This year I have the great privilege to be one of the judges on The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Award for Automotive Innovation 2011. Defining ‘Innovation’ well enough to be able to judge the relative merits of the entries is not a simple task, so the short-listed entries will present to a ‘Dragon’s Den’-style panel of industry leaders. The winner will be announced at SMMT’s Annual Dinner on 22 November at the London Hilton, Park Lane.
The six short-listed entries showcase the cutting-edge R&D work currently taking place in the UK automotive industry. An industry that is developing at a phenomenal rate whilst battling an extraordinarily difficult world economy. It’s an industry that has suffered very hard times in the past yet seems to have come out of it stronger and fitter than ever.
Innovation is a key ingredient of this recovery and is essential for the industry’s long term survival on the world stage. Please take a moment to look at the SMMT page on the awards at:
My boss told me “so that means your design will defiantly kill two people per year!”.
That was 20 years ago, when I was a fresh faced engineering graduate in my first job at a global car maker. I was designing bits of engine management system, and as ever I had gone through every type of possible failure and worked out how well it was catered for. But one very obscure scenario involved the car stalling on a hypothetical level crossing near a strong radio transmitter, a bit tenuous but it is a situation that could happen, I had gone through the figures and worked out that it was a million to one chance that the engine would not restart, resulting in something bad involving a train and sudden localised distortion to the car (ok, a crash).
I thought that this was a remote chance, but my then boss pointed out that the systems would be put on about 2 million cars per year in Europe, hence his terminal conclusion.
I redesigned it. No one had to die.
But even so, I am sure there could be even more obscure situations I had never even thought of, I probably could have spent years going through more and more complex scenarios, but the the car would never have been made. So we have to draw the line somewhere.
How common are uncommon faults?
So its with a great deal of sympathy that I read about Toyota’s sticky pedal problem, millions of cars work fine, yet a handful of freaks necessitate a total recall. You just cant take chances, even if most of the cars are absolutely fine.
Toyota are no worse than Ford, Mercedes and all the rest, all volume products suffer from occasional problems, largely due to the scale of production and of course because we want them cheap, and that’s not going to change any time soon.
When an industry has to make very complicated machines, that are used by the general public, and have to endure a vast array of harsh environments, things are going to be difficult. And when this problem is massively compounded by having to make the car as cheap as possible, something has to give.
Times this set of problems by the millions of cars made every year and the law of averages is definitely not on the side of car makers.
If you think about it, the mere fact that when something does go wrong it makes the headlines tells us something about the utterly fantastic job that all these companies usually do.
If the average Joe knew anything of the vast amount of sheer hard work that goes into creating cheap, economical, useful and reliable cars they would bow down in reverence, and those that fancy their chances at suing for spurious accidents would hang their head in shame.
But hardly anyone knows about all that fantastic engineering work, it doesn’t make sexy TV programs, it’s not vacuous and glamorous enough to make it into the glossies. So every one just accepts that every machine should work perfectly no matter what, and are utterly surprised on the very rare occasion that it doesn’t.
Cars are amazing.
Here’s a challenge for you; think of a machine that has to work in heavy rain, baking sun, snow, ice, deserts, tarmac, cobble stones, at temperatures between -40 to +50 C, last over a decade whilst being shaken, accelerated, decelerated by novice users in a crowded and complex environment.
There are no other machines, just motor vehicles, which have to contend with all this.
But it doesn’t stop there, the engine is retuned every combustion cycle, hundreds of times each second. The suspension analyses the road and adapts to suit, the auto gearbox monitors the drivers ‘style’ and changes the way it works to please them. The brakes check wheel speed thousands of times a second and deduce when a tyre is about to skid and relieve brake pressure just before it happens.
Components have to operate faultlessly for millions of cycles, if an engine or drive-line fault develops then the systems must identify it, adjust the mode of operation to minimise risk and alert the driver, just like having an expert mechanic on board.
In addition the car has to be comfy, economical, perform well, have a really good sound system and be near silent in operation.
Not even the Space Shuttle has to contend with this level of sophistication.
And here is the kicker; as well as coping with all that, it also has to perform special functions in a crash. We have multiple air bags, who’s operation is tuned to the ‘type’ of crash detected, we have automatic engine cut, hazard indication, seatbelt pre-tensioning and some cars even ring for help.
Name me one other machine that has to detect, reliably, when it is about to be destroyed and then deploy safety mechanisms during the actual process of destruction. You’ll struggle with that one.
Now this feat of engineering would be amazing even with an unlimited budget, but the fact is that cars are made as cheaply as possible, which just take the achievement from amazing to utterly astonishing.
Please take a few moments to look at your own car, and marvel. And if one part goes wrong, be sympathetic to the scale of the problem engineers face.
During this recall, the media could have played a very useful role and helped society, I say ‘could have’ because what they actually did was the complete opposite.
What they could have done is reported actual news, facts presented objectively such as ‘a small numbers of cars may have a fault causing the pedal to be stiff’. That is a fact, it gets the info over simply and effectively, you know what is being said. Simple.
They could have gone further and said something like ‘if your pedal feels stiff visit your dealer, but first check the floor mat hasn’t got stuck under the pedal’. That would be helpful.
But they didn’t do that.
No, what actually got reported was ‘mum of five in death plunge tragedy’ and ‘is your car a ticking time bomb of doom?’. Stupid, dramatised gossip that conveys absolutely no useful information.
But of course this scare mongering helps to boost sales of the current media bilge, so expect more useless crap in the future about every important storey.
And this is a real problem, not only because it leaves us all badly informed and scared, but because the car companies now know that being honest and open has become the wrong thing to do.
All media has a responsibility, and its time they faced up to it.
People are getting to be useless.
And this brings me to a very important point; cars are so reliable these days that people are totally unable to cope with a simple problem; I would have thought that if the pedal stays down then either put your toe under it and pull it up or drop it in neutral, park up and switch off. Easy, but most people have lost the ability to cope with any sort of problem, and that is scary.
I say scary because we depend more an more on technology, cars, electricity supply, computers, the internet, mobile phones, the list goes on. And for the most part the technology serves us amazingly well, but like all things it can fail.
I remember in the 70’s there were power cuts, no problem; the lights went out so we lit candles, life goes on. We communicated by actually talking to people, we were entertained by actually doing things, we worked by going out and making physical things.
But now, oh dear, if the power fails we seem to be doomed to sitting in a freezing dark house unable to phone a friend or do any work on the computer. ‘Doomed I say, doomed, captain’ (although that phrase probably wont mean a thing to younger readers).
