Lyons LM2 Streamliner: Fact or Fiction?
“If you build it, they will come.” Somewhere deep in the heart of every gearhead lies the warmth of a belief. It’s a sort of faith in humanity, a certainty that says “If I just build the best of something, people will buy it.” Sometimes that’s true – but most of the time it isn’t. Kevin Lyons of New York certainly believes it is, and he may be proven right. But between him and the answer to that question lay two more nagging questions: Would his LM2 hypercar actually be the best at anything, and can he even build it?
When Kevin Lyons booked space at the New York Auto show, he told the public he’d be showing up with “America’s Bugatti” — a 1,700 horsepower, carbon-fiber hypercar capable of running 290 mph, hitting 60 mph in 2.2 seconds, running the quarter-mile in 8.8 seconds and coming in at the quite reasonable sum of $1.3 million. What show-goers got was a foam-and-fiberglass styling buck rolled off a flatbed. Big buzz-kill.
But that in itself isn’t a deal-breaker – lots of manufacturers show up to auto shows with styling bucks. Just not nine months before they’re slated to go into production, and not while they’re taking deposits for a car that may or may not work. So is the LM2 automotive vaporware? Is it a scam, a dream, or America’s Bugatti? And are those even the important questions? Maybe we should start with the three questions you have to ask when positioning any new car for sale: Will it perform as advertised, can it be built within budget, and can it be sold? Let’s see if we can’t answer them now.
Continue reading for the whole story.
Will it Perform as Advertised?
Looking over the design specs, it seems as though the LM2 at least has what it takes to hit its top-speed target. Nelson Racing Engines has a reputation for building huge, reliable power; there’s no reason to doubt that 1,700-horse figure. The Streamliner is true to its name as well. Some quick math says the promised power would push a shape like the LM2’s to 290 mph, and probably higher. Say what you will about it, the LM2’s body is a no-compromise love letter to fluid dynamics.
How many cooling ducts do you see on the LM2? As of now, I count exactly zero.
As to the acceleration figures: maybe, but probably not with those tires. Even with all-wheel-drive, a car that accelerates that quickly transfers a lot of weight to the back. The fastest cars around now can get away with low-profile tires because they use active suspensions that control front end lift, weight transfer, power distribution and traction. That takes a lot of computing power, money and development time – none of which Lyons has hinted at with the LM2. In fact, he’s as much as said that the first car (built with the money from the first deposit) will be delivered without testing of any kind. At a guess, the LM2 might have the aerodynamics and raw power to break into the deep 9s, but that 2.2-second 0-to-60 time is just dreaming.
There’s a reason McLaren, Ferrari, Porsche and Bugatti are the only outfits out there pulling stuff like this off; they’ve got the kind of racing experience, funding and research facilities to make it happen. Drag racer Kevin Lyons should know that a brutally fast car is more than just the sum of its parts.
Speaking of parts and experience: Lyons’ lack of both in this arena shows in the car’s body. More on the styling itself shortly, but in purely practical terms: how many cooling ducts do you see on the LM2? As of now, I count exactly zero. The only visible duct on the car is the NACA-style unit on the roof, which is probably just about adequate to feed that 1,700-horse Nelson engine. The Veyron has about a dozen heat exchangers to keep its 1,000-horse drivetrain cool. It’s hard to say exactly what Lyons was thinking here. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear the LM2 was originally designed as a pure electric. That’s the only possible way a design like this could work without melting the drivetrain 10 seconds after start-up. Perhaps that was the original design concept – or perhaps Kevin Lyons is used to living life 10 seconds at a time. We may never know.
Either way, as far as the car performing as advertised: Maybe it will hit 290 mph, and maybe it won’t. But it will almost certainly explode by the time it gets there.
Can it be Built Within Budget?
Not a chance – at least, not the way Lyons proposes building it. If this were 20 years ago, and Lyons planned to build the LM2 using a chrome-moly space frame and fiberglass body, it would be very easy to build this exact car for low six figures. And Lyons himself would already have some experience in that; his greatest tour de force so far has been a Lamborghini Diablo kit car built using the steel-space-frame, fiberglass-body construction method. You can find the same configuration underlying many high-quality, reasonably priced kit cars, most notably those from Factory Five Racing.
Unfortunately, carbon-fiber monocoques have become fashion de riguer in the hypercar world. Steel spaceframes are last season’s fashion, and fiberglass? Ugh. How UN-charmingly retro. So, perhaps Lyons’ carbon ambitions can be forgiven, given his expected clientele. Nobody wants to pay for last years’ couture.
In short: Anybody can build an all-carbon body. But very few can design one that won’t snap in two.
However, there’s a reason so few manufacturers use it, why carbon bodies are hugely expensive, and why Ford is outsourcing the new GT’s carbon-fiber body production. It’s not just because the material itself is expensive – it’s because it’s expensive to work with, and requires a lot of engineering to weave into a safe, strong body shell. Carbon is very strong for its weight; but it also tends to shatter like glass when overstressed. That makes it a very unforgiving material. Just the engineering time required to design a safe carbon body would easily over-run Lyon’s million-dollar budget.
In short: Anybody can build an all-carbon body. But very few can design one that won’t snap in two.
Then there’s the cost of actually producing the body. Part of what makes carbon bodies so expensive is the fact that carbon requires an autoclave to cure. Autoclaves are expensive to manufacture, and autoclaves large enough to fit an entire car body can easily run into the billions of dollars. There are ways to make carbon fiber without an autoclave, but these processes aren’t much cheaper.
