The Carbon Evolution

The Carbon Evolution

"In this new Special Series, I document the greatest lip ever designed by BMW M and my experiences sourcing various replica lips across Europe, ultimately leading to the development of OE+ GTS front lip kit.

In this entry, I chat about the pre-preg carbon version and compare it to the discontinued fiberglass kit. I also touch on the prototype metal brackets and the ABS mirage."
- Matt

A new mold.

The 1:1 GTS front lip kit was previously available in carbon from Alpha N / 360Carbon, but it was a fiber glass structure with hand laid, carbon overlay.

In early 2022, 360Carbon & AlphaN offered a new complete pre-preg & autoclaved carbon variant of the lip. It was intended to be much lighter yet stronger than the complete fiberglass kit.

I sourced one of these lips to document the differences, and understand the considerable price differences with my previously used fiberglass lip kit. 

My unboxing impressions. 

The first impressions are positive: the entire kit is visibly made from pre-preg carbon fiber.

It's further obvious as you pick up each parts: it's extremely light. 

You can see the signature pre-preg traits: the horizontal bracket is hollow, and thin - showing no signs of fiber glass. 

The carbon work was great: the 2x2 weave well aligned and no weave deformation was visible.

Here you can see the complete carbon construction of the upper lip clearly. This is what "100% carbon fiber construction" should be. 

The lower splitter was also complete pre-preg construction, noticeable by its hollow construction. It is also extremely light. 

Costs were still cut as they skipped on clear-coating the 3x mounting brackets. All considering, it isn't problematic. The horizontal bracket had threaded inserts. 

The kit also included the Genuine BMW hardware for the GTS front lip kit - another sign this was truly a 1:1 design replica. 


The downsides.

There were obvious positives with the pre-preg carbon front lip kit: it was obviously lighter, it had proper clear coat, the overall craftsmanship was much better and it included the little things that mattered. 

However, it was roughly 1,000$ US more expensive, and it didn't solve the fundamental issues of the fiberglass lip. 

The finish. 

The lower splitter and upper lip were clear coated with 2 component clear coat. The finish quality was great: it had obviously been wet sanded and polished to get rid of dust specs and imperfections. 

Unfortunately, gloss clear coats expose any scratch or gouges like a sore thumb. Alpha N / 360Carbon do not offer the lip in matte carbon clear coat. It also cannot be repaired if the carbon is damaged. 

A painted carbon product could work and would eliminate these concerns. You could also repair it using sporadic use of fiberglass. 

Mishandling the lip would cause scratches in the clear as seen below. If you'll ever run a gloss carbon lip, getting it protected with PPF is mandatory. 

The chassis brackets.

The upright brackets were visibly improved over fiberglass. They were reinforced with additional layers of carbon up to 3mm thick. 

Still, I doubt this will be enough over the long term.

Pre-preg carbon and fiber glass both have high tensile strength. However, the composites do not yield: if the force exceeds its tensile strength, they will crack. 

This picture compares my previously cracked fiberglass chassis brackets versus the new carbon brackets. The overall design is the same. 

The Mirage. 

The prototype metal brackets. 

We had been working on metal bracket prototypes to alleviate these concerns.

The goal was to create brackets that would not fail catastrophically. If the impact forces exceeded the strength of metal, it would bend instead of crack. We would be able to salvage the lower splitter and horizontal bracket.

I received these metal prototype brackets in the Fall of 2022. 

The prototype metal chassis brackets were thicker than the carbon fiber units. It did mean they were heavier, but would offer similar tensile strength, and eliminate most catastrophic failure risks. 

The prototype brackets were laser cut from aluminum to the original shape and design.

They however didn't feature the strengthening ribbing as seen on the Genuine BMW and aftermarket composite brackets. They had other issues I'll touch on in the installation entry. 

The plastic lips. 

In addition to the design concerns with the pre-preg carbon lip kit, there were commercial concerns. 

Pre-preg carbon was too expensive, and it couldn't be produced at scale. It wasn't the right material nor manufacturing process for this application and market. 

BMW M did it right by taking a page from Porsche's playbook and manufacturing the GTS front lips in ABS plastic.

By the Fall of 2022, we had found the right suppliers that could match the OEM finish quality of BMW's original kit. 

I set up a crowdfunding project with 50x spots to fund the production of the ABS variant of the plastic lips. 

While we did hit the required thresholds, Markus from 360Carbon ultimately passed on the project to focus on Zaero. 

Up next: we move on

[...] but not without test fitting the metal brackets and the carbon lips. 

The learnings amassed in this process will be put to use to create the new OE+ GTS front lip kit. 


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