In the world of polymers, Matti Holtzberg is a legend – and Littlestar Plastics is honored to be a part of his latest push to bring the automotive industry into the 21st century.
Holtzberg of West Palm Beach, Florida, has been trying to convince carmakers for nearly 50 years that advanced polymers can function just as well as many metal components in a car engine at a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the weight.
His latest effort, the Polimotor 2, is a turbocharged, all-plastic, four-cylinder, double-overhead engine that will weigh as little as 138 pounds – or 90 pounds less than today’s standard production engine. Holtzberg is replacing at least 10 metal parts with lighter components made from Solvay Specialty Polymers’ high-performance thermoplastics. Littlestar built the tooling for the timing gears and is reviewing multiple parts for the fuel delivery system.
The Polimotor 2 engine is based on the Ford 2.0 Duratec engine platform and is scheduled to be raced in the Formula & Automotive Racing Association series. Holtzberg plans to show off the Polimotor 2 in the Homestead 500 at Homestead-Miami (Florida) Speedway on August 25-26 with the ultimate goal of running the engine in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Holtzberg first started working on introducing plastics into automotive engines in 1969 when he tried to make polymer pistons for an Austin Mini engine in 1969. The pistons only ran 20 minutes before failing. Holtzberg added aluminum crowns to reinforce the pistons and sold them to racing engine builders.
Holtzberg was undeterred and in 1979 founded Polimotor Research Inc. with the goal of creating a racing engine mostly comprised of polymers. By 1984, Polimotor Research had developed a 168-pound engine comprised of a plastic engine block, cam cover, air intake trumpets, intake valve stems, connecting rods, valve spring retainers and timing gears, among other things. Amoco Chemicals was the major funder of the effort, hoping to gain more publicity for its ground-breaking polymer, Torlon.
Holtzberg, who was granted 10 patents from 1983 to 1988 on composite engine parts and methods of production, put this engine in a Lola T616 HUO4 and competed in the International Motor Sports Association’s Camel GT Championship series. The engine powered the car to several top five finishes, including a third place in the 1985 Lime Rock 2 hours in Connecticut.
The Polimotor received lots of attention from journalists at publications such as Automotive Industries and Popular Science but little from risk-averse automakers, and Holtzberg moved on to other ideas. In 1990, he founded Composite Castings LLC in Florida to develop carbon fiber composites. In 2011, Composite Castings introduced a carbon fiber composite four-cylinder engine block.
The polimotor though, was always on his mind. In 2009, the New York Times talked to Holtzberg as Boeing neared putting its 787 airliner into service, which was the first airplane made of composite materials. Holtzberg couldn’t understand how an airplane could be made of composites and an automobile could not.
In 2015, Solvay approached Holtzberg, interested in working with him on new versions of the Polimotor. Solvay now owns and makes Torlon as well as other advanced polymers such as PEEK, Radel and Ryton. The manufacturing process with advanced polymers has come a long way. Parts that were cost-prohibitive in the 1980s are common place today and Solvay wants to show the world what advanced polymers can do.
Here at Littlestar, we have two on staff from the Amoco Chemical heydays, Carie Priest and Wray McKenzie. So when Holtzberg decided to put the band back together, Littlestar was a natural fit.
“Some of these parts, such as the fuel-injected throttle bodies, are extremely complex. It’s a challenge to get these exactly right in a way where it can be easily replicated,” Priest said. “But that’s why Matti came to us. This is what we do. We fix problems and figure out processes others can’t.”
Priest noted that the time is right for the Polimotor comeback. Companies such as Ford are investing in composite materials – ideas Holtzberg introduced in the 1970s.
“When we were working on the polimotor in the 1980s, people laughed at us,” Priest says of his time at Amoco. “What Matti was working on was way ahead of its time and now other industries have caught and passed the auto industry. At Littlestar, we’re always talking to companies about what’s possible with plastic, and Matti has been leading that charge for nearly 50 years.”