat steering cable.
There is certainly lots to learn. We tried not to get too bogged down with the design and concentrate on moving forward - I suspect you can design your third card entirely on the drawing board, but for your first car, you may as well build what you can and start learning because you/we are not going to know which decisions are the right ones until after the fact anyway.

Check out our links page which has a bunch of places to look at.

There is lots of info out there, and many people willing to share their knowledge, and others like yourself who are stumbling around in the dark, so just have at it and ask when you get lost (which if you're like us will be about twice a week!).