Design and Build: Red Bull Soapbox Mach 5 (Speed Racer)

I don’t know how many of you guys are going to remember this from last year, however I was part of the team that built the Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder for the Red Bull Soap box race at Redrocks. We did a very extensive build last year including a full fiberglass body, full welded steel boxed chassis and “leather” seats. The day was awesome, winning was really fun having it displayed in the Forney Museum was pretty awesome and the prize was even better…so we are back at it again.

We are primarily Industrial Design students at Metropolitan State College of Denver. The members include:
Jeremiah Hueske
James Olson
Sandra Hueske
Matt Fisher
and me, Josh McGuckin

Last years website:
This years website:

This year we had a bunch of options to choose from for vehicles, but being car fans ourselves we could only bring ourselves to build the coolest of the cool… That car is the Mach 5 from Speed Racer. So we submitted our application and were accepted again. This time the race is in LA and we will be traveling. This time the car is going to be even more complete as well. We are making a body plug, female mold and then pulling a body off that . The car should be pretty awesome when it is all done and we are working night after night to make it happen. The race is on September 26th and I am sure there will be text message voting so we will keep you guys up to date.

So how about this build? Here is the basic summary.

We built a chassis out of .065 DOM 1.5" tubing. This thing is bent to provide a nice seating compartment and has two passengers this year. Seating is made from 2 Kart seats that were generously provided by Shockwave Karting. The brakes are made up of 4 Avid disc brakes that we are machining custom brake splitters for. This brake setup is just like last year actually. Wheels are 4.5" wide 20" rims with similar sized tires on them. We will have wheel spinners on there to mimick the real mach 5 and we will have a “hubcap” that will provide the look of the real mach 5 as well. The brakes were given to us by my work,Excel Sports, who was pretty excited to see the result of the Ferrari last year.

Body Plug

We are working on the body one step at a time. The start is a body plug for us to make a mold from. This is made from foam and will eventually be coated and painted to give it a nice shine. The foam was salvaged insulation foam that we got a pallet of for a mere $50
We cut the foam into 54 sections on the waterjet and slid them all together to form the basic form. From there we sanded and sanded until that form became the mach 5. Each piece had to be glued together at some point in order to make the form ridgid too. Next we will be covering it and painting it to provide a nice smooth surface to mold from.

We just got back from the shop and finished up the back end of the body, installed the front and got it ready for sanding (once the glue drys) and carved out the dash a bit. Check it out:

I’ll try to keep you guys updated on the progress. Hope you enjoy the build as much as we do.

Wow, awesome build again! The Ferrari last time was extremely impressive. Looking forward to seeing this one evolve!

(Welding with a beater on!!)

Thanks choto. Considering our level of experience with fiberglass last year the Ferrari worked out very well! This year we are going to make a Female mold, we learned our lesson from last year.

Oh, and James learned his lesson, wife beater and welding equals sunburn…actually I shouldn’t say “learned his lesson” cause he’s a bit stubborn

If you don’t remember the Ferrari here is a pic:

It is currently in the Forney Museum of Transportation in Denver CO. They have been really excited to be able to show the vehicle off to the public and have already asked when they can take our Mach 5 in as well!

We actually took last night off, which is probably good for our health. Last night however we finished up the nose foam shaping and covered the whole vehicle in the first layers of plaster.

Next up we will be sanding the plaster down and probably applying a second coat. After that we will be coating the vehicle in an Epoxy resin to prepare for the Female mold. It is starting to really shape up! Tomorrow we will be making a bunch more progress. The majority of our team has been selected for a special class at Metro: Alternative Vehicle design. We will be starting tomorrow, building a composite vehicle. Most of the molds are done and we will be working to design the interior, lay up the chassis and also selecting a drivetrain. We figure we’ll be done class in time to get a nice lunch at Domo and put a lot of hours into the Mach 5.

We have been learning a ton about working with plaster, not exactly fun, but it’ll work. Last night we got a second coat of plaster on and it is still a bit wavy. But after a bit of sanding tonight it should be fine. The mess that we are capable of making is pretty impressive honestly. We destroyed about 5000 sq ft of workshop last night…

Thanks again guys for the compliments!