Now don’t get me wrong, I am a great fan of technology. As an engineer I work on car technology that won’t see the glowing lights of a showroom for maybe seven years, as a writer I would be lost without the word processor and its fantastic ability to correct my abysmal spelling. Oh yes ineedy I just cant get enough of the techy stuff.
What I am scared of is the way people are loosing the ability to do things for themselves. To even bother trying to solve problems seems to great a challenge, the mind is being numbed and switched off, its like intentionally loosing the ability to walk just because you can afford a wheel chair.
The first though now seems to be ‘who should I call about this problem’, and not what it should be ‘what can I do to solve this problem’.
People have to be more proactive, just like we used to be, and much less reactive and just plain pathetic.
Mind you, I suppose if there were to be a mass technology failure and every useless person was, well, useless, then maybe Engineers will rise as a united force like a waking giant and take over the world. So its not all bad. 😉
Technology marches on.
Here is an interesting observation: most drivers don’t want to be there.
Unlike enthusiasts, such as myself, who really get a deep enjoyment and fulfilment from driving, in the mass market most car owners don’t actually like driving at all, it’s just become a necessity of modern life. That’s why so many of them don’t pay attention and would rather chat on the phone, listen to the radio or just stare into the distance like a slack jawed zombie.
Cars are a very strange phenomenon in that respect, where else would you find a large, heavy and complex piece of machinery operated by anyone who wants one? It wouldn’t happen with lathes, welding kit or submarines, but with cars we just accept it.
And because of the non-professional nature of the vast majority of car owners, technology is being developed to meet their needs. That is; making the car make most of the decisions.
We are already seeing Volvos with ‘collision avoidance’ brakes which do an emergency stop before you drive up the arse of the car in front. Many cars have adaptive cruise control using radar sensors to move with the flow of traffic, some cars have lane assistance which nudge the steering to keep the car between the two white lines. And fully autonomous cars are in development, you just get in, tell it where to go and it drives you there.
To many this is automotive heaven, just like having a chauffeur, and takes the irritating burden of ‘having to do some driving’ out of a journey completely. Plus there are safety advantages which make a very compelling argument, the fact is that nearly all accidents are caused by the driver doing something really dumb, so by taking the driver out of the system lives would be saved. And that argument alone is powerful enough to kill the ‘drivers car’ stone dead, no arguments, it is simply infeasible to argue that autonomous cars should not be compulsory just because we want to have a little bit of fun.
But to enthusiasts this is automotive hell, no control, no involvement, no enjoyment, nothing.
And it also take a lot of skill and judgement away too, what if I want to drive on the left of my lane to get a good view past the truck I am about to overtake? Will the lane control system let me? What if I need to gently nudge my driveway gate open because its blown shut? Will the collision avoidance system let me?
But what drives technological development is consumer demand, so if we want cars to be ‘drivers cars’, totally under our command, then we have to make our voice heard. Not only that but the voice must have a strong and sound argument, and it has to be heard right now.
What’s the greatest challenge facing car design? Meeting carbon emissions targets is a damn good one, as is crash safety. But by far the biggest problem facing car design is complexity, and its a problem that is being hidden.
With all the highly sophisticated systems on board, such as engine control, ABS, crash avoidance, gearbox tuning and even sat-nav, knowing exactly how each part will react to the behaviour of another part has been almost impossible.
But modern cars don’t just have a set of independent systems, they are linked together. This has provided some amazing cross-function capability, such as traction control where wheel slip is detected by the ABS system and the engine system reduced power to suit, and it has given us seamless automatic gear shifts where the gearbox talks to the engine to ensure the speed and power are matched perfectly as a gear is changed.
More importantly it has enabled much greater safety, for example if the brakes fail then the electronic hand brake system can lend a hand and the engine and gearbox can work together to increase engine braking.
It can even compensate for driver incompetence; some people panic in an emergency and press both pedals to the floor, modern cars detect this and simple apply the brakes and return the engine to idle. This simple step has saved lives.
Now, the concepts of integrated safety and functionality are simple to understand, the arguments for and against them are again fairly simple. Even politicians can understand them.
But the devil is in the detail, and when you get down to the actual computer code it gets mind bogglingly complicated.
I will give you a relatively simple example. In order to reliably detect if the accelerator pedal sensor has failed, the pedal has at least two independent circuits, the signals are compared to see if they agree, that way if a wire is broken then the system will detect it and the engine can be safely returned to idle. But it has to do more; what if there is a mechanical failure such as a broken return spring? Well, the signal is also analysed for movement so that if it stays inexactly the same position for too long then there is a fair chance its stuck. But how long is ‘too long’?
This is where it gets tricky. The signal is also compared to other signals, such as the brake pedal as mentioned above. But even if both brake and accelerator are applied at the same time, what if the fault is not in the accelerator pedal, nor in the driver panicking, but in the brake pedal sensor? This could lead to a tragic loss of power when the driver needs to accelerate out of danger, such as on a railway crossing.
So one layer of complexity involves where do you set the limits, how much analysis do you do and how many other systems do you compare with?
But there is more complexity, oh yes, much more. What if the various systems are not entirely in tune with each other? For instance when braking, as the speed drops the gearbox changes down and requests the engine speed to rise to match, so the throttle is opened. Usually the various signals are perfectly matched and this works seamlessly, but what if the signal from the gearbox results in a momentary surge of power from the engine?
So clearly the teams developing and tuning the brakes, gearbox and engine have to work together to ensure that under every different level of braking and speed combination, everything matches up. And that is a lot of work.
However, it gets more complicated. Many companies buy in certain systems, maybe the ABS from Bosch, the gearbox from GM, possibly even the engine might come from another company, or another division in a different country. And even within those teams, parts of the computer control code may be outsourced to other divisions or companies, bringing another layer of remoteness to the design.
See where this is leading? Well, to greater complexity and less understanding of what every part has in it.
That is just one example of one system interaction, but there are many more, and each system may have further unintended interaction too. A classic on is with ‘stability control’ systems, when accelerating out of a corner a driven wheel might start to loose traction, so the traction control system will apply the brake calliper on that wheel to keep it under control. This causes the car to veer off course slightly so the stability control applies the brake calliper on the other side to balance it out. Net result is you end up accelerating with the brakes on!
Now modern cars are introducing collision avoidance, lane control and other complex systems which all have to work in harmony with all the other systems in all the infinite combinations of circumstance.
I believe that it is now impossible to accurately asses how such a car will react in all conditions.
