By on April 18, 2012

The chances are good that, as a TTAC reader, you use a smartphone. Among the literate, educated people who make up our reader base, ownership of a touch-screen phone with more computing power than a stack of DEC PDP-11s is the rule, not the exception. Google claims that over 250 million devices are running Android. Apple sold as many as 44 million iPhones in the past quarter. To some degree, the entire globe runs on these devices. Most of us couldn’t do our jobs or manage our lives without them.

The chances are not good that, as a TTAC reader, you own one of the two hundred and two 426 Hemi Super Stock “A990″ Dodge Corornets and Plymouth Belvederes built. 93 TorqueFlite Dodges, 8 four-speed stick Dodges, 85 TorqueFlite Belvederes, 16 four-speeds. They were up to five hundred pounds lighter than their non-A990 brethren and were known to turn quarter-mile times in the high ten-second range with trap speeds between one-twenty-five and one-thirty. Modern supercars like the GT-R and Ferrari 458 can’t hang with a 1965 Plymouth Belvedere. Think about that.

Now think about the fact that, without those ’65 Mopars, your smartphone wouldn’t work quite the same way it does today.

As produced, the so-called “A990″ Coronets and Belvederes were actually too light for the NHRA; they had to have a hundred-pound “off-road skidplate” added back to them in order to compete. Chrysler pulled out all the stops for their 1965 factory drag racer. They also pulled out everything from the rear seats (of course) to the passenger windshield wiper. That’s wasn’t enough. The NHRA wouldn’t permit the widespread use of aluminum body parts in a “stock” car, so Chrysler tried another tack at saving panel weight. A special run of body parts was stamped, using lightweight steel. As everybody who has ever tried to race a showroom-stock car around a road course or down the strip knows, however, the glass in a factory vehicle is murderously heavy.

Enter “Chemcor”, a special project from the Corning Glass company. According to Wikipedia, Chemcor is made as follows:

The glass is toughened by ion exchange. It is placed in a hot bath of molten potassium salt at a temperature of approximately 400 °C (~750 °F). Smaller sodium ions leave the glass, and larger potassium ions from the salt bath replace them. These larger ions take up more room and are pressed together when the glass cools, producing a layer of compressive stress on the surface of the glass… creating high compressive stress deep into the glass. This layer of compression creates a surface that is more resistant to damage from everyday use.

The A990 cars received Chemcor glass panes all the way ’round. The additional surface toughness allowed it to be much thinner while meeting the same impact requirements, although were Chrysler to pull the same trick in a Dart R/T today the NHTSA might have something to say about it. Come to think of it, the NHTSA might have had something to say about it back then, perhaps at lunch in the London Chop House or wherever such things were privately done, and as a result no Mopar, and no car, ever used Chemcor again. Corning put the process, and the results, away in its vault, and did not develop or sell any more products with Chemcor glass…

…until the day Steve Jobs came to visit. I will let Walter Issacson, Jobs’ biographer, take it from here, quoting a speech he gave after Jobs’ death:

Steve Jobs when he does the iPhone decides he doesn’t want plastic, he wants really tough glass on it, and they don’t make a glass that can be tough like they want. And finally somebody says to him, because they were making all of the glass in China for the fronts of the stores, says, “You ought to check with the people at Corning. They’re kind of smart there.” So, he flies to Corning, New York, sits there in front of the CEO, Wendell Weeks, and says, “This is what I want, a glass that can do this.” So, Wendell Weeks says, “We once created a type of process that created something called Gorilla Glass.” And Steve said, “No, no, no. Here’s how you make really strong glass.” And Wendell says, “Wait a minute, I know how to make glass. Shut up and listen to me.” And Steve, to his credit, shuts up and listens, and Wendell Weeks describes a process that makes Gorilla Glass. And Steve then says, “Fine. In six months I want enough of it to make–whatever it is–a million iPhones.” And Wendell says, “I’m sorry, we’ve actually never made it. We don’t have a factory to make it. This was a process we developed, but we never had a manufacturing plant to do it.” And Steve looks at him and says what he said to Woz, 20, 30 years earlier: “Don’t be afraid, you can do it.” … Wendell Weeks said he called his plant in Kentucky that was making glass for LCD screens, and said, “Start the process now, and make Gorilla Glass.” That’s why every iPhone in your pocket and iPad has Gorilla Glass made by Corning.