Lyons plans to build an autoclave and cook his own carbon panels in-house – a process that not even Ford will invest in. Then there are more practical concerns, like getting the zoning permits to build what is essentially a massive, pressurized steel chamber that won’t get red-flagged by every federal inspector on the East Coast. Would you want your next-door neighbor home-building a car-sized autoclave that contains enough energy to vaporize a quarter-acre of private property? No? Odds are the New York zoning commission will feel about the same.
The list of potential problems could go on, and on, and on, and on forever. In a way, it’s too bad that modern hypercar buyers insist on the latest carbon fashions from Turin. There’s nothing really wrong with the more traditional “space frame and fiberglass” method. It’s been used for the better part of a century now, and Lyons really could build a Veyron-killer for half the money using that methodology. Just ask John Hennessey – he did exactly that with the original Venom GT, which used a steel space frame and fiberglass bodywork.
However, as it stands for Lyons: Even if he could get an all-carbon chassis built, stay under budget, get it sold and hit every one of his performance marks, it would take some kind of suicidal idiot to trust that chassis with his life at 290 mph.
Will Anyone Buy it?
For the moment, just ignore the legal complications and implications here – let’s just assume Lyons has them all worked out, and his cars are registered, inspected and legal for road use and sale in all 50 states. Assume that anyone with the money can buy it. Will they? Let’s cross-shop some of the options available for $1.3 million.
That kind of money won’t quite get you into a base Veyron, let alone the $2.4 million Veyron SS. But it will get you a 233 mph ST1 from Danish manufacturer Zenvo. It’ll get you a LaFerrari, McLaren P1 or a Pagani Huayra; and you can even pick up the aforementioned Hennessey Venom GT Spyder (currently the world’s fastest convertible) with change left over to buy an Aston Martin Vantage.
OR…you could put that same money down on a car that may never get built, might snap in half at 290 mph, and will probably melt before it gets there.
You have to admire the sheer gall it takes to bring back front fender extensions, which died out as a styling cue a few generations of Lincoln Continental back.
Here’s where we get to the elephant in the room.
The big, ugly elephant.
It’s one thing to build a car with polarizing looks. The Zenvo and Pagani are both love-it-or-hate-it kind of cars. That’s fine. And admittedly, the LM2 does look pretty good in the front three-quarter view. From that perspective, its lines do make a kind of stylistic sense. And you have to admire the sheer gall it takes to bring back front fender extensions, which died out as a styling cue a few generations of Lincoln Continental back. If you were a somewhat talented automotive artist growing up in the mid-1990s, odds are good your notebooks were filled with images like this. And as a static image from the front-three-quarter view, the LM2 really is a study in line and flow.
From every other view…
Yes, of course, we all made our jokes about the original Viper and the BMW Z3 resembling... well, you know. But come on – If you took the LM2 Streamliner through a car wash, the wax guy wouldn’t ask whether you wanted synthetic or Carnauba; he’d ask whether you preferred silicone- or water-based.
In Lyon’s defense, it’s clear he has a yen for Lamborghinis, and the LM2’s side profile does bear a certain resemblance to Diablo’s – if the Diablo had grown up eating three-eyed fish from the Springfield Nuclear Reactor Pond. Oddly enough, the biggest problem here isn’t the overall body shape, as much as it is the comically undersized wheels. They could easily stand to be three inches taller than they are, maybe five inches in the back. It’s as though the LM2 were designed by Kia in 1998.
So, will anyone actually buy it? Let’s see: LaFerrari, McLaren P1, Pagani Huayra, Zenvo…
Would you buy it?
Will Lyons Motors Make It?
A better question would be “How serious is Kevin Lyons about making it?” It doesn’t take more than a glance at his under-finished website, to see a pattern developing here. Kevin comes off like a guy whose dreams exceed his talent, and whose ambitions exceed his attention to detail. There’s nothing wrong with that exactly, but it’s not the stuff successful car companies are made of.
The odds of any startup business succeeding are tiny, and the odds of a small car manufacturer making it are almost infinitesimal. Those that have (like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Koenigsegg, even Hennessey and Zenvo) have done so by being better than any other competitor in the price segment. They’ve succeeded on the strength of solid engineering, innovation, a commitment to quality, attention to detail and just plain being more than they had to be. For a small car manufacturer, it’s not good enough to be as good as your competitors in most ways, or better than them in any one way. That’s barely the entry fee in this business.
A lot of startup manufacturers have started with more resources, better engineering and a more realistic business plan – and most of them have still gone the way of the dodo.
A lot of startup manufacturers have started with more resources, better engineering and a more realistic business plan – and most of them have still gone the way of the dodo. Look at DeLorean, Brickin, Argo Electric, Du Pont, Fuller, Kurtis – better yet, just look at Wikipedia’s list of defunct American car manufacturers. It numbers in the hundreds.
That alone should provide pretty stark evidence of exactly how hard it is to make it as a small automobile manufacturer. Outfits like Hennessey, Koenigsegg and even Teslaare the exceptions to the rule. And sad to say, it looks like Lyon Motors is about to join Wikipedia’s long list of non-exceptions. Assuming it ever builds its first car.
My sincere advice, Kevin: If you really want to follow this dream, just stick with what you know. Buy a few GTM supercar kit chassis from Factory Five, use whatever body and interior you like, and sell those as custom builds. At this point, the best-case scenario will be going broke before getting yourself or someone else killed, getting yourself sued, or both.
And to anyone planning on putting $1.3 million down on Kevin’s carbon-fiber fantasy: It might be wise to consider what became of the man who first said “Live the Dream.” (John DeLorean.)