Customer Spotlight: Matt Glagola and His SSM 2008 Lotus Elise
Altlanta’s Matt Glagola is a long time car enthusiast and active SCCA Solo/Autocross competitor, racing at various levels since 2002. He’s got two Solo national championships to his name, and trophied countless times. A few years ago, he moved to a new car; a 2008 Lotus Elise, which competes in the uber-competitive Super Street Modified class. So far with the car, he’s won one national championship, and had two second place finishes.
As part of Matt’s Lotus Elise SSM build, he fabricated a set of beautiful fender flares using Fibre Glast’s range of products, resulting in a OEM look, fit and finish. We got a chance to catch up with Matt to learn more about the process he used.
Fibre Glast: Can you tell us a little bit a about yourself and your familiarity with composites?
Matt Glagola: I’m 41 years old and a commercial architect. I’ve been auto-xing since late 2002 and have been pretty much addicted since my first novice event. Before starting the flare project for the SSM Lotus Elise, I had zero composites experience. There were no off the shelf flares available for my car and certainly not at the sizes I needed. So I did some research and thought, well, I bet I could do that. Further research on the internet took me to Fibre Glast’s site. I was drawn to it because it’s so orderly and clear to navigate. I appreciated the learning center and it seemed like they would be helpful along the way. Sort of a newb’s ally. I watched videos and purchased the Composite Handbooks. The materials calculator was also invaluable.
So you were off to the races (who doesn’t love a terrible pun). How did the project start off? Tell us a bit about your first steps.
Ha, nice one. So I started off by getting a few sheets of the rigid foam to carve the flares from… a real sculptural approach. After they arrive, I put a layer of painters tape on the body and then a layer of packing tape over that so that things wouldn’t stick to it. I carved out the back of the foam sheets that I had glued together with spray adhesive and then glued them to the body. Then I started carving the foam with a serrated bread knife. It was super fun watching the shape take form. In hind sight, the better approach which I employed on the rear flares, was to form a box around the area of the flare with cardboard and hot glue/tape so that I could pour expanding foam over the area needed. This made a more secure and better fitted mold over the body and was a much more flexible approach vs having large sheets of rigid foam.
After sculpting one side into an acceptable shape, I had to try to match it on the opposite side. That was a challenge. I ended up making a jig that mounted to the wheel that had interchangeable templates that were done at 15* intervals off the center of the wheel. It’s important to make a template of some sort so that both sides look similar. Think that through before starting.
So at the finish of the first steps I had two foam shapes that were stuck to the sides of the car. I was at a cross roads at this point. I still didn’t know if I wanted to do a mold or just make the parts moldless-ly.
So what was next? Were you considering different fabrics at this point, or had you already made up your mind?
So at that point, since I was new to composites, I turned to polyester and fiberglass in lieu of pricier epoxy and carbon since I didn’t have a need for a light weight and strength and didn’t have a vacuum set up… and really, there was a chance that I’d make a costly mistake since I was so inexperienced. I used the materials calculator on the Fibre Glast site to figure out how many layers I’d need to get my parts to the right thickness. I wanted to at least match the stock Elise body parts that seemed to be a little over 1/8″. So with the layup planned, the calculator also gave me an estimate on resin. It’s great to not need more resin when you are mid layup.
They are actually more stout than the original body material. The only damage is chipped paint from rocks that get picked up and thrown off by the Hoosiers.
Anyway, since I’d never done any layup at all, I figured I’d build a small mock up. I shaved some left over foam into a curved piece the represented the challenges my flare shapes would give. I’d chosen to use drywall mud to skim the tops of the foam molds to smooth them out for a clean layup so I did that on my mock up too. Good thing I had a mock up because I found out that the resin didn’t like going straight to drywall mud. I don’t know what happened but I wouldn’t cure right. I also learned that the fabric would easily mold to the complex shapes and that the resin does not stick to packing tape.
Using what I learned on the mock up, I covered the drywall mud with packing tape and started laying up the 11 layers of fiberglass cloth. I laid them in quick succession and it was pretty easy to work in the resin and get most air bubbles out with a paint brush and small roller. 24 hours later, I was able to pull the layups and foam parts straight off the car and start chipping the foam and tape out of the backside of the parts. I took a dremel and cut off the fuzzy bits and cleaned up the flares. Then I sanded the flares to open up pinholes and smooth out bumps. Next I added some automotive body filler and pinhole filler and sanded everything down to get them ready for paint.
So with the fronts done, I took what I learned and started the rears. I used cardboard and liquid foam (24/25A 2 Lb. Polyurethane Mix and Pour Foam) to quickly pour up the material to sculpt the rear flares from. Here’s a tip on that: pour the foam before it gets too thick because if it’s thicker, it can overlap on itself like bread dough and cause air bubbles to form. I got a tip from a body guy to use aluminum foil over the shape to help separate the mold from the foam so I gave it a go instead of using packing tape. That turned out to be a great tip. So for the rears, I sculpted the foam, covered it in drywall mud, did a mild spray paint of primer on the drywall mud, covered it with aluminum foil (with a light misting of spray adhesive), and then waxed the aluminum foil before laying down the first layers of glass. I was able to finish the rears in about 1/3 the time the fronts took. After they cured I did the same sanding and filling process that I did with the fronts.
Obviously they turned out looking near-OEM. How have they held up against cone-strikes and other wear since completing them?
Thanks! I’m pretty happy with them. They have been rock solid. They are actually more stout than the original body material. I think the curved shape gives them a lot of strength. The only damage is chipped paint from rocks that get picked up and thrown off by the Hoosiers.
Well thanks for sharing your story. You’re evidence that with some self education and patience, an amazing result can be achieved. What are your plans moving forward? Any more composite work planned?
I’ve got some exciting plans coming up in just a few weeks for a redo of the front flares. The plan is to incorporate them into the front bodywork with enlarged vent openings for new side mounted radiators like the Lotus 311. I’m going to experiment with using stretched fleece over a wooden fender edge formed kind of like a speaker box or the BMW Gina. I’m hoping that a two dimensional wooden form mounted in the same location on both sides will produce mirror image parts more easily than hand carved/sanded foam. I’m pretty excited and if things go well, I’ll redo the rear flares so that they share the same look. Wish me luck and thanks, Fibre Glast!
We do wish Matt luck! Thanks for taking the time to tell us your story.
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