“Gorilla Glass” was a marketing gloss on “Chemcor”. In a way, the two names perfectly symbolize what’s changed in America since 1965. “Chemcor” just sounds all space-agey and forward-thinking, the sort of optimism that Donald Fagen sprinkles all the way through his “The Nightfly” solo record. “Gorilla Glass”, by contrast, has the sheen of explain-it-to-the-dumb-proles to it, a ridiculous exaggeration based on the idea that, while people might be frightened by chemicals, they have no problem feeling good about gorillas.

“Gorilla Glass” it is, and its use has expanded to dozens of other smartphones and small devices. I’ve personally spiderwebbed two Gorilla Glass phones, but check this: when I went to Palm Beach late last year, I accidentally (meaning drunkenly) walked into the ocean with a spiderwebbed Droid3 in my pocket, and the display didn’t short out. Good stuff, even if it can’t quite stand up to gorillas in smartphone-friendly thicknesses.

Best of all, although future Gorilla Glass production is likely to come from China, for the time being a lot of is it made right where it was invented: in the United States. American ingenuity, American production. Makes you feel good. Here’s another American idea: let’s go ahead and try it again, in a 350-horsepower, maxed-out, 2.4-turbo Dart. Call it the Super Stock. Light Chemcor glass, Quaife diff, no-fluff, quarter-mile-oriented. After all, there are still some of us who rank a kick-ass Mopar way above a not-so-simple smartphone.

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28 Comments on “How Hemi Magic Made It To The iPhone (And Its Competitors)...”


  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Woohoo!
    Great story!

    “…and now – the rest of the story!…”, I can hear Paul Harvey saying it.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    Interesting and pretty cool. But, I hate smart phones and touch-screen devices in general. So, it would be nice to see this put into something else, like, cars.

    At the very least, how about bringing back glass-headlamps that don’t fade out in 3 years like the cheap plastic ones do?

    • 0 avatar
      potatobreath

      Do the plastic ones crash better? Is that why we have them today? Or is it weight and cost?

    • 0 avatar
      modelt1918

      WOW… Like your name inplies, you are kind of a 1980′s kind of guy aren’t you? I felt the same way several years ago and once I decided to live in the 21st century, I found that smart phones and touch-screen devices are very handy for business and information.

  • avatar

    Story of the Week! Paul Harvey is smiling from Heaven.

  • avatar
    brokeguy

    The uninitiated would be amazed at the amount of technology it takes to make a heavily boosted 500 cubic inch Hemi produce over 8000 (estimated, no way to strap it to a dyno) horsepower and survive intact, well mostly anyway. Big-time NHRA drag racing is nowhere near “primitive” though some of the spectators may well be. BTW, a well sorted 2.4 turbo can put out well north of 350-horsepower. Great story Jack!

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Well, I’m a doofus ’cause I have a “dumb phone”, a Nokia Fold, which works just great, thank you very much. But then I don’t worry about that “just because I have it, I need to be enslaved to it” addiction problem.

    About those altered-wheelbase Chryslers: A colleague in my previous company, sadly since deceased, even the plant closed, owned one of those in his racing days. He lived in Muncie, IN, but not sure if he was from there. Whenever I was in Muncie visiting that plant, he and I would talk at length about everything cars. He drove Mercedes pillarless hardtops exclusively, because he felt the same way I do about what makes a “proper” coupe, the difference being he could afford it!

    Cool car, great guy. Wish he were still here…

    As to “gorilla glass”, a clear (ha ha!) case of “better life through chemistry!

    Fascinating article.

  • avatar
    Toad

    “And Steve, to his credit, shuts up and listens”

    That’s why Steve Jobs was a genius who created and re-created billion dollar companies creating products that we did not even know we wanted. Jobs was brilliant, but was also smart enough to know when other people knew something he did not.

    Most of us would do well to shut up and listen more often.

  • avatar

    And yet Chemcor makes it way back into the Dart after all

    http://img.ibtimes.com/www/data/images/full/2011/12/13/204499-dodge-dart-controls.JPG

  • avatar
    stuart

    Corning disagrees with Wikipedia:

    Is it true that Gorilla Glass was originally developed in the 1960s?