This is true not only for cars, but in many of the systems we rely on today, from automatic number plate recognition and speeding fines, military automatic targeting and smart weapons, to the DNA database and even the way we use the internet.
The potential for technology to assist is immense, but it has to be understood that we have now lost control of every detail. So how far do we let the machines dictate to us, and how much override can we allow to fallible humans?
The answer to this will dictate the future of society and quite possibly our fate as a species.
It’s a stunningly beautiful day in the south of France, mountains in the background and a clear blue sky. Standing before me is a tall, smartly stylish man, smiling and confident with a tan of someone who works outdoors. The only clues to his extraordinary life are his shoes; subtle grey low cut racing boots. Oh, and the sound of tyres squealing all around us.
The man is Jérôme Haslin, chief test driver for Michelin and it is his verdict that shapes the performance of some of the most exciting cars on the planet, a role he takes very seriously and clearly enjoys with a great passion. Not surprising when a typical day will involve up to 8 hours screaming sports cars round the best tracks in the world from Magny-Cours to the legendary Nurbergring; “Its very variable, today I have only driven about 3 hours but when I am with a client, such as Ferrari or Porsche, I will be all day in the cars”. And the list of cars he has tested reads like a dream garage, Maserati MC12, Honda NSX, F3000, Ferraris, Bugattis and all the current Porsches, he calmly describes going flat out in the Veyron as “a nice experience”.
Not that he has all the fun to himself, he is in charge of 25 other test drivers including 2 for motorbikes, including MotoGP, 10 for trucks, and even one for tractors. The 450 hectare test centre at Ladoux in south eastern France incorporates 19 different test tracks, including a precisely irrigated wet handling circuit, a dry 2.8km handling circuit and a 7.8km high speed circuit with banked corners.
But he didn’t get here by chance; “my passion has always been driving, so after I graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering I looked for jobs that had an element of driving”. He joined Michelin in 1992 as a tyre design engineer, spending two years getting to grips with tyre technology and performance. Then he spent 6 months solid training to understand test methods and hone his car control skills, spending hours sliding round the practice circuit; “I started with a BMW 3 series which is a very nice car to learn on”.
Driving on the absolute limit has to be second nature to Jérôme so that he can make subjective assessments and perform precise tests without being distracted by the business of controlling the car. “It’s a bit like wine tasting, its sensorial analysis, but you need a good memory because of the time for tyre changes; imagine tasting one wine then having to wait 50 minuets before tasting the next!”.
During his training he spent hours cornering with a G meter on the dash, getting familiar with the feeling of different side G forces, the result is that his gut is now a sensitive instrument, allowing him to perform exact manoeuvres instinctively.
To get a little insight into his fabulous job, Michelin have organised a morning’s fun on their test track, armed with a Porsche Carrera 2 and three different sets of tyres. Jérôme will show me what he does and then I will have a go! What can possibly go wrong?
I have to confess that I have never really liked rear engined Porches, the lift off oversteer is reminiscent of early Austin Metros and for the money I would rather have a car with the engine in the right place. OK, that’s just me then… However, in this case it makes the ideal choice to show how tyres can transform a car’s handling, and as it turns out the transformation is amazing (see panel), and more importantly gives an insight in to Jérôme’s average day in the office.
First stop is the 4.1km wet track, with standing water controlled to 3mm, it makes for a fun day out for any petrol head. As soon as Jérôme drives onto the track we are going sideways at motorway speeds whilst he calmly tells me about some characteristics of these tyres. But my attention is grabbed by the sturdy looking Armco directly in our path, “ah yes, that’s the one place on the track it is not safe to come off, you must be careful here” he says whilst power sliding past it.
In all my years developing cars I have never known a driver so talented as Jérôme, he is controlling the slides so precisely that photographer Stuart is totally confident standing on the rumble strips on the apex of the hairpin. Not only that but as Jérôme performs balletic manoeuvres he is able to describe in detail the sensations that are a key part of his tests, “on the wet circuit we are looking for consistent fast lap times with little slip, but I think your photographer wants more action shots, yes?”. Weeeeeeeee!
Next we head for the ‘Circuit grande vitesse’ and take the slip road onto the 1.5km straight, then power onto the banked corners where Jérôme suddenly yanks the steering and we head rapidly towards the Armco. “As we put in a rapid steering input at high speed, we observe how long the car takes to respond” he calmly says before yanking the steering the other way just in time to avoid making the local news. Next, he holds the steering wheel at a smaller angle and observes how long the side force takes to build up, I find this difficult to concentrate on as there is a concrete bridge coming rapidly into view and we are very slightly sideways towards it.
Luckily he straightens the car up in time, and then proceeds to demonstrate what happens when you let go of the steering on a banked corner; “for each banked corner there is a neutral speed where the force of the car pushing outwards is balanced by gravity” and we go round staying perfectly in lane.
He accelerates hard onto the straight and we do the whole ‘experiment’ again, but much faster, swerving at 250kmh! After a blistering lap we leave the slip road with the brakes squeaking and smelling of ‘hot’.
Next stop on the fun fair is the handling track, 2.8km of twists and turns which is officially sanctioned by the FIA for F1 testing. On the way there, we pass the wet circuit just in time to see two 17 tonne trucks perform synchronised drifting in a cloud of spray!
As we wait for a bike test to finish on the handling circuit, Jérôme explains what is coming up; “first we run at a fairly constant speed staying on the middle of the road, just getting a feel for how the tyres perform, seeing where it under/oversteers etc.”. Just then the prototype bike screams round the corner, the rider seems to have his elbow down, never mind his knee! As he vacates the circuit his enormous grin confirms that is a great place to work.
As we ease on to the circuit Jérôme pegs it at about 4000rpm in fourth gear and we follow a faint white line in the middle of the road, noting how the car responds to turns without the complication of accelerating or braking, it’s a very strange way to go round a track but very informative. Next Jérôme steps up the pace dramatically for three timed laps, by crikey he is good; hitting about 217kph before on the limit breaking for the 2nd gear hairpin. After three laps flat out, Jerome suggests that I have a go, top banana!
Avoiding the temptation to just drive very fast, I tried to perform some of the tests Jérôme had shown me, after all I have had two decades in the car industry, test driving everything from Fiestas to Bentleys, surely this should be easy? No chance, its worse than the old rubbing your tummy whilst patting your head challenge, whilst concentrating on G force in one corner I missed the line in to the next, and as I discovered my talent deficit we drifted towards the grass, Jérôme casually commented “of course every tyre has its limits”!
