When it comes to racing, hardcore racers always do their best to shave weight and make their car as light as possible. In some areas, however, thinning out the materials could be more detrimental than beneficial. Racers have been replacing heavy sheet metal with fiberglass or carbon fiber for decades to shave weight without sacrificing integrity. But one area that has been a concern is the glass on a vehicle. We all know that glass can get quite heavy, and you must have it on your car. Add up the weight of a windshield and a back window, then throw in the side glass and you’ve got quite a bit of weight there to contend with.
If glass was flat, there would be a more simple solution: just replace your flat glass with sheets of Lexan, problem solved. But in the race for better aerodynamics, even the side glass is curved on most automobiles, so replacing the heavy glass is a little more complicated. One option is to replace your windows with products from Optic Armor, a leader in manufacturing composite race car, Jeep, drag boat, heavy equipment, and motorcycle windows. Recently, we sat down with Jim Dunham, Optic Armor’s Marketing Manager, to discuss the available windows that they manufacture, how to select the one that’s right for your car, and also how to maintain them.
About Optic Armor
Optic Armor is a company that specializes in lightweight, shatter resistant windows for all kinds of different motorsports. Their windows incorporate unique, lightweight and scratch-resistant designs that provide ultimate clarity and all of the characteristics of polycarbonate. You’re probably familiar with polycarbonate if you work around the shop, many protective eyewear is made of the same material because of it’s high impact strength and its scratch resistance.
Polycarbonate is a thermoplastic polymer that is easy to form and mold, but unlike plexiglass it doesn’t give up optical clarity during the process. If you’ve ever dropped your shop glasses and were surprised that they didn’t break or scratch, then you already know that polycarbonate is tough, and reliable.
- Amazing optical clarity
- Chemical & scratch resistant inside and out
- 250 times stronger than factory glass
- 50% to 75% the weight of factory glass
- No special cleaners needed
- Various thicknesses available
- Form matches factory glass
- Amazing water shedding capabilities eliminates need for wipers
- Hundreds of applications available
For those of you looking to shave weight from your race car, Optic Armor guarantees that these windows can reduce as much as 75% of the weight that you would normally have with factory glass. Dunham told us, “On a ’93-02 Camaro/Firebird, you’ll drop 47 lbs. from the factory front and rear glass by switching to Optic Armor.”
Going a step further, Optic Armor claims they are an amazing two-hundred-fifty times stronger than the OEM glass. A claim that Dunham makes on the companies behalf due to the incredible amount of man hours spent researching and developing each and every Lexan window that they produce.
Optic Armor promises optical clarity and a form that matches the factory glass to the exact measurement. This makes the car builder’s life much easier, as it ensures a drop-in and worry-free installation.
They have begun expanding their Drop In Blackout Line (DIBO) which is a pre-formed and trim-to-fit, ready to install window. It incorporates the black-out edging known in the industry as the frit, giving your windows a factory installed look. Their expanded line will cover the ’79-present Mustangs, ’93-02 Camaro/Firebirds, ’97-present Corvettes, and ’08-present Dodge Challengers.
If you take a minute to review the Optic Armor Application Guide, you’ll see that they not only cater to the late-model crowd, but owners of classic musclecars can typically find a replacement for their glass as well.
With regards to classic musclecars, their application guide includes windows for ’68-69 AMXs, most model year Monte Carlos, Chevelles, Mustangs, Corvettes, Chevy trucks and SUVs, Plymouth Barracudas, Dodge Chargers, and the list goes on. In addition to classic and modern American cars, their coverage also includes many imports.
Optic Armor windows have been chosen by racers like Mark Koeler for his LSX Drag Radial Pontiac Firebird, and are featured in many dragsters from around the world. They choose these windows not only for their weight savings but also for their physical properties as well. On many unibody cars, the windshield is a structural member of the body, so strength and durability also factors into a polycarbonate windshield.
Selecting the Right Windows For Your Application
Now that we’ve brought you up to speed on who Optic Armor is and what they do – how do you know what is best for your own application, and what is appropriate? When it comes to selecting certain components for their car, many enthusiasts want what’s best, but sometimes price plays into the equation, especially in today’s economy.
But we all know that saying, “you get what you pay for” and cutting costs on important components isn’t always a good idea. There’s also the safety factor to consider when you’re replacing something like that big hunk of safety glass in front of you. Windshields are heavy, and part of the extra weight is because of all the safety factors built into the glass to protect the occupants.
Thin acrylic plastic may be lighter, but it doesn’t possess the qualities of Optic Armor’s polycarbonate windows, which will also protect you just like the factory windshield will. So you also need to factor in exactly what your plans are for your car when choosing a replacement window. Is it a car that’s purely built for the track, or is it something that’s street legal but will often see dragstrip duties? These are the questions you need to ask yourself and answer honestly before making your selection.
