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AIMS: Joss returns

Expertise: The Joss development team consists mostly of volunteer ex-F1 and Le Mans technicians.

Local supercar back on track after seven years

4 Jul 2011

AUSTRALIA’S own supercar, the Joss JP1, is back on track after almost disappearing from sight over the past seven years.

Matt Thomas, the man behind the Joss and the company’s driving force, has not only kept his dream alive but has enhanced the design, the components and, most importantly, the chances of the car actually making it into production.

Revealed in a blaze of premature glory at the 2004 Melbourne motor show, the Joss promptly went nowhere as promised financing repeatedly evaporated.

But Mr Thomas, an aerodynamicist with the defunct Stewart Formula One team, persisted and revealed a test mule at the 2011 Melbourne International Motor Show media day.

Mr Thomas and his band of mostly volunteer ex-F1 and Le Mans technicians have made significant progress with the supercar challenger. The car has been redesigned since 2004 to be more contemporary both inside and out.

The aim is to build a supercar that will cost the same – around $500,000 – as high-end sportscars from the established manufacturers.

“It will come out at the same price as the McLaren and the Ferrari 458, which has an aluminium chassis and an aluminium body in the Ferrari’s case,” said Mr Thomas. “This is a supercar for a high-end sports car price.”

141 center imageMr Thomas is reluctant to talk about performance figures, but is on record saying the new Joss should accelerate to 100km/h in less than three seconds.

But he is not planning to compete with the established marques on volume.

“We are aiming at 25 to 100 cars a year. And it will be literally handcrafted, not pressed. Inevitably, those other cars have a lot of aluminium content, whereas this is mainly composite.”

The carbon-fibre, and the resultant power-to-weight ratio, is the key to the Joss. Thomas sees weight reduction as one of the crucial aspects of the design, the edge that will give it the performance to stand out in a crowd.

He concedes there are a lot of 200mph supercars around but stresses that top speed is not what he is aiming at.

“To me, the fastest car in the world is the fastest car around the Nurburgring: cornering, braking, all your dynamics. That’s why our main target is weight reduction because that helps with high cornering Gs.”

But Mr Thomas also wants the car to be suitable for interstate cruising.

“We are not building a race car for the road. With our car, in my mind, you need to be able to put your partner in the car and go for a drive interstate or, in Europe, go to another country.

“The missus being in the car is going to be the greatest critic you are going to get, so it needs to meet all those standards.”

Nevertheless, he wants to race “a balls-to-the-wall version” of the car. He said he is frustrated that Australia and New Zealand are so well represented in European racing teams but that Australia does not have a car of its own to compete with the best.

Mr Thomas is still coy on some of the mechanical details, but admits he plans to use a European-sourced aluminium V8, of which he has two to choose.

“I don’t think power-wise there is anything wrong with (American) pushrods, but it’s the perception. If we went for a pushrod engine, we might eliminate half of our market.

“We can have a carbon-fibre chassis and a carbon-fibre body and spend millions of dollars, but if you put an LS engine in it, it is a kit car again. So we can’t even go there. It’s just perception.”

Mr Thomas has been pleasantly surprised at the resources he has been able to draw on in Australia. The development of the car is being assisted by volunteer work by 15 people, many of whom, like him, have worked at the top levels of motor sports in Europe and the US.

Remarkably, when looking for a suitable gearbox, he had been talking to Cima of Italy, which supplies Pagani and Koenigsegg among others, but then heard about a transmission that has been winning American off-road events and was planning a US trip to see what that company could offer.

“When we looked into it further, we realised it was made outside Ballarat by a company called Albins,” said Mr Thomas.

“They supply the US market, they have won the Paris-Dakar with their gearboxes. Their gearboxes in off-road cars in the US handle 1000hp. They are bulletproof.”

An Albins transaxle has been selected as the to be used by all V8 Supercar teams under the Car of the Future plan, which will start in 2012.

In addition, Mr Thomas has just signed a deal with the UK-based company Zeroshift, which was started by NZ engineer Bill Martin. The Zeroshift system replaces synchromesh and reportedly allows instantaneous gearchanges, with no loss of momentum.

“What they have developed is a zero gap between gears. The Ferrari dual-clutch transmission does it in 40milliseconds, and the F1s have got that timeframe down,” Mr Thomas said.

“What Zero shift has is totally new. It transfers from gear to gear at full throttle and you have zero delay.”

Mr Thomas said Joss has now created a relatively stable corporate structure to own the project and raise the capital needed to fund it.

The company, Joss Developments, is considering joining the Australian Small Scale Offerings Board (ASSOB), where small companies can sell chunks of shares to what the corporate law describes as “sophisticated” investors.

The company has already raised $700,000 from other sources and has used that to establish a design studio in the Melbourne suburb of Cheltenham.

The company has finished a clay mock-up of the final design and has been conducting drivetrain tests using the ‘mule’ that is on show at the motor show.

Laurajean Thomas, the founder’s sister and also a director of Joss Developments, said the company initially was seeking to raise between $15 million and $20 million to fund its operations.

Now, with the prospect of an ASSOB listing, the directors are aiming at raising an initial $2 million to fund construction of the first two production cars.

Ms Thomas said Joss had received six firm orders for the car and had been contacted by a further 30 people considering a purchase.

She said the company will be asking for deposits soon.

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