After a few laps I have a profound respect for Jérôme’s talent, as we slow down and exit the circuit I ponder what it would be like to live this life. In the calm of the car park under the clear blue sky, with smiles all round, Stuart asks whether I would want Jérôme’s job, ‘without doubt mate, without doubt’.
The Tyre storey
As always, tyres make all the difference and if you have a Porsche then you may find the results interesting;
The standard Michelin Pilot Sport tyres work really well in the wet and equally well in the dry, but backing off when turning into a corner brings the back end round in the traditional Metro manner.
Changing to Michelin Pilot Sport Cup, the choice tyre for the Porsche Cup races, and immediately the grip is noticeably higher, we are entering corners in a higher gear. But at the back the grip is increased even more than on the front with the astonishing result that the lift off oversteer is virtually eliminated, it as if we are in a different car. Obviously you can’t have everything and wet grip is more ‘exciting’.
Finally we tried the full race slicks, here the front end grip is amazing and turning into corners at full tilt inspires confidence, grip at the rear is increased again but not as much as the front resulting in a small amount of lift off oversteer, but only at race speeds. It goes without saying that this tyre should not be even tried in the wet!
Lap times tell all, 1min12.33sec for the Pilot Sport, a quicker but close 1min11.35sec for the Pilot Sport Cup and a blistering 1min08.78sec for the slicks. To my mind the Pilot Sport Cup tyres, developed for the Porsche race series, deliver the nicest package for the sportier driver, OK so they are a little worse in the wet, but if it was raining why on earth would you decide to drive a Porsche 911?
We live in amazing times, the latest range of high power engines is sweeping in like a tidal wave of thrust, new technical developments have unleashed the piston engines true potential, so much so that 500bhp saloon cars are common, and that used to be the exclusive territory of supercars and racers. Now there is talk of 2000bhp hypercar monsters smashing the 300mph mark.
Cars like the excellent Jaguar XJ and Audi A8 dally with around 500bhp seem to be popping up all over the place. Don’t get me wrong, they are all truly fantastic cars, it is bristling with innovation and simply superb engineering. The GDi engines are nothing short of remarkable, more power and yet more economy, a very neat trick.
But these cars are also a turning point, a major historical event. You see, I am fairly certain that this will be the last decade of the big piston engine. All car companies are going through the same changes.
Oh sure there will be upgrades over the years, there will be trophies to be won as they morph into race engines with even higher outputs. But the basic engines will not be replaced.
Even in the USA, where big V8s roamed the earth for decades, customer demand has shifted to smaller and more efficient cars, the giants of American car production were staggered when the best selling car became a Japanese compact. Then the recession hit, and some of the giants fell, only kept alive with government life support, their only hope is to match the foreign efficiencies with smaller engines and hybrids. They even have a dictate from the government to meet these new challenges, so there is absolutely no way a proposal to develop a new big V8 would stand a chance. Yes folks, its the end of the American V8 too.
Ferrari have just launched their fastest road car ever, with a fantastic engine also using the latest direct injection technology, they have had a wonderful history of designing some of the best V engines in the world, but even they are not immune to the forthcoming emissions requirements, the problems the planet faces are global and effect every manufacturer in the world.
The thing is, it usually takes at least seven years to bring a new engine from an idea into full scale production, there is a hell of a lot more to it than just making a few race engines, there is durability testing in far flung places, running cars for hundred of thousands of miles and fine tuning any glitches out, building production tooling and testing it out, the list goes on. In short, its a big job.
The mighty new engines of today started life on a piece of paper when Bill Clinton was still president, they recognised that we demand more performance, but also that emissions regulations and CO2 targets would be tougher too. But what has happen since then is that the world has realised that absolutely no CO2 is acceptable, not just less. And also the oil prices have gone silly, and are likely to get worse. The world has changed, drastically since then.
So the plans for a decade into the future have to be zero carbon, not just a little bit of carbon, none.
For decades all the big car companies have had vague plans for electric cars in ‘the future’. Prototype and experimental cars have been trundled round for years, but the plan to put them into production always got pushed back.
After the huge problems of the last couple of years, all those ‘future’ plans have been pulled forwards with astonishing speed, the first step will be hybrids as the infrastructure and familiarity builds, then once customers are used to the idea everyone will go full electric across the board. And this will probably happen over the next ten years, so there is absolutely no point in anyone designing a new big piston engine.
But that doesn’t mean the end of performance cars, on the contrary, as electric drive technology finally gets some proper funding the performance will match, and then exceed that of even the fastest petrol cars. Imagine having a 1000bhp hub motor on each wheel, ultimate control over traction and stability, but with the power of four Veyrons. You see there is one thing that always drives engineering forward, and that is human desire. As car enthusiasts our basic desire is for obscenely powerful cars, no matter how that is achieved. Make no mistake, the future is bright.
If we look back into history we can see people lamenting the end of steam power, but very soon after the big corporations started putting real resources into the internal combustion engine the technology matched and then exceeded the performance of even the finest steam engines. Much the same thing is happening now with electric drives. And I think there will similar parallels to the past in the future, there will probably always be piston engine enthusiasts, just as there are steam enthusiasts today. There may well be a few niche companies still making one off piston engines in the far future, and crowds will gather as these relics of a bygone age are fired up. I suspect I will be one of those enthusiasts, there is nothing quite like the growl of a V8 or the howl of a V12 at full chat to stir the soul.
In fact that engine noise is a very emotional thing, it changes the way we act, alters our mood and effects our decisions. You can buy plug in gizmo’s that make a V8 noise that matches the speed of your real engine, plug it into a Civic and it feels like driving a NASCAR racer, and it messes with your head, you feel like keeping your foot on the accelerator that little bit longer, pushing that little bit harder. It’s a strange phenomenon.
It’s such a powerful thing that companies such as Lotus are doing serious engineering work on synthesising the sounds and integrating them as a part of new car designs. It might sound like cheating, a bit artificial, but the fact is that it works, and even electric cars could sound like your favourite Ferrari or Aston.
Going back to the high power saloons of today, if you can afford one then buy it, seriously. Not only because they are such good cars, but because it is the triumphant finally of over a century of car development involving the good old piston engine. The next ten years will see developments of these engines, special editions, race versions and hybrids in a superb closing chapter, like the final chord of the most rousing orchestral piece ever performed, it has all built up to this moment and the audience should be on their feet cheering.
Its a rare moment in time, a turning point, something that will be written into the history books. So enjoy the hec out of it.
