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A Sports Car Whittled Out of Wood

An industrial designer shapes his dream car

Joe Harmon, 35, an industrial designer from Mooresville, N.C., on the Harmon Splinter, as told to A.J. Baime.

I’ve wanted to design and build my own car since I was a kid. I was studying industrial design in graduate school, and I realized this was the time to do it. I wanted to take building materials—things like wood and glue—and do something with it no one else has.

I started by drawing the car on paper, in 2006, and by 2007, I began physically producing it in a shop behind my house. I had a mentor named Joe Hunt, a friend of my dad’s, and my professors helped me, too. My dad gave me some money to eat, so I didn’t have to focus on anything but that car. I’d wake up, work 16 to 18 hours, go to sleep, then do it again. Along the way I was able to pick up sponsorships—wood companies, glue companies, tool companies.

It took about 20,000 hours to complete the car, over many years. During that time, I graduated, got a full-time job and got married. I finished the car last fall, nearly a decade after I started, and I took it to the Essen Motor Show in Germany, to show it for the first time. It’s called the Harmon Splinter, “the world’s only wooden supercar,” as I call it.

The structure is made primary out of maple, ash, birch, and hickory, all woods found in North America. I wanted the body (the parts you can see) to have a certain look, so I used cherry, walnut, and oak. For these body panels, I used two large looms and wove the wood into a kind of cloth. That took a lot of work. I’ll be honest—I never want to do that again. The wheels have floating spokes carved out of walnut and ash. 

Many of the mechanical parts started out as Corvette components, but most have been customized. The engine is a modified LS7, the motor used in the last generation of the Corvette Z06. 

Thus far, I’ve only driven the car about 15 miles per hour. It has a title, but no license plate or inspection sticker. It’s super low to the ground, and it’s very comfortable. You can feel that it has tremendous torque and power. 

It will always be a one-off. If it were to get damaged or wrecked, that’ll be that.