Early spring is a time for shows in New England. The boat show, the auto show, and the flower show offer relief after a snowy winter. My father always looked forward to the auto show but more so to Presidents’ Week-the end-of-February ritual of visiting auto showrooms where he delighted in sitting in every new car and checking out every available option.
I may well have gained my interest in cars from the many showrooms he took me to visit. Since then I have been fascinated by new cars; more so as my career took me into the assembly plants where they were made around the world.
In 1986, while visiting BMW in Munich I was given a scale model of an 850i, which was an early roof-to-side-frame laser welding application. It sits on a shelf in my office, surrounded by models of the 1991 S-class Mercedes (roof-to-quarter panel), the 2001 Mini Cooper (laser welded side panels), and Rusty Wallace’s famous 2002 Ford Taurus (laser prototyped components). This latter is a memento of a Winston Cup race I watched from his pit in Loudon, NH. There is even a classic Harley Davidson that features those beautiful laser cut chrome-plated guards.
Recently, while attending the railroad show where my son displays his model-building prowess, I happened across an exhibit of scale model cars, and what should I find but a model of the Audi TT coupe, the first laser welded all-aluminum body. This prompted me to speculate on how many of the important laser firsts in auto-body welding are available as scale models.
A Web search proved too time consuming, as it was necessary to open and search the sites of numerous dealers. So I took an easier way out and subscribed to a magazine that should provide a shortcut for this new-found interest.
How will I know which available model cars are candidates for my laser processing display? Simple-I have an exclusive database listing of almost every car, make and model, that employs laser-welded components. The list now totals more than 530 entries, compiled with the assistance of more than 100 contacts in the world’s auto industries. These are arranged chronologically to document the use of laser welding in the auto industry, with a decided emphasis on body-in-white welding.
The list starts with the 1976 Ford Torino underbody welding installation and currently ends with the welded floor pan of the new 2005 Alfa Romeo 159. In recent years I have added: the now famous Volkswagen Golf installations, the Audi A8 hybrid welded aluminum roof-to-side-panel application, the Renault C65 remotely welded inner door frame, the laser brazed roof of the Spanish produced Mercedes Viano van, and the Ford 500 remote roof welder. The latter a long-awaited triumph at Ford after the bittersweet Torino underbody fiasco.
If you drove a BMW, Mercedes, Volvo, Audi, Opel, Renault, Citroen, Fiat, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mazda, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Saturn, or Daimler Chrysler product in the 1990s there is a good chance it had several laser welded components on board. And if you now drive a BMW Mini, Chevrolet Cobalt, Daimler Maybach, Hyundai Tuscani, Porsche Turbo 911 Cabriolet, Subaru Imprezza, Ford Focus, SEAT Toledo, or even a Lamborghini, you along with countless others drive a car with laser welded components as a key design factor to reduce weight, strengthen and stiffen the body, or to just produce a sensuous curve like the laser brazed rear deck/license plate component on the Mercedes E-class Caravan.
It looks as though I am going to need more shelf room to display all the scale models I expect to find.
David A. Belforte