    No. That has been a popular myth, which apparently resulted from a misunderstanding of the facts. It’s true that Corning experimented with chemically strengthened glass in 1960, as part of an initiative called “Project Muscle.” In 1961, Corning developed a glass composition it promoted under the Chemcor® brand, which featured state-of-the-art strength and durability. Chemcor glass was incorporated into tableware, ophthalmic products, and applications for the automotive, aviation, and pharmaceutical industries. When Corning began developing a tough new cover glass for electronic devices in 2006, Corning scientists, of course, drew upon the company’s prior expertise with strengthened glass. However, Corning Gorilla Glass is a different product and glass composition than Chemcor.

    http://www.corninggorillaglass.com/faqs/all

    stuart

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I don’t even want to believe that story. :)

      The actual composition of both the original Chemcor and the current Gorilla are not public knowledge. They are probably not “identical”, the same way a 1959 Les Paul and a current Gibson CS R9 are not identical, and the same way Pepsi isn’t chemically identical to the way it was in 1965, but the principles are the same.

      I’m inclined to believe the candor of the conversation related between the two CEOs over a company’s public position regarding its intellectual assets.

    • 0 avatar

      The polyurethane clearcoat on your car made by DuPont may not use the exact chemistry as the original version of Imron, but if it wasn’t for Imron…

      I can see Corning not wanting people to think that they dusted off 50 year old technology but you don’t even have to read between the lines to see that Gorilla Glass is a derivative of Chemcor and previous ion exchange strengthened glass.

      From the same FAQ:

      “However, Corning Gorilla Glass is a different product and glass composition than Chemcor. We implemented significant compositional as well as other changes to achieve superior product characteristics including outstanding damage resistance, while making the glass compatible with Corning’s proprietary fusion-draw manufacturing process. “

      • 0 avatar
        stuart

        I’m not a chemist, so I have no idea how to compare Imron to clearcoat, nor Gorilla Glass to Chemcor. I defer to your superior knowledge.

        If you interpret Corning’s FAQ to mean “Gorilla Glass is a derivative of Chemcor,” then clearly (sorry :-) I must’ve misunderstood it. Or, more disturbingly, Corning is deliberately trying to deceive me.

        Why are you arguing with me? You should convince Corning to rewrite their FAQ so that dummies like me aren’t confused.

        :-)

        stuart

  • avatar
    campocaceres

    So,

  • avatar
    campocaceres

    So, reading this article from my smartphone and typing this reply.. I am curious why TTAC has gone this long without having a mobile version. It all looks to be database driven. I can read it perfectly well from the iPhone I am using, but it would be really nice to read it properly formatted and not have to pinch and scroll with each page load. Anything in the works?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      It would be nice, that’s for sure. We have a pretty sharp division of responsibilities here at TTAC: I’ve never heard a word about site design, advertising, traffic maximization, or anything like that. Let’s hope the mandarins are reading.

  • avatar
    GoesLikeStink

    The Glass in my 65 Dodge was really heavy. Maybe because there was so much of it. It was a Dart Wagon.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I thought Fagen’s Kamakiriad was more retro-future optimistic than Nightfly, although not quite as good. Wait, this isn’t The Truth About Music?

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    Good story. I have to say that Walter Issacson’s writing style is not the most polished [to be kind], but probably does represent the iPOD generation’s average literary skills quite well.

    Wow…

    “Steve Jobs when he does the iPhone decides he doesn’t want plastic, he wants really tough glass on it, and they don’t make a glass that can be tough like they want. And finally somebody says to him, because they were making all of the glass in China for the fronts of the stores, says, “You ought to check with the people at Corning. They’re kind of smart there.” So, he flies to Corning, New York, sits there in front of the CEO, Wendell Weeks, and says, “This is what I want, a glass that can do this.””

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    Dart based SRT-4? 300+ horse should be doable with the 2.4l engine.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    As I was reading this, I wondered what all the old Chrysler Glass Engineers might have to say about participation of an outside 3rd party in a lightweight glass project. Up through the 1990′s, Chrysler produced in-house a large portion of its own glass in its McGraw Ave., Detroit, glass plant.

  • avatar
    V-Strom rider

    Just curious, why would the NHTSA have had a problem with it? I’m guessing the auto makers may have rejected it for widespread use on cost grounds, but why would the regulator oppose it?

  • avatar
    John

    I believe an important part of this story was omitted. Almost 200 Foxconn employees were poisoned using N-hexane to clean this glass.


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