In the end, it wasn’t intricate regulations, complex production challenges, or the Environmental Protection Agency that threatened the project. It was airbags. Jesse Glickenhaus commissioned a feasibility study to see if his dad’s formidable racing team, Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus (SCG), could produce road cars in low volumes. Airbag manufacturers wouldn’t even quote a price, uninterested in small-scale manufacturing and overburdened by a Takata recall that still constrains supply.
It’s one of many challenges to getting a low-volume supercar off the ground. Sourcing airbags and stability control systems for a minnow like SCG means relentlessly pursuing massive suppliers that are far more interested in inking hundred-million-dollar deals. Whether it’s SCG struggling to procure safety equipment or McLaren working to make its low-nose cars pass Europe’s stringent pedestrian safety regulations, building a “safe” supercar isn’t as simple as it sounds.
This story originally appeared in Volume 4 of Road & Track.
“We meet the safety standards for FIA’s hypercar class. That requires a 90-mph front and rear physical crash, which we’ve already passed. So we know how to meet safety standards,” Jesse Glickenhaus, managing director of SCG, said. A race-car driver survived a 12-g crash in an SCG, so crash testing at public-road speeds shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.
Still, “self certification” usually requires extensive third-party crash testing at the automaker’s expense. SCG expects to spend just under a million dollars. McLaren, meanwhile, spends up to £3 million on a battery of tests for every new model, from low-speed bumps that train airbag sensors to full-speed frontal impacts. Those prices don’t include the cost of the cars themselves, either, which adds up quickly when you’re smashing $250,000 hunks of carbon fiber into non-deformable barriers. McLaren saves some money here by doing multiple tests with one car, rebuilding it between tests, and trusting that its ultra-rigid carbon-fiber tub can withstand up to a dozen crashes. SCG, with its 004 and Boot, is going a step further. It plans to use one car for multiple crash tests, without any rebuilding, betting that its vehicles are strong enough to sustain multiple crashes while still protecting occupants.
And they’ll do so without airbags. After hours poring over the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, Glickenhaus found SCG’s path forward. Crash regulations require airbags in forward outboard seats, meaning the center-seat 004 hypercar can legally go to market without them. Vehicles designed for occasional off-road use with unladen weights exceeding 5600 pounds can also get by without, clearing the way for the airbag-free Boot. NHTSA has confirmed that SCG’s interpretations are valid and that, assuming all other standards are met, these two specific vehicles can get by without ’bags. This is no blanket admission of a loophole, but rather a recognition by NHTSA that, in a world where airbag supply is constantly outpaced by demand, SCG has done everything in its power to ensure its cars still meet safety requirements.
“We were told, ‘You need airbags to sell a car, to sell one car.’ Then the airbag manufacturers said, ‘You need to be selling thousands of cars for us to make you an airbag.’ We can’t sell a car without an airbag, and you can’t buy an airbag until you’re selling thousands of cars,” Glickenhaus said. “That is a Catch-22, that is a Kafkaesque situation. I would welcome some safety exemptions for ultra-low-volume manufacturers.”