What will you miss about piston engines, will it be the noise, or the smell, or the way the power is delivered, or even having to change gear?
We rely on some of the things a car tells us, like speed for instance, in order to stay safe and also to stay on the right side of the law. So it might be odd to hear that many things a modern car tells us are in fact quite deliberately wrong.
Here’s an experiment for you if you have a flash car; look at the trip computer, fill the fuel tank then make a note of ‘distance to empty’ or ‘range’, and after a long drive when its nearly zero make a note of ‘average MPG’ too. When you fill the tank you can work out the real MPG. What you will probably find is that the reported MPG is rather optimistic, but its not because the system is inaccurate, modern systems are really rather good at being accurate. Most systems are very precisely over optimistic by up to 10%, although I have seen certain Teutonic luxo-barges be out by 20%. Obviously this is to ensure the customer feels better about their consumption of the earth’s natural resources.
The range calculation has a different story to tell. Again it can be very accurate, but because some customers ‘chance it’ it says zero when the car still has a few miles left in it. This is more a matter of self preservation than conning the driver, if a modern car runs out of fuel all sorts of bad things happen such as catalyst or fuel pump failure. But if you are driving consistently you will probably find that when range has gone down by 10 miles you have in fact actually travelled 10 miles.
Now here’s the funny thing, if anyone actually compared the MPG and range info they would see the two don’t tally. But of course you would have to be pretty bored to do that.
You probably know the speedo always reads slightly higher than the real speed, but do you know why? Many years ago when gauges were made of brass and springs, they were not very accurate which is a problem if you don’t want to be arrested for speeding, so laws were introduced to tighten things up. The law had to allow for the inherent inaccuracies of the measurement method, in the UK this means the gauge is allowed to read anywhere between the true speed and 10% higher, but because there are variations in accuracy due to production tolerance manufacturers tend to play it safe and aim for the middle of the allowable range. So most read 5% over.
But again the gauges don’t agree with each other. On most cars the odometer is fairly accurate, so if in that remarkable moment of boredom you where to divide the change in mileage by the time taken you would find the true speed. Although to be fair it would be a lot easier to look at a GPS unit.
Other gauges take an even greater liberty with the truth. Years ago some cars had oil pressure gauges, readings were read with the same intensity that a fortune teller reads tea leaves, often adverts for second hand cars read something like ‘good oil pressure’. But oil pressure can vary between one engine and another as they trundle off the production line, there is nothing wrong with this; some engines last a lifetime with really low pressure. Unfortunately some owners became a bit paranoid about the minute flickerings of that little gauge and sent their cars back, so drastic measures were taken. For instance if you bought one of the last Jag V12s the oil pressure gauge was in fact only connected to the pressure switch and a resistor, so as soon as the engine started it stayed pointing resolutely at the middle of the range, very comforting. They were by no means the only manufacturer tackling the problem imaginatively. But as soon as computer controlled dash instruments hit the main stream in the 90’s the standard method became to make all the gauges read something nicely reassuring unless there was an actual real problem that needed the driver to take action.
Its the same with the temperature gauge, as the real engine temperature fluctuates the gauge reads a nice steady ‘normal’ and only climes out of its comfort zone if the car thinks it’s in immanent danger of exploding.
Now, you might feel rather cheated by all this, but actually for most drivers its probably for the best. If you don’t happen to understand that oil pressure and coolant temperature do vary a lot then you might get quite anxious as the gauges dance about. By only alerting the driver when there is a genuinely something to worry about allows them to concentrate on driving but still take action when necessary. And if the speedo reads a little high then you wont get flashed by cameras if you stray a few MPH over the indicated limit.
So although its lying to you, it means well.
It is utterly fascinating to watch people interacting with old machinery, go into any antique shop and there will be a box of random old hand tools and every so often someone will pick one up and hold it carefully as if to perform some imaginary job on some long forgotten work piece. They inspect the deeply grained wood of the handle, turn it round until a pleasant grip is found, then a gentle movement up and down to test the weight is often followed by a satisfied nod or grunt.
Curiously most people then walk off, apparently having never had any intention to take the matter any further. The entire episode may feed a deep seated desire to be an ancient craftsman, working simple materials in much simpler times, but more likely its the fact that some artefacts just need to be touched and held.
And its the same with great cars, go to any car show and you can bear witness to droves of otherwise perfectly normal citizens stroking motor cars and gazing with clear emotion at a machine. Some do this overtly, boldly enthusing about the experience to there comrades, others are more furtive, seemingly brushing past but with fingertips turned outwards to briefly contact the hallowed metal.
Now, you might think that as a cold calculating engineer I would find this sort of behaviour quite ridiculous. But whilst it’s true that I don’t go round stroking cars or going gooey eyed at a classic form, much, I do spend far too much time just looking at designs, particularly old technical drawings which have a multi faceted beauty and can capture both the heart and mind at once.
You see, good engineering is driven by passion, from Brunel to Chapman it is the all consuming desire to make an idea into reality that drives us all. That original idea burns like a fire inside us until it is realised. And when an engineer looks at a design, it is not merely seen, but it is felt.
Equally, poor design generates intense irritation, leading to outrage and anger in extreme cases. Which is why many great engineers have stormed out of meetings with management who simply don’t ‘understand’.
There is a purity in design, and that is the thing that everyone can feel. And when it is corrupted, usually by commercial necessity, you can feel the jagged edge it leaves behind.
But times have changed. One hundred years ago, an engineer would come up with an idea for a car and draw up a specification, then set about finding some enterprising chap to finance it. But today this approach simply wouldn’t work, the market place is saturated and profit and loss is on a knife edge. So most modern cars have their target customers analysed and quantified, the data is scrutinized by computers and marketing executives. And it is they who now draw up the product specification, engineers have become merely a tool to bring the concept into production.
But fear not, there is still passion in the engineering, it is just the scale has changed. The beauty is in the detail, whether its the way the engine blips the throttle to make your gear shift seamless, or the way the ABS prevents skidding by maintaining a precise level of wheel slip, it’s still there. The current Jaguar XK8 has a cunning device mounted into a hole in the bulkhead, that transmits engine noise from the intake system into the cabin, but there is more to it than that, it transmits a filtered form of the engines wonderful growl, removing throttle whistle and other annoying noise, and it only transmits when you are giving it some welly so that round town it is quiet and refined, in short it gives us just what we want. Volkswagen were one of the first to spend a fortune engineering the feel and sound of the doors closing, analysing the best cars in the world to identify what made a closing door feel good. Arranging the parts inside the door to put the weight as far away from the hinge makes the door seem heavier and more solid, the door seals dampen the thud and the precise frequency range of this noise is tuned to give the perception of quality and safety. Even the feel of the door handle when its lifted, and the severity of the click as it unlatches the door is engineered precisely. We want to feel the quality, so this engineering gives us exactly what we want.
Of course the really intense engineering effort goes into the big bits like the engine, a modern diesel will inject fuel in several precise bursts every cycle to shape the pressure rise and fall in the combustion chamber to control refinement and ensure that the exhaust gas composition meets the stringent emission limits. In fact the control on all engines is so precise that a pin hole in the intake system would be detected and compensated for. And all this happens hundreds of times each second, reliably time and time again, for years. It’s quite amazing really.
Just take a moment to look round your car, think of all the things it does for you, there is a lot going on that most people simply don’t see.
In fact, in this modern world of ours with it’s engine management, direct injectors, WiFi, GPS signals and contactless technology, there is greatness all around us, it’s just a lot more difficult to stroke.
Just looking round your car, what marvels would you like to know more about, is there anything that makes you think ‘actually, I have no idea how that works’?
Mystery is a funny old thing; life is generally richer for it but when it comes to engineering, a mystery is like having worms, it constantly gnaws away in a really irritating way. So, dear reader, I am going to give you worms.
As you may know, a traditional car engine struggles to turn 30% of the fuel’s energy into useful power, although bigger engines are better in this respect and the largest piston engines can reach up to 50% efficiency.
There have been many attempts to make a better engine, but not content with these options, a legendary NASCAR mechanic and top racer Henry ‘Smokey’ Yunick started thinking about the main losses – coolant and exhaust heat – and how that energy could be re-routed back into producing useful power. And as he was a very practical kind of chap, having also invented a silent tyre, extended tip spark plugs and reverse flow cooling, he not only devised a theory but set about building some working engines, based on bog-standard road cars.
After building a number of amazing engines, one of which was used regularly by his daughter as a daily driver (see correction below!) , he also set about patenting the system all over the world. Once he had the relevant protection for his idea he was going to show the world.
Unfortunately, and rather frustratingly for the world in general, he then died. His company and family are still pursuing world wide patents on the various clever bits that make it work and are reluctant to let anyone else play with his creations.
(Please see the fantastic reply from his daughter below for corrections!)
His patent applications make interesting reading, and generate as many questions as answers. What he describes is a way of recovering almost half of the waste heat from a standard car engine, some of his conversions are claimed to double the car’s acceleration and its mpg at the same time. His daughters VW Golf is said to produce 150bhp (up from 110 as standard) and average over 60 mpg (up from 30mpg).
One of the problems with using petrol in an engine is that it tends to form clumps of molecules which can only burn on the surface, leading to un-burnt fuel and partially burnt fuel being thrown away down the exhaust pipe, these are the hydrocarbons (HC) you see on the mot test results.
Interestingly Smokey’s design uses carburettors, the heat is used to evaporate the fuel giving a more homogeneous mixture which burns more completely. This is a technique used even today by the car industry on injection systems, at part load fuel is injected onto the back of a closed intake valve to use the heat.
Heat is the key to Smokey’s design – in simple terms it first uses the coolant to heat the air fuel mixture to 90ºC at which point the fuel is almost entirely gaseous. It then uses the exhaust, which completely surrounds the intake, to increases the charge temperature to 230ºC. At this point the mixture has expanded quite a bit so a turbo or ‘Homogeniser’ as they call it (not a turbo in the traditional sense because it further heats and mixes the fuel with air) blows down the manifold to stop the mixture escaping back up the intake. The heat will have increased the charge pressure quite considerably, thus turning more heat energy into pressure energy that the engine can convert into torque. And the turbo, sorry – homogeniser, will have boosted things a bit further too, but of course the density will be quite low unless the turbo is running very high boost, and there is no intercooler to waste heat energy. With very high intake pressure it is also possible to re-design intake cam duration to get more cylinder filling, although it is not clear if this is part of his design.
Now the piston compresses the mixture which heats it up further to 820ºC. Now normally this would have detonated and blown the engine to bits, petrol mixture goes bang at about 350ºC, so clearly Mr Yunick was doing something very clever here and the info he had released may be deliberately misleading to buy him time whilst he got the patents, but what ever he did there it is his main secret and you will no doubt be very disappointed to hear that I have absolutely no idea how he does this. Clearly the nicely mixed charge is not really at 820ºC if combustion is going to start with a spark in the conventional manner, although enough energy has been put into it to reach this temperature. If combustion starts in a diesel type compression ignition then the whole charge will go bang at once, rather than a diesel’s controlled gradual burn, and blow the piston. Something must control the combustion?
Could it be water injection? Water mist would reduce the mixture temperature and itself expand in the fierce heat and generate more pressure and thus power. But that’s just a guess on my part and no mention of any other substance exists on the patents.
On the cars he converted there is a very small radiator and no fan, allegedly coolant volume is very small too, helping warm up time. These cars have been driven by a number of journalists and the performance and fuel economy have been verified, so in that respect the design has been ‘shown’ to work.
The only clue comes from some of the mechanics that worked for him who have alleged that the engines were very prone to pinking and melted pistons, but to be fair so do many ordinary mass production engines when they are in their prototype stage.
It’s a strange situation, undoubtedly Smokey was a great mechanic and built some of the best race cars in the world, so he was no amateur and knew what he was doing. Some people have wondered if it was an elaborate hoax to poke fun at the establishment, but why would you fund world wide patents for a hoax and what about the cars’ performance? And why are his ‘prototypes’ still in use? Why won’t the family let anyone else take the engines apart? So many questions.
It’s interesting to note that these revolutionary high efficiency engines are still only using 60-70% of the fuel’s energy, so it’s not in the league of infeasible perpetual motion machines, the energy balance makes sense. It’s just the combustion control that makes no sense and is without any explanation. These ‘Hot Vapour’ engines, if they turn out to be real, have amazing abilities and could herald a new era for piston engines. Just imagine a 600bhp V8 that does 60 mpg. It’s a beautiful idea.
The chances are you have already heard about the ‘Saturday Club’, a band of enthusiastic engineers who designed the stunning Jaguar XJ220 in their own time just because they had a burning desire to make their dream into a reality. But what happened after the concept was unveiled and why did the V12 get dropped in favour of the Metro 6R4 engine?
The original spec had the Jaguar V12 powering a 4WD system, the engine would be based on the race versions which were doing rather well in GT cars such as the 7 litre XJR9. The V12 engine also saw life as the 6 litre 450bhp motivation in the XJR15 road car. In fact Jaguar made 6 litres the standard displacement for the V12 in the last XJS and the XJ12, which soldiered on under increasingly stringent emissions regs until 1997 (X305).
The XJ220 concept had a 6.2 litre variant which had been producing a reliable 550bhp+ on test, it had been run at full power for extended periods of time and performed well under all manner of arduous test conditions. But the Friday before the 1988 NEC motorshow début the over worked engine unexpectedly seized, with no time to fix it the show car that thousands ogled at that year (including myself) had to be pushed onto the stand. Not a lot of people know that.
The car was simply stunning and orders poured in. So the next step was to put it into series production and the job was given to TWR who already had strong links with Jaguar. At this point things started changing and customers start cancelling orders, partly due to the recession and partly due to the spec change.
The original concept was declared too heavy, but at 1560kg it was still a good 200kg lighter than the lowest spec XJS and stacks up well against modern supercars. Curiously the Jaguar V12 was declared unfit for emissions, even though it was managing perfectly well in the XJR15 road car and the 546bhp Lister storm, as well as in lower state of tune in the XJ12. The 6R4 engine owned by TWR had proved a reliable and powerful lump, not only powering Metro 6R4s but also some of the Jaguar GT racer cars such as the XJR10, and was modified to get it through emissions regs and slipped in place. Extensive development of the engine was conducted on public roads in secret by grafting the whole XJ220 back end with the engine, gearbox and suspension, into a normal looking Ford Transit van (Now owned by Goodwood). I am sure this change from Jaguar V12 to TWR V6 was in no way motivated by any financial advantage to TWR for using their own engine. TWR still have the service contract for these cars, with costs totalling many thousands each time, providing a useful revenue stream to this day.
But with this engine the production car failed to meet its 220mph ambition, 217mph was achieved only by removing the wing mirrors and other tweaks.
Traditionally the problem with turbo engines is keeping the intake air cool at full load, as the turbos compress the air it gets hot and can easily exceed 100C. Hot air is less dense and reduces power. In a race a turbo engine can work well, as the intercoolers have a chance to cool down every time the car brakes for a corner, but when testing maximum speed the engine is flat out constantly and the heat just builds and builds. This is where a naturally aspirated engine has an advantage, the V12 had been run regularly in competition at power levels above 600bhp, in fact the XJR12 race car managed 750bhp from its 7.4 litres. So surely this would have been a more logical choice for a high speed super car?
Then there is the matter of the 4wd system, this was a version of the Ferguson Formula as seen on the Jensen FF. Ferguson research was another company offering engineering services to the car and motorsport industries, in a similar way to TWR. Ferguson would later be bought out by the mighty Ricardo organisation in 1994, and Ricardo would later take on a lot of Jaguar engineering work. Whether TWR saw the Ferguson involvement as a threat is unknown, but dropping the FF 4wd system meant that TWR had sole control over the whole project. In engineering terms the 4wd system has many advantages and the weight penalty is relatively small, as proved by later Lamborghinis.
What ever the real reasons for the changes, the car’s weight dropped by about 200kg which helped in cornering but did nothing for it’s main selling point – top speed. It also made it a lot cheaper to make, which must have been a consideration.
With many orders cancelled and built cars selling significantly under their list price the project lost a little of it’s shine. Many cars are still locked away with delivery mileage only, and in 2007 two unused shells were discovered in Jaguar’s Browns Lane factory when it was being cleared for demolition.
I am sure the decisions made at the time were based on sound judgement, but I cant help but wonder what would have happened if they had stayed with the original concept. Certainly a 750bhp V12 and 4wd would have giving it something in the order of 250mph capability and made it faster in a straight line than a McLaren F1. Maybe in some alternative universe they did just that, and the magnificent Jaguar matched the dreams of the Saturday Club and is the legend that it deserves to be.
I was testing a compact SUV the other day, it’s spec sheet fits in nicely with the current competition; about 240bhp in a 1400kg car, 4WD and 0-60 in the region of 7.9s. Although this may not be earth shattering performance by modern standards it set me thinking, about two decades ago I was working on a car that some of you may of heard of; the Escort Cosworth.
Now the Cossy set the world alight with its ‘blistering performance’, even that bloke Clarkson had one of his own and spent far too long telling everyone. Part of the Cossy legend comes fro the fact that in full rally cross tune it could hit the dark side of 600bhp, but even the standard version was in reality rather quick.
But now the Focus five pot has more than 300bhp and luxury saloons must have 500bhp to be a serious contender. Things have clearly moved on, but surely an old quick car is still a quick car? If I hopped into a Cossy today would I be bored rigid with it’s hum drum performance?
So I did a highly un-scientific poll on Twitter, asking people what felt quick to them, and the results were remarkably consistent, although that might just be an indication of the type of people who follow me!
Allegro fan extraordinare @OneCarefulOwner commented “the goalposts have moved in a major way; my Maxi 1750HL had a blistering 96bhp, nowadays small diesels have more grunt.”
@racing_waiting pointed out that defining quick was a well trodden path “tricky question, drivers republic struggled, imotor struggled, road my previous mag stuggled.”
On the subject of the old XR3i @HairyCalahan observed “times have changed. expectations too. xr3i fine for it’s day”
But getting down to numbers @vHenryk considdered that “pretty much. A ‘sports car’ doesn’t have to be a ridiculously expensive 0-60 in less than 5 secs thing to deserve the name.”. Whilst @torquespeak said “Puma convinces me anything above 120 has a decent shot. 8 secs to 60 not first degree rapid but a hoot on the twisty bits!”
Of course power and weight are only part of the storey as student and car nut @MrPA sugests “On a decent road anything can be fun. I have a few corner-filled favourites which are brilliant in my mum’s 1.2 Clio (75bhp!).” a fair point and one echoed by @cotswoldracer “Indeed , my old AX GT 700Kg & 85bhp , and going by memory about the same as my 145 in terms of acceleration (8ish secs to 60), my Alfa 145/950kg/150bhp quick-ish , another 35 bhp would make it even more fun :)”
@carpunk observes the importance of weight in its own right “Guess 100hp in a 1000kg car will always feel much quicker than 250hp in car 2x the weight because of inertia, braking mass etc “ and @jonbradbury agrees “I think modern expectations have increased, & so has most weights. Though 160hp in 1T 944 shifted lot better 115hp Gti & the 115hp GTi shifted better than the 115hp XR3i.”
