The Czinger 21C Is So Much More Than an American-Made Hypercar
The Czinger 21C leaves no question that it is a hypercar. Aside from four-figure horsepower and lap-record-shattering performance, this vehicle’s sheer presence reflexively slackened our jaws. Factors like its carbon-fiber-intensive construction, bespoke hybrid powertrain, extreme downforce, and fighter-jet-like seating mean that the 21C checks all the boxes—and then some—in its application to the hypercar club.
Yet in Czinger’s grand vision, these accolades are essentially trivialities. As Kevin and Lukas Czinger—the eponymous father and son team behind the 21C—walked us through their facility in Los Angeles’ South Bay, it became clear that what they’re working on has implications far beyond one ultra-high-performance car. Rather, their goal is nothing short of revolutionizing how vehicles across the spectrum are designed and manufactured.
Up Close With the 21C
Although Czinger is a relative newcomer in the hypercar space, the 21C is not its first effort. In 2015, it showed the Blade, branded under Divergent, which is now the larger company that operates Czinger as its car-making subsidiary. As our headlines for the Blade proclaimed, 3-D printing remains the core technology that underpins the 21C and the company’s future.
Think of the Blade as a starting point from which vast development began to create the 21C. Visual similarities remain, with the tandem seating arrangement—centrally mounted, passenger behind the driver—perhaps the most striking feature. Kevin showed us inspiration boards depicting the SR-71 stealth jet as a source for the canopy-like cabin, and the jutting shoulders of a cheetah for the wheel arches. Prominent air vents are situated fore and aft of the massive butterfly doors. An integrated wing hovers in the bodywork above the central exhaust outlet. We got our first glimpse of the 21C in early 2020, but significant changes have occurred since then: Its width increased, and its aero package was redesigned.
True Hypercar Specifications
Like the Blade, the 21C uses a mid-engine layout, but that’s about the end of their powertrain similarities. The Blade’s 700-hp tuned Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution turbo-four was simply insufficient for the 21C project—as was everything else on the market. So Czinger decided to develop a powertrain in-house, the specifications of which seem better suited to a video game cheat-code car than one intended for real-world roads.
Primary propulsion comes from a twin-turbo 2.9-liter flat-plane crankshaft V-8, which produces 950 hp at 10,500 rpm. Kevin explained how it can run on various octanes of gasoline, or fuels such as E85 or carbon recycled methanol. That engine is coupled to a hydraulically actuated seven-speed sequential transaxle, also designed in-house. According to 21C chief engineer Ewan Baldry, it has the ability to skip gears like a dual-clutch transmission, yet weighs some 60 pounds less.
Czinger didn’t stop there. Supplementing the engine is an 800-volt electrical system, charged by a kinetic motor-generator unit similar to what’s been used in recent Formula 1 cars, or the Le Mans prototypes that Baldry had familiarity with during his tenure as technical director at Ginetta. That system can add 100 hp to the engine’s drive on the rear wheels, while powering a 120-kW electric motor driving each front wheel. With this electric all-wheel-drive setup, total system output is about 1,350 hp. And its 2.8-kWh lithium-titanate battery enables the 21C to travel short distances at modest acceleration on electricity alone.
Czinger’s Shocking Lap Record
With these stunning numbers comes stunning performance. Although we have yet to validate Czinger’s 1.9-second 0-60-mph estimate, the 21C’s recent destruction of the Laguna Seca production-car lap record grants credence to its capabilities. Clocking a time of 1:25:44, the 21C beat the previous record by more than 2 seconds—that being the McLaren Senna’s 1:27.62 lap, which our driver Randy Pobst set during 2019 Best Driver’s Car proceedings.
The record was set by the track-spec 21C, which includes aerodynamic additions such as the prominent front canards and massive manually adjustable rear wing that produce over one ton of downforce above 200 mph. Top speed is stated to be above 280 mph. Light-weighting on the track 21C is enhanced by wheels with carbon-fiber barrels and a few plies of padded carbon fiber that suffice as seats. Curb weight is claimed to be about 2,900 pounds.
Nevertheless, superlative performance isn’t exactly what the 21C is all about. Rapt as we were by it, Kevin and Lukas were keen to draw our attention toward the methods used to create it. Indeed, as they explained Divergent’s production process, the magnitude of their innovation became clear. It’s one that seems to have the potential of changing everything we know about designing and building cars.
The State of Manufacturing
For all of today’s headline-grabbing advancements in automotive technology, how cars are made hasn’t changed much. In general, they’re still produced using decades-old methods: on massive assembly lines inside buildings taking up huge acreage, using gigantic machines and expensive tooling, with armies of workers operating alongside countless robots. They cut, stamp, shape, mold, weld, fasten, adhere, and otherwise form thousands of individual parts into a working car.
Kevin and Lukas Czinger look at this and see an archaic, broken system. As Kevin learned firsthand in his previous automotive venture, the short-lived Coda, barriers to entering automotive manufacturing are nearly insurmountable. Even entrepreneurs who have a vision, a compelling product, and all-important capital may be crippled by the massive physical infrastructure needed.
This is what the Czinger men seek to change through Divergent: to democratize, decentralize, and dematerialize vehicle production, making it more viable for established brands and newcomers alike.
DAPS in Depth
3-D metal printing has always been at the core of Divergent’s approach. In its earliest form demonstrated by the Blade, printed metal joining points called “nodes” were connected via carbon-fiber tubing to create a spaceframe. This approach was more flexible than conventional unibody methods—instead of redesigning tooling, adapting a node or adjusting tubing specifications would suit different vehicle sizes, categories, or purposes.
Still, that didn’t alter the state of spaceframe manufacturing. A builder could do the same using metal tubing without the complexity of 3-D printing. What’s more, the Blade’s node-based spaceframe looked a bit like the product of a fancy construction toy.
That all changes with the 21C, which serves as a rolling showcase for DAPS: the Divergent Adaptive Production System. This technology platform encompasses at least 450 patents that support the “A” in that acronym. Centered on an artificial-intelligence-driven design platform, the software interprets parameters for a particular part into a printable form. Those parameters are adaptable to the purpose of the part; for example, lightweight and stiff or less expensive and quickly made. Various grades and types of metals can be used accordingly.
Regardless of demands, the forms realized by DAPS’ AI software transcend human creativity. The parts take on distinctly organic shapes with flowing curves, interconnected buttresses, and hidden internal structures. They appear totally dissimilar to the hard edges and simple surfaces produced by casting, stamping, or machining—DAPS knows the nearly limitless possibilities enabled by 3-D printing, and it thinks accordingly. According to Kevin, the goal is not to create parts that look biological—those forms are simply a result of the software knowing how to do the most with the least amount of material.
Examples are visible throughout the 21C, from the cradle ahead of the steering wheel, to the steering wheel itself, to the engine air intake, to the honeycomb heat shields surrounding the exhaust. The subframes of the car also show this methodology and, as Kevin demonstrated, are light enough for one person to lift. Although iterative computer modeling reduces revisions, if that need arises after real-world testing, it’s just a matter of working with the software and printing the part again rather than devising new tooling. Kevin equates this to the shift from typing to computer word processing.
DAPS’ adaptability extends into how various 3-D-printed parts are combined into finished chassis. Its AI will only create parts that fit within this process. Although Divergent could only provide us a preview, the method eliminates tooling, fixtures, and welding, and it’s nearly entirely automated. Thus, unlike an assembly line, it can seamlessly switch from one product to another—a hypercar at one moment, anything else the next. Also unlike an assembly line, it all takes place in an area about the size of a basketball court. Its tolerances are measured in microns, and throughput in the many thousands—as Lukas put it, “aerospace accuracy, automotive rates.”
Now armed with its Laguna Seca lap record, Czinger will set out to secure 21C sales. Starting at $2,000,000 and limited to 80 examples, customer deliveries are targeted for 2023. In addition to the track variant we ogled during our visit, we were shown sketches of what customers who order the street version will receive—it looks even more dramatic than the prototypes seen so far. Czinger’s long-term ambitions include a more diverse lineup of vehicles.
Simultaneously, Divergent and its DAPS production method have captured the attention of established automakers. Although Kevin and Lukas were tight-lipped, they indicated that major brands have contracted them to produce parts. They mentioned one coming to them with a component, asking for a 5 percent reduction in mass. After running the parameters through DAPS, Divergent’s equivalent resulted in a 20 percent reduction—and the contract was won.
As they chase lap records and deepen their industry involvements, Czinger and Divergent seem positioned to disrupt. With advancements like they’re pioneering, 3-D-printed parts may reach the mainstream as assembly lines of old are torn down.
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