United Kingdom – 08:25 Greenwich Mean Time – Portsmouth
Dave saw the enormous black vehicle sweeping in at high speed off the feeder road and onto the busy two lane motorway.
The driver had already cut up a small estate as it elbowed its way into the heavy stream of vehicles. It jumped quickly again into the fast moving outside lane of traffic, heading west from Chichester to Portsmouth. Dave disliked SUVs, partly because they looked like bricks but mostly because many of the men that seemed to drive them were idiots. He’d often thought that’s why people in the UK called big SUVs ‘barges’, because that’s exactly what people who drove them seem to want to do to other road users all the time, try to barge them out of the way.
It was Monday morning rush hour, and Dave kept a close eye in the rear view mirror of his low orange sports car, a Jupiter Ace. The SUV threaded its way rapidly through the heavy line of traffic, until it was sitting a short distance off his back bumper. That was another issue with these big cars, they also obscured your view of the other traffic around them. But he could see now that it was a really big, powerful sports SUV, garishly chromed over most of its front.
Dave had been driving for over twenty years, and had passed both an Advanced Motorist course and a defensive driving course. He knew that the sensible advice in this situation was just to pull in to the slower inside lane, and let the car through. But hey, it was a Monday. More importantly, it was a top of the range SUV. He’d read recently that owners of these vehicles were head of the list for dickhead driving categories, including undertaking, hogging the middle lane and jumping over red lights, not to mention smoking, speeding and chucking litter out of their car windows too. How things had changed since the eighties when their fore-runner, the people-carrier, was the epitome of cool for a young family.
Dave checked the distance of the SUV behind him, carefully, ensuring that there was no one else behind the big brick. He gently shifted his right foot over to maintain speed on the accelerator, but hovered his instep over the middle brake pedal. He counted to three, then tipped his instep onto the edge of the brake pedal. The brake pedal sensor flicked on the rear brake lights, but he knew there was still not enough pressure to activate the brakes.
Dave watched with a smirk as the SUV driver, now barely two car lengths behind, spotted his three bright brake lights come on. The driver panicked and applied his own brakes rapidly. As Dave saw the SUV drop its speed quickly, wiggling a little under the hard braking, he hit the accelerator. He watched in the mirror in satisfaction, as the five hundred horses in the Ace’s Ferrari built V6 engine shot him forward with a burst of acceleration. The black behemoth disappeared behind him. A quarter of a mile ahead, he cut his speed. A small victory, but it was the start of the week, and you had to get your thrills where you could these days.
If his friends and work colleagues had to describe Dave Boulder, amongst their words there would likely have been big, tall, intriguing, interesting, enthusiastic, loud and maybe impetuous too. It may have been no coincidental link to Dave’s personality traits but, whilst he had been married to his wife Allie for fifteen years, they’d chosen early on, mutually, not to have any kids. This meant, whilst their neighbours and friends were vying with the time, cost and workload of twenty years plus of parenting, Dave and Allie spent most of their spare time travelling. They also had time to run a couple of businesses on the side, go skiing twice a year and spend summers out on their speedboat in the local Chichester harbour. Oh, and make dashes around Europe in their twin Alfa Romeos.
In comparison Dave’s older brother had one daughter, now studying hard at Oxford, and so had only recently gained the same level of independence on his time demand. The good news was the two of them had lately grown close again, over regular weekend bike rides in the glorious South Downs national park. On a few occasions they’d also taken the train up to London for social visits and, last month, one of these late pub lunches had turned into a mammoth drinking session. They had been looking for something to do afterwards, and it was a serendipitous moment when they simultaneously Googled a band called Broken Frog. The four piece rock band appeared to be playing next door to the pub they were in, at a small seedy underground club. Watching the goth lead singer of the leather clad indie band cavort with energy across the dark stage, they rebonded almost as when they had been teenagers, spilling real ale over each other as they danced wildly to the rich chords of the band’s bass guitar.
