THE OPEN SOURCE
A DESIGN BRIEF
The time is right for a true people’s
hybrid vehicle. By Saul Griffith
In his essay “In the Beginning Was the Command (and 78mpg!), traversing a ploughed field without
Line,” Neil Stephenson uses a car metaphor to de- breaking the eggs it was carrying.
scribe the various players in the operating system While none of these vehicles were “open sourced,”
dilemma. Apple had “sleek Euro-style sedans”; all of them endured any number of modifications
Microsoft had “colossal station wagons”; and and demonstrated modularity and flexibility in their
BeOS (now defunct) had “fully operational Bat- lifetimes. Third-party industries arose to supply
mobiles.” And then there was Linux — “a tank … of parts and modifications. This was taken to an ex-space-age materials and jammed with sophisti- treme in the early 1960s when Bruce Meyers retro-cated technology” capable of 100mpg, reliable and fitted a fiberglass body to a shortened VW chassis,
robust, being given away for free. giving birth to the “Manx” dune buggy. Only 7,000
Today, oil prices are rising. Demand for hybrid vehi- Manxes were produced, but the phenom was so
cles in the U.S. is higher than production. Can the last successful that nearly 300,000 clones were made
piece of Stephenson’s metaphor be turned around? Is worldwide. The vast majority were assembled and
it worth contemplating an open source car? built with all types of modifications by end users.
On July 21, 2003, the last (old-style) VW Beetle was After a 30-year hiatus, Meyers recently began
produced in Puebla, Mexico. It was car number producing dune buggy kits again. The new “Manxter
21,529,464. One of a host of incredibly successful 2+ 2” has improved safety features, but otherwise
cars with common features harking to their stays close to its Spartan and immensely fun roots.
original “design briefs,” the Beetle and its peers — A “ 95 percent kit” is also now being offered to ap-the Citroen 2CV ( 3,872,583 cars made), Land peal to a time-short population that desires the
Rover ( 2,400,000), Mini ( 5, 250,000), Trabant fun of putting together a car without the attendant
( 3,096,000), and Fiat 500 ( 3,678,000) — were frustrations (and delights) of hacking it yourself.
utilitarian, efficient, maintainable, flexible, and the It is, in essence, a mail-order car: fill out a few web
antithesis of the modern industry. The briefs were forms, bolt an engine in when it arrives a few
often charming: Boulanger (designer of the Citroen weeks later, and drive away.
2CV) was tasked with designing an “umbrella on Other than this example, modern consumers
four wheels” capable of getting two peasants and accustomed to choice find that the auto industry
their 100Kg of farm goods to market at 60km/h doesn’t offer much outside a bland mean. If you can
Illustration by eboy.com
44 Make: Volume 01