Optic Armor windows are available in several different thickness levels, ranging from 1/8, 3/16, and 1/4-inch specifications depending on your vehicle. For the availability of your application, please refer to the linked Application Guide. Optic Armor offers multiple varieties of window thickness; partly because of weight savings, but mostly for safety reasons.
When we asked why there are three different levels of thickness, Dunham responded by saying that it’s to meet certain thickness regulations for the different types of motorsports. For example, the SCCA requires 1/4-inch thick windows for competition, while the NHRA specs require 3/16-inch in the front and 1/8-inch for the side windows. The different thicknesses are to accommodate the requirements, and not necessarily to offer choices that competitors can make.
On a ’93-02 Camaro/Firebird, you’ll drop 47 lbs. from the factory front and rear glass by switching to Optic Armor. -Jim Dunham
While the windshields are not DOT certified, the side and rear windows are, according to Dunham. For this reason, it’s not recommended that you replace your factory windshield on a street-driven car, especially one that sees regular street use. Even though there are some great benefits and qualities to Optic Armor’s replacement windshields, Uncle Sam is very strict about what can and can’t be used on the street. Again, this goes back to the windshield being a structural part of a unibody vehicle and government regulations play a part into that decision.
If you have a street-legal vehicle that only clicks the speedometer a quarter mile at a time, then the consideration for a polycarbonate windshield allows you to shave some weight, and even more if you’re also replacing the side and rear glass. How thick or thin would depend primarily on the rules and regulations by the sanctioning body when it comes to motorsports. Checking with your local racetracks might give you a better understanding of what is acceptable and what is not.
The thicker versions that Optic Armor offers might be a little heavier, but they still offer a substantial weight savings over factory glass. The thicker windows will also give you somewhat better protection over the thinner material, but again that all plays into what type of racing you’re doing, and where you’re racing. We all want the best of both worlds, but we also know that a gain in one area sometimes means a sacrifice in another.
When installing windshield glass, thick urethane makes up for poor fitment issues, and it helps to seal the glass to the windshield frame. Since these polycarbonate windows are not installed with thick urethane adhesive, Jim Dunham told us that these windows are flexible enough to fit into place with either an adhesive, rivets or screws. He also said that that they hold up to years of use thanks to their revolutionary windscreen design.
While adhesive can be used, Dunham’s recommendation for a race car is to attach the windows with the screws that they can provide you with. Race cars are built to consistently run hard an eighth-mile at a time, at minimum, and they experience severe chassis flex due to hard launching. Because of this, adhesive simply won’t cut it and the screw-in method is highly recommended. Optic Armor offers their own hardware for those who choose to secure their windows in this manner.
We’ve had customers with fires that were quickly extinguished, but the fire left black residue. It was easily wiped off and the customers continued to use the window without issue.
Before you install your new windows, it’s always best to clean any of the remaining urethane from the window frames to facilitate a clean installation. You’ll want a clean, smooth surface to install the windows so any imperfections in the mounting surface should be addressed prior to installation.
While side windows are easier to install, you will probably need to enlist the help of a friend for the front and rear window installation. The Optic Armor pieces may be very light, but due to their rather large size they can be awkward to install by yourself. Having an extra pair of hands helps to align the window much easier.
Every window that Optic Armor sells comes with a complete, easy to follow instruction guide to help you throughout the installation process. It may seem like a simple thing to do, but the instruction guide can be your best friend and save you from simple, overlooked mistakes.
Caring For Your Optic Armor Windows
Other aftermarket composite window manufacturers make it clear that only specialized cleaning solutions should be used on their products. However, this isn’t the case with Optic Armor’s windows. They tell us that a special foaming solution is not required, suggesting that you can clean them with any household window cleaner without running the risk of fogging the surface.
Also, due to the unique manufacturing process their products incorporate special water shedding capabilities that eliminate the need for windshield wipers. While we don’t advocate that you use these windshields on a street-driven vehicle, there are some motorsports where rain is a factor and this quality is an added benefit. We asked about their secret formula, but Optic Armor is keeping their lips sealed on that one.
When asked how well these windows hold up to extreme temperatures, Dunham said, “The windows are formed at 400 degrees. We’ve had a few customers with vehicle fires that were quickly extinguished, but the fire left a black residue on the window. The residue was easily wiped off and the customers continued to use the window without issue.” This is not to say that the windows can handle constant, direct flame, however, they can withstand high temperatures without the heat causing permanent damage to the window.
If you’re looking to shed some weight from your race car while maintaining the safety factor, then look into Optic Armor for your lightweight window needs. They take great pride in their work and take extreme measures in supplying the aftermarket with a high quality product.