Hybrid Britannia!

Leave it to the British to create a hand-built sport coupe with a 2.0-liter V10 hybrid powertrain.

Britain is full of niche automakers, from Lotus to Morgan to Noble and beyond, with more in the wings ready to create their interpretation of what the discriminating buyer might want. And then there is Connaught (Daventry, U.K.; www.connaughtmotorco.com), a specialist maker with what can only be called a unique take on the niche market–and hybrids.

Managing director Tim Bishop and program management director Tony Martindale founded the Connaught Motor Car Co. in 2002 after years of either working or consulting for major OEMs. Convinced that computer-aided tools would allow them to significantly cut design, engineering, test, and development times, they set out to produce a high-end sports coupe with class-leading interior space, and best-in-class performance and fuel economy. “Once those targets were set based on our market research,” says Martindale, “I turned to Tim and said: ‘Right. Now how the hell do we do this?’ I wasn’t kidding.” What resulted was a set of vehicle attributes, targets, and technologies that fit the demographic. One of those was hybrid drive. “We never set out to be a hybrid car company in any way, shape, or form,” says Martindale, “but it fell into what we were trying to achieve in terms of performance and economy.” 

And while it may have been a surprise that this answer would rise to the top, you get the feeling that nothing “just happens” at Connaught. If that was the case, this would be just another British-built front-engine, rear-drive two-seat sports car with a Ford V8 up front and sumptuous leather interior. It’s not, though it does have that leather interior. The engine for the Type-D H is a very unique 2.0-liter V10 with a bank angle of just 22.5? that is mated to a five-speed manual transmission. The hybrid powertrain produces 162 hp @ 6,000 rpm, and 144 lb-ft from 1,000 to 6,000 rpm. A supercharged version without the hybrid–known as the Type-D GT–produces 300 hp @ 7,000 rpm and 274 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm. “You lose a little efficiency with a V10 compared to an inline four,” says Martindale, “but we’ve shown that you can run it a bit longer on the electric drive because you don’t get the large compression pulses you get with fewer cylinders.”

When asked whether the V10 is the most expensive part of the car, Martindale replies: “Not the way we do it.” The Connaught engine uses current two-stroke technology for its built-up crankshaft that utilizes 11 cast webs. “They’re all cast from the same blank and machined the same way,” he says, “with each placed on the crank in its proper rotation and held in place with pins. That way, you only have one set of tooling for the crank.” And while the block, heads, and other pieces are unique, the mug-size pistons are drawn from an Italian motorsport design. “We design our piston around that proven piston blank, but use a slightly different crown,” says Martindale. The same is true of the connecting rods. They are also off-the-shelf items adapted for use in the Connaught V10. “I don’t want to go through a full con rod development program if I don’t have to,” he says, “but–because we are starting from scratch–I can use what’s already on the shelf in new and unique ways.” The same is true of the 48-volt hybrid system.

“We have a front-end accessory drive unit with a very powerful motor driving through a Hoffco Comet CVT to the petrol engine,” says Martindale. It drives through the crank via a belt; though Connaught also has a torroidal drive system on the shelf should it ever be needed. The hybrid system supports a stop-start regimen, regenerative braking, and also is used for torque smoothing when shifting gears. “If you put your foot to the floor,” claims Martindale, “you get full petrol and full electric, with the electric motor providing the initial thrust. The CVT changes its ratio as the petrol engine rises to its peak, and gives a really good drive off the line.” Martindale says the Type-D H goes from 0 to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds, and tops out at 143 mph, just two seconds and 17 mph less than the much more powerful supercharged Type-D GT.

Unlike most every other hybrid on the face of the earth, the Connaught dispenses with batteries and uses super-capacitors to hold its electrical charge. “Even on the gear shifts we get 250 amps back into the capacitors when we use the system to do gear speed matching, and because each is individually controlled by software,” he says, “you can turn them on and off and hold a charge.” Connaught has been testing these units for nearly three years, and describes the “thin Coke can-like devices” as having higher performance and a lower weight and price with each iteration. They are packaged under the hood, and do not require the vehicle’s main electrical architecture to extend beyond today’s standard 12-volt system. Convinced of its adaptability and durability, Connaught is establishing a subsidiary in Michigan to develop retrofit hybrid systems for commercial fleets.

Eventually the North American arm also will build the Type-D in North America in a variant of the low-cost production system that is now starting up in Coventry near Jaguar’s technical center. Though the chassis for the first 100 cars will be made from stainless steel, all Connaughts will start with a laser-cut flat steel sheet that is folded, welded, jigged, and then joined to the upper roll cage structure. “To that,” says Martindale, “we use 3M adhesives supplemented by a few mechanical fasteners to bond a one-piece 66-lb. composite panel–a combination of Kevlar, polypropylene, and fiberglass matt–that goes from bumper to bumper.” The chassis weighs about 330 lb., has a torsional stiffness of more than 10,000 Nm/degree, and is clad with aluminum body panels. Complete vehicle weight–Martindale says it has a full complement of airbags and will be Five-Star Euro NCAP rated–is a light 2,095 lb. He expects sales of approximately 2,000 cars starting in Europe in 2008, and a further 8,000 in North America once sales hit full stride around 2010. European production starts in June 2007.