The New Kid at the NY Auto Show is the NJIT Baja Race Car
Appearing alongside the sleek new Lincolns, Porsches, Lamborghinis and supercharged Dodge Demon at the upcoming New York International Auto Show, billed as a showcase for the latest in “cutting-edge design and extraordinary innovation,” will be an enterprising up-and-comer that is itself a marvel of engineering acumen: the NJIT Baja race car.
Assembled in a garage-like lab in the basement of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering building, the single-seat, off-road vehicle can truthfully claim to be “handcrafted” by a team of ambitious and sleep-deprived mechanical engineering students who spent months researching, planning, engineering and assembling it from donated and custom-designed components.
“It seemed like a pipe dream to get into the show. These are the biggest and best automakers in the world and a lot of us aspire to work for them,” notes David Jackiewicz ’17, the team’s project manager. “While they’re focused on luxury and comfort, we’re the opposite – rugged and outdoorsy. But we share similar values, including incredible pride in our work.”
“The first thing we’ll tell visitors to our booth is that we actually built this, starting with straight pieces of tube that we then engineered and welded into racing form,” adds Matthew Emmerson ’17, the team’s “build captain” who applied online – in what he called a shot in the dark – to show in the “exotic” car section. The show’s coordinators not only replied yes, but offered to sponsor the team.
Indeed, the car’s appearance at the show caps a dizzying rise following the rebirth of NJIT’s Baja car club in 2015 after a lengthy hiatus. That year’s car, built in record time from salvaged auto parts, weighed in at 730 pounds and finished 75th out of 100 entries in a series of events, including a four-hour endurance race on an arduous, off-road course of hills, gullies and the occasional track-blocking boulder. Breakdowns were not uncommon.
The 2016 model, trimmed by more than 200 pounds and fine-tuned after several grueling contests and months of research and analysis, finished 48th out of 100 – a 27-place improvement in just one year.
“The challenge is to see how much innovation you can bring to the design, working within strict competition rules. Every car has the same 10-horsepower Briggs and Stratton engine, for example,” Emmerson says. “We’ve learned a lot over the past couple of years about how to be lighter, faster and stronger. We also take ergonomics into account to make it comfortable for the driver.”
Later this month, NJIT’s newest car, weighing in at 350-360 pounds after a committed engineering “diet,” will be put to the test at competitions around the country, beginning in California and continuing on to Kansas and Illinois.
“Last year, the judges and competing teams were impressed by our progress,” notes Robert Burghart, a sophomore on the team who heads the electronics sub-team. “It is our goal to impress once again.”
The car and its creators will be set up in booth 118 on Level 4 of the Jacob Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s West Side from Saturday, April 15 through Sunday, April 23. The Highlander community is welcome to come cheer them on.