Dave worked as a technology project manager at a local Portsmouth manufacturing company, Jupiter cars. Named after the powerful Roman god, Jupiter focused on bringing in the best of new British technologies into their vehicles. They had been one of the first British companies to adopt a completely carbon fibre tub into their small range of lightweight sports cars, building each car painstakingly, bespoke for each client, each taking two months.
With their light weight, powerful but small V6 turbo engines, low centre of gravity and sleek, colourful bodywork, they weren’t cheap. But then with Goodwood race track just down the road, and with Rolls Royce and Bentley luxury car factories close by, they seemed to have a ready market of buyers. This included a few local celebs and racing drivers now too, partly because one of the top motoring shows on British TV had smashed the Goodwood circuit lap record in a tuned up version of their top of the range car, the Jupiter Ace.
Dave pulled into the largest of a group of industrial units on the edge of Portsmouth city that was the car maker’s home. He’d previously worked with his mate Steve for many years at a big Japanese car manufacturer, and they’d been convinced that the way ahead for cars was a light carbon fibre composite chassis.
Three years ago, they’d both been working for a Japanese car manufacturer. The first time they got together was to write a joint technical paper about making a brand new type of sports car from light, incredibly strong carbon fibre composites. They’d presented it to their senior management team but, to their surprise, they’d been told that it simply wasn’t going to work, either now or in the future.
The big challenge was most of the big volume car manufacturing plants around the world were producing tens of thousands of cars a month, and targeted turning out a complete car every 90 seconds. In fact, many car manufacturers had their own steel and alloy pressing plants, as well as component supply robots and welding machines, and they were all working so fast that some plants had now got it down to one car off the line every minute.
Part of the problem was that not everything was made at the car plant. Many components were sourced from around the world, just in time for them to be assembled onto each car. Their idea would apparently require their suppliers to make huge investments in composite materials and resin handling, even to make something as simple as a car roof. The other issue was that huge amounts of volatile resins would be required to make the other more complex components relatively quickly in the car plant, like a door or front panel. The processes involved would mean substantial health and safety concerns, unless they reconfigured all of their car plants at very high cost. The bottom line was, management were saying to Dave and Steve that, for the immediate future, big volume cars were still going to be made of mostly metals and plastics.
The whole project, working together on the many benefits of carbon fibre composites, had got both of them thinking hard about what they wanted to do in their future careers. When a brand new car manufacturer had started recruiting locally in Portsmouth, they jointly jumped at the chance, and they knew the direction they thought the company should take.
They’d both already had a drive in a friend’s cute and very fast Alfa 4C, and that had a completely hand-built carbon fibre ‘tub’, which all the other components were connected to. It made the whole car incredibly light, if a bit stiff in its handling, but it went like a rocket. So in their first month at Jupiter, they persuaded the small management and investor team to buy a crash-damaged 4C at an auction. Over a month the two of them, aided by Jupiter’s other crack engineers, took the car completely apart, to see exactly how they could make a better version of it, but using British know-how.
And now, two years later, they had the successful launch of what was called the Jupiter Ace under their belts. As Steve used to say, they had jumped out of a big car company as small cogs in a big wheel to become big cogs in a small wheel, but a light, beautiful, high performance carbon fibre wheel.
Every new day meant new tasks, experiments and tests. How to make good components out of carbon fibre, how to connect them together, and how to make sure everything was strong enough to bolt the engine in. And, not least, they had to make sure it looked great and also handled well on the infamous potholed local British roads too.
All in all they now worked long hours, but the challenges and job satisfaction were second to none. Plus they also got the perk of driving round the south coast roads in a loud, fast sports car!
Dave parked his metallic orange Ace in his usual spot and strolled into the office. Siobhan greeted him on reception with a friendly wave, and he released the security door to the main design office with his electronic fob. Steve was already at his desk, scribbling notes furiously on an A3 drawing printout sitting in front of him, the Jupiter Titan four seater they were planning to launch that summer.