Last night we started working in our new shop. This place is basically in the middle of nowhere…WAY out east.

Earlier we had a bit of trouble with our plaster, it was just chipping away too easily. Anyhow we have committed to what we got and we did some pretty aggressive sanding last night and really smoothed out the mold quite a bit. We are hoping to sand tonight and maybe apply in a few more places then we will be able to coat the mold.

Oh, our new shop comes with a DJ

We ended the night with a big bonfire, turns out they had a delivery and had a bunch of stuff to get rid of.

I am going to tell you, working here doesn’t seem as much like work as it does at the other place. You almost forget that you are about an hour from anything

you guys in love with US Gypsum UltraCal yet? :wink:

Your budget seems somewhat open-ended; why are you all using plaster instead of a polyester or epoxy based fairing compound? Granted, it is a “bit” more expensive than plaster, but it cures in five minutes or so, sands incredibly well (doesn’t block up your sand paper), and it bonds to itself perfectly, so no chipping and peeling of previous coats.


And once you’re done sanding all you have to do to prep for mold making is wax on, wax off, two or three times, a coat or three of PVA mold release, and it’s good.

Too late now though, maybe next time.

Well, unfortunately we are on a limited budget. Currently we have about $650 into the whole build including steel for the chassis, fiberglass for the body and the mold and foam and plaster for the plug. I suspect after paint, primer and the final pieces and parts we will be up to about $1000 total. The goal is to build this thing as inexpensively as possible because, well we don’t really have much budget to work with. So Plaster @ $30 for the total car is much more appealing than the fairing compound @ $270.

Now on the flip side, we are considering designing and building our own real car, and if we end up doing that we will likely use something like that so we can be assured that we get all the details into that plug. If we do that I will be selling my race kart and using that as our budget, so we should have a bit more to work with.

Well, the plug has been a pile of work. We have really made just about any and every mistake that you could make. This includes material choices, sanding selection, and whatever else you can think of. Despite all that we are making headway. You can’t learn if you don’t make mistakes right?

It is getting sealed in Gel Coat right now, and we will be waxing it tonight, cutting ribs for our mold and putting up clay barriers for our mold so we can start layup tomorrow. That puts us exactly 1 day behind schedule. That is pretty good if you ask me!

Last night we waxed the mold. 5 coats of wax, 3 coats of Parting fluid and 4 sections mapped out with clay barriers.

(sometimes I remember that I am a photographer and I COULD put some thoughts into these pictures)

This one kinda resembles the great wall of china…

After this one it all got a bit fuzzy:

The night before we were working on the chassis. Brakes got mounted and a floor has been constructed. It is coming together!

+1 this is awesome. love following the process. you guys are either crazy or geniuses or both. I think both is the case here…

it’s been so long since I did anything hands on, I can’t even imagine how much work and fun this must be.

keep it coming!


I can’t remember exactly where we left off, and to be honest. Well I am exhausted… so here is some more info…

So we have begun work on the female mold! actually we are currently done about 2/3rds of the mold and are now working on the nose and tail of the mold. We should be able to pull it on Monday…if all goes well.

Due to a certain level of exhaustion here is a list of the steps we have taken to get the female mold going.

  1. Gel coat the entire mold to seal it off and get it ready for wax
  2. Waxed the mold with a mold release compound. It got a solid 5 coats of wax to start and each section gets waxed again prior to applying the parting compound.
  3. set up a Clay barrier wall. This barrier wall is designed to make a flange in the fiberglass. It will allow us to bold this thing all together when it is pulled off the plug and give us the ability to lay up on the female mold.
  4. Spray down the vehicle with Parting fluid. This stuff is a film that will release from the wax and the fiberglass so it should make the mold easy (or easier) to pull off the plug.
  5. begin layup. One layer at a time for 3 layers
  6. 3rd layer gets a row of foam blocks under it that will provide a bit of extra stiffness to the mold.
  7. Remove clay walls, tape up the fiberglass flanges, create new clay walls and start on the next part of the mold.