The consensus seemed to be that a ‘sports car’ of between 1 and 1.5 tons should have between 180 and 250bhp.
Which brings up some interesting points, firstly that a lot of ordinary family cars are actually high performance sports cars, and it may well be that the only reason that they are not regularly parked in hedges and Armco is the astonishing amount of technology dedicated to combating incompetence behind the wheel.
But going back the that point about the way cars feel, this fantastic driver assistance seems to have come hand in hand with a duller edge to the driving experience. Back in the day a sports car would engage and entertain the driver, not only with its performance but also with its ability to snap back and slap the unwary in the startled face. Putting your foot down in a high powered car not only thrilled but also surprised many a driver when glancing at the speedo to see the needle significantly further round than expected. Over enthusiastic cornering could result in the car suddenly swapping ends or having less wheels on the ground than is healthy. Motoring enthusiasts call this sort of thing ‘fun’, but unfortunately normal people call it dangerous, and so because there are more of ‘them’ buying cars than there are ‘us’ cars have become less dangerous, and sometimes less fun.
But from an engineering point of view fun and safe can co-exist. Some manufacturers have cottoned on to the fact that whilst safe and dull is best for the mass market there is still a significant market for thrilling cars, and having driver aids set to only come in when disaster is otherwise inevitable yet allowing a reasonable degree of sideways progress makes good sense.
For instance if you turn off the traction control on a Jaguar XKR you can light up the tyres and do doughnuts, but you will still struggle to accidentally oversteer backwards into the vicars rose garden because the system is still active and helping the driver achieve their intended trajectory. I have driven one with the traction control completely removed, and to say one needs ones wits honed and ready for extreme service is an understatement, it’s not fun on a wet B road – it’s simply scary.
Maybe 500bhp is fine when controlled by modern electro-wizardry, but has the same thrill factor as a raw 200bhp in a car with no aids at all. So how much power does a sports car need? Well it would seem the definitive answer is ‘it depends’.
You may be surprised to hear that there is not always perfect harmony between so called ‘designers’ and the engineers that actually make a car reality.
In fact even the word ‘designer’ is contentious, for what actually is a design? Is it a general sketch of the outside of the car or is it the detailed drawings that parts can be made from? Taken to extremes could I draw a picture of a blue box with a flashing light on top and say I have designed a time machine? Clearly not, but at the other extreme is the chap who draws out the blueprint for a gearbox support bracket a car designer? Again clearly not.
So what is design? It turns out to be a word that is used to mean subtly different things to different people, the dictionary really doesn’t help either with definitions varying from ‘a drawing that shows how something is to be made’ to ‘the general form or arrangement of something’.
And if you think about it the same vagueness exists for the word ‘engineer’ too, in my profession an engineer is someone with a degree in engineering who uses science to solve technical problems in order to create new technology. It’s a complex job with a good mix of practical and academic skills, in other countries such as Germany a professional engineer has the same social status as a doctor. But to British Gas an engineer is the bloke who fixes boilers. So when I create a new thingumyjig after deciding its form and function am I an engineer or a designer?
Maybe it’s ‘engineering design’….
If creating the drawings and working out the form and function is design then it could be argued that what the traditional car ‘designer’ does is actually styling and not design at all.
Either way the few people in the crayon department get lots of credit and go to posh shows to drink bubbly, whilst the many who toiled long hours wrestling near impossible problems in order to actually create a car simply get rewarded with more work. No champers for us just quiet anonymity, although to be fair that’s the way most of us like it.
The tension between the two departments stems from ‘designs’ that make the engineering either difficult or impossible.
In the late ’90s I had the privilege of working at Bentley on ‘Project Bali’ which was the successor to the Continental R/T and would eventually become the Continental GT. The designer there was a very talented chap by the name of Simon Loasby, back then he had to use traditional clay modelling on a rolling chassis made of girders. His studio had the full size clay in the middle and all round were inspirational pictures of older Bentleys and all sorts of stylish items associated with sophisticated high society, it was quite a wonderful place to be, even if rather chilly in the winter months due to the feeble gas heater left over from the war!
Anyway, he created a truly beautiful shape, not entirely different to the car we see today but somehow a touch more elegant. I went to look at it every few weeks as it evolved because I was working on bits of the engine design and crucially wanted to make sure the airflow through the radiator and charge coolers would be enough to let the engine meet the power targets. Critically this means that the apertures in the front have at least the bare minimum area to do the job, but also that the design allowed the hot air out of the engine bay. If the air couldn’t get out as fast as it got in then it backs up, the flow reduces and the engine overheats, so it’s quite important.
Initially the car had nice big air scoops at the front for the charge coolers and a very useful set of side gills to let the air out, I did some flow calculations and all was well.
Then the style changed, the front smoothed out, the holes got smaller and catastrophically the gills went! Undoubtedly the car looked smoother, but did it need to? And now we had to design for the air escaping underneath, which generates lift at high speed and never works quite as well. Simon knew what shape he had to design, and I knew how much air had to go through it, but the two didn’t go together and long conversations ensued.
But before we could go any further on that project the company was sold to a variety of German companies and the whole design was taken over by some other people with stronger accents.
My point here is that both Simon and myself had valid points that contradict each other. Engineers rarely admire ‘designers’, but often study with great enthusiasm the works of great engineers instead. As an aside at Crewe back in the day a Rolls Royce was commonly abbreviated to a ‘Royce’ rather than a ‘Rolls’ because Henry Royce was the engineer.
Designers sometimes complain that engineers keep saying no to everything, and engineers may complain that designers simply don’t understand the implications of their design. So who is right? Well as much as it pains me to say, probably a bit of both.
Engineers have to design a car that works in the real world, restricted by the laws of nature, legislation, finance and time. But designers have to create a shape the will engage the minds of customers, and most customers don’t give a fig for what’s under the shiny paint as long as it works. Occasionally in big companies the two groups are unwittingly assigned briefs that will inevitably result in conflict.
Sometimes in smaller teams these traditional roles are blurred, and it seems to work better that way, the McLaren F1 road car is a prime example.
Have a look at the original engineering prototype cars for the Range Rover back in the ’60s. They, Spen King & co, recognised all the key features a customer would want, packaged it all together in a way that worked very well indeed but looked very slightly unpleasant. Add a touch of styling and the car was transformed, but without ruining the engineering. That is, I think you will find, the way to do it.