Catfish is a custom handmade lightweight race car developed by Cord Bauer. I wanted to know how he's built his amazing car and couldn't resist asking what he has done with the results of the Lightweight Portable Trailer Challenge.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m the son of a mechanical engineer who was lucky enough to always grow up with a shop in our house and a dad who let me use the tools—but only after I had learned how to use them properly. Watching my dad work on his cars--usually Porsche Speedsters which were inexpensive at the time--gave me the auto bug.
Prior to building the Catfish I’ve developed motorcycle products for an import/export company. This job was a trial by fire for manufacturing, as I toured companies and received a fast education in CNC, injection molds, matched tool dies, stampings, extrusions, forgings and even techniques as diverse as vapor deposition and carbon fiber layup schedules. Fun stuff.
I then moved to Lockhart Phillips as R&D manager, and found myself developing many more parts for the motorcycle industry. The next move was to my own company, where one of my first products was the ReadyRamp, which is a bed extender for trucks that opens to become a motorcycle ramp. That part also earned me my first patent (eleven and counting). Most recently I co-founded ReadyLift Suspension Inc., a truck suspension company that has become one of the top companies for leveling and lift kits in the country.
How did you come up with Catfish?
After selling ReadyLift Suspension, I always had a dream to build my own car. It wasn’t necessarily to start another business, but to build something of my own—and not just a restoration project. Like my dad, I was still drawn to the Porsche ethos of light weight, which is why the Catfish weighs only 1,550lbs in street form. Since I can’t draw a circle even if you gave me a compass, I used designers such as Zukun Plan to flesh out my design goals and transform a pencil sketch into a track car. The GrabCAD community is well aware of the tools available to make that happen. The whole reason why the car is called a Catfish is that the original pencil sketch was done while the designer was looking at an actual Catfish for inspiration. One look at the car and I had trouble naming it anything else.
Who is the target customer?
Very simply, the target market is me. This is a niche car for the purist or track-minded individual, since it has no doors and no top. Just like a motorcycle, the Catfish is designed to immerse you in the driving experience, not buffer you from it. The sights and sounds and feelings are all right there when you drive the car, and it can become hypnotic on the track when you test the limits of the car and find that they’re far, far greater than you expected. The light weight means less inertia, making the car stop, go, and turn faster than any regular sports car.
The Mazda Miata is used as a donor for the car because a) it’s the most raced car in the world, so there is a very large aftermarket and knowledge base around it, b) it’s one of the lightest vehicle packages available with a front engine and rear wheel drive, and c) they are incredibly inexpensive given their performance potential. A good Miata can be had for under $5,000, and a good Miata with a little fender bender damage is often written off by the insurance companies as a “salvage”. This means that mechanically perfect cars are available as donors at fire sale prices.
What did the development process look like?
I encountered most of my challenges while tackling other car projects. The Catfish is based on tried and true tube frame construction. Some may consider this an “old fashioned” construction method, but it’s exceptionally rigid and can be worked on by any garage mechanic. It’s also much more easily fixed after a shunt than a carbon or aluminum monocoque frame. From a GrabCAD perspective, the design sequence went like this:
- By choosing the Miata as the donor car, we determined the general wheelbase, track, engine and cockpit locations. Mazda is very proud of the Miata 50/50 weight balance.
- Start pencil sketches of the proposed car, or more likely Sketch-UP on a tablet. Base the designs on carefully laid-out parameters and goals
- Morph the sketch to a 3D drawing based around a good program such as Rhino. We actually tried Maya first and then swapped over to Rhino
- With the design complete and the parameters in line, port the Rhino drawing over to SolidWorks and start adding “parting lines” to the body
- Use a large scale gantry router to cut the body molds, while simultaneously working on the frame that will hold the body.
- CONSTANTLY make sure that drawings, dimensions, changes and challenges are being shared between the designer, frame builder and body designer. GrabCAD Workbench just wasn’t available at this time.
- Massage all the parts so that what is on the computer screen represents what you want to see on four wheels.
I must say that CAD design can do so much to build a part or even a complete car, but there’s a hands-on component to walking around a car-or any design-and seeing it in full scale. That’s really required to get the true feeling of a design, and to make any final changes. Terry Birchler and Shawn Whetstone of Zukun plan really brought this design to life; it truly looks better in person than it does in a rendering.
What were the biggest problems for you during the development?
Not having Workbench. Seriously, this project went from concept to running show car in less than one year, and from show car to production vehicle a little over a year later. For such a small group of people working on this project, I’d say it was pretty successful out of the gate.
Tell us a bit about your working methods and the team.
The biggest hurdle was convincing Zukun Plan that I wasn’t a crackpot. Fortunately Terry relented and Shawn (a REAL talent) was able to make the design come to life. From there I have a good team of people who I’ve been working with for past projects, and who I relied on to build the car. Dave Green from DG Motorsports has extensive experience with all types of composites and good build practices for a race car, so he was tasked with the body. Ron Hemphill is in charge of the frame. He’s a long-time frame designer whose cars have won the Paris-Dakar rally raid and every off-road race in North America. He’s the type of person who can “out-FEA” a computer, simply by looking at the tube layout and then apply his knowledge of real-world forces that will be applied to it. My main jobs were communication and coordination.
What are you working on at the moment?
I suppose you can be the first to publicly know that we’re now building two new Catfish models. The first is a “Naked Catfish”, which has minimal bodywork similar to an exo-skeleton car. The concept is to have the lightest, simplest car available for track days AND to be able to order a Catfish body kit if in the future you want to turn your track toy into a complete Catfish. In addition, the target entry price is $7,995. That’s the big news.
The second car is the CFR, or race version of the Catfish. This has more downforce, more air management, a brand new data acquisition system we’re developing and testing now, and eventually an active wing whose movement can be tailored to the track and driver. This car—the CFR—is the actual design that meets the original goals for the design, and is the ultimate expression of the car. I will be very excited to show this car when it’s complete.
What have you done with the results of the Lightweight Portable Trailer Challenge?
I was actually talking about that today. The trailer we build from the challenge will morph from a couple of my favorite designs, and hopefully will use some new materials (honeycomb structural sheets, etc.) as well. There are too many good ideas from that challenge to not build a trailer! However, that project won’t start until we’re done with our two new Catfish.
What is the future of automotive technology? What is the next revolution?
Fortunately for you, you can see the future unfold on the pages of GrabCAD. Hybrid materials, diesel-electric powerplants, semi-autonomous control…it’s all coming. Top secret – did you know that your newer BMW, Honda and Mercedes probably already have a dormant feature capable of handling up to seven cameras? The car companies are already planning for the future, and they’re not letting their secrets out.Thank you Cord for this great interview and have a smooth ride with developing Catfish!
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