Some lessons we have learned:

  1. Put packing tape under any clay you put down. The clay is kinda stubborn when you try to remove it.
  2. No more than 2 Red Bulls after midnight.
  3. more wax is always better…always.
  4. when you get pulled over on your way home and the question is “where are you coming from so late” and you answer “Building the Mach 5” you will likely not even get so much as a grin from the officer.
  5. Laying up a layer of fiberglass on the body takes approximately 1 1/2 hours. not the originally anticipated 30-45 minutes.
  6. fiberglass cures extremely differently on a cool night compared to a warm day.

ONLY 16 Days left till we have to leave!

Thanks! as much as i like the sound of “Genius” I am guessing that we lean more toward the crazy side. Keep in mind this little detail as well.

James Olson- Full time job as a software programmer 40+ hours a week. Plays on 2 hockey leagues. Plus soap box build.
Jeremiah Hueske- Full time Job as an Industrial designer 40+ hours a week. Full time school at Metro State. Soap box build
Matt Fisher- Full time Job Bike Mechanic 40+ hours/week. Professional DH MTBer with races to attend. In school at Metro State. Soap Box build
Josh McGuckin (me) Full time job as Creative director 50ish hours/week. Student at Metro. Soap box build.

So we are all pushing it to the limit right now… But it sure is fun!

So with only a couple weeks remaining we are finished our female mold. Pulling the mold proved more challenging than anticipated and it worries me for our final layup. If anyone has any fiberglass experience and has some tricks for pulling a mold, well we’d like to hear them.

Anyhow, on to the process car. To start, here is the final mold still on the Plug

We started working on getting this thing apart by cutting off all the glass that worked its way onto the other parts of the mold that weren’t indented to have glass on them.

we worked apart as much of the mold as we could, but then we started getting water into the mold to help release the parting fluids.

This worked ok, but it definitely took a few hours to get this thing fully apart.

Eventually we made progress and the mold started to come apart.

The nose and the tail took a bit more…eh elbow grease.

Eventually it all came apart and it all bolted back together correctly.

We did a bit of body work to some of the small bubbles and whatnot that had formed in the glass layup.

We just finished laying up the body skin last night at 4am. We got a roll of mat for the whole vehicle, we figured we’d reinforce the crucial areas with woven in order to save a few bucks (this vehicle will be used for a grand total of 30 seconds afterall) So we waxed up the mold, taped all the seems and sprayed the whole thing with PVA. It was shiny and smooth and only a few blems here and there.

We got another visit from Red Bull a well, with a nice delivery of beverages.

after we got back to work we started laying up glass. The first layer of glass took us about 3.5 hours! We were very specific about rolling out all the bubbles so we can get this thing smooth!

Layers continued and the vehicle progressed

After we got our first couple layers on and they cured completely we had to finish off the nose and tail. We used Milled fibers made up into a paste. This filled in the nosecones with the goop and should provide us with a nice finish up front and in the back.

we were pushing hard to get all the layers done last night, I mean really hard. It was a long night but we got it done

We got it done though and we will be taking it out of the mold this evening.

All our work paid off, the mold popped right off. the nose was a bit trickier, but everything else came off smoothly. We were being interviewed and filmed at the time, so we couldn’t take as many photos as we went. But here is one pic and one video to show you how it is going along.

the words “anything that can go wrong will go wrong” ring loudly in our ears on a day to day basis. So far we have made just about every mistake in the book, but we are pulling it off! The vehicle is ready for decals now, but we are going to wait till we are in a warmer climate to do that. Until then we will be loading the car up tonight and heading to LA.

Since we left off we did a pile of body work. Lot of sanding and a little bondo, all of which was needed because we didn’t spend enough time on the plug. We finally got the vehicle painted and we had the worst day to paint. Cold out, humid, all the things that colorado could throw at us. The paint looked horrible, so we sanded it down, and shot it again this morning with much better results!

Tonight we are putting the windshield on before we leave then heading out to LA. It should be a good trip and I am looking forward to taking a nap in the car!

Looks hot! any more pics… would love to see…

now you just need to add some trippy light effects and lasers!


I have only a few pix of it complete actually. Tonight we will do final assembly and we can get the decals on tomorrow. I’ll definitely post some pix after it is all shined up! For now, here is a shot with people in it.

check out Josh McGuckin | Flickr for a pile of pix too

Awesome job guys.
Metro is finally moving into cyberspace :open_mouth: