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Flexible Carbon Fiber Is Now a Thing with the McLaren Speedtail

Carbon fiber is a lightweight and durable material, and these characteristics are why it is gaining widespread use in many sports cars today. But given enough force, the carbon fibers and epoxy can be damaged or weakened, and you end up with a broken panel.

But technology is a wonderful thing, and what you thought impossible one time can suddenly become reality the next. And so if you think flexible carbon fiber was just science fiction before, think again, because it has now become science fact.

Sports car maker McLaren introduced a newly-developed flexible carbon fiber when it announced the Speedtail during the last quarter of 2018. The Speedtail uses the new bendable material as its rear ailerons. Below is an excerpt from its press release:

“The trailing edge of the Speedtail showcases a particular highlight, namely a pair of active rear ailerons. These dynamic elements are hydraulically actuated and an integral part of the rear clamshell, formed in flexible carbon fibre; the body of the Speedtail can quite literally bend. With a tolerance of only 1mm between the surfaces, this dramatic new technology all but removes any gaps or shutlines between the vehicle and the leading edge of the spoilers, meaning there is no turbulent air, no drag and no loss of speed.”

The ailerons are part of a huge one-piece carbon fiber clamshell that extends from the doors to the rear end of the car. The two ailerons are activated by hydraulic actuators that push the rear ends up to a height of 4.7 inches. Though it can serve as an air brake similar to how the ailerons on the wings of an airplane function, their main purpose on the McLaren Speedtail is to even out the car’s aerodynamics depending on the speed.


With the active ailerons that the flexible carbon fiber affords, the Speedtail manages 0-300 kph in a jaw-dropping 12.8 seconds, along with a reported top speed of 400 kph.

Now the question is, can the flexible carbon fiber withstand years of use and abuse? McLaren assures that this is the case.

“We’ve done multiple durability tests in-house and developed it to the point that we can’t fail it,” Alex Gibson, program manager for McLaren’s Ultimate Series cars, said in an interview. “It’s continually cycling through different ambient conditions, humidity, temperature cycling.”

Still, Gibson says that the material will break if bent excessively, so if you intend to order one of these USD2.25 million babies, make sure not to do that.

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