The truth about electric cars

Or at least the truth from an engineering perspective. And that is an important distinction because of course the main catalyst for the change is political, there may be some very fine environmental and technical reasons for the change too, but politics holds all the aces. It can make oil prices prohibitive, it can subsidise new technologies that herald breakthrough innovations.
You see, every life changing new technology had to start somewhere, it usually starts off prohibitively expensive and a bit unreliable. Just think about those early mobile phones the size of a suitcase with a battery life of only a few minuets and call costs a hundred times greater than a normal land line. Or even the first computers, the size of a large room and less brains than a digital watch. The format is well established; pour loads of funding into research, laugh at boffins making experimental machines with questionable ability, wait for a company to spot the potential, get it into production and within ten years every competitor is developing better versions.

Rolls Royce are leading the charge (pardon the pun) in ultra luxury electric vehicles.

But electric cars are a bit of an exception because at the dawn of motoring they were a front runner, even Porche’s first car was electric. 130 years ago petrol was not readily available, you bought it in cans for quite a lot of money, car journeys were very short and cars were so expensive that only those with a large estate could afford one. Electric cars had the advantage over those first fledgling petrol cars in many ways, they were faster, quieter, much more reliable and had no starting problems. They didn’t even need a gearbox or clutch mechanism, so driving them was a far simpler affair than a crash box piston powered chariot.
But the materials technology needed to advance battery design was simply not there, the early EV hit a performance limit that it couldn’t break free from. The second problem was in motor control, all they had was switches, and as motors became more powerful the need for fine control at low speed became more problematic.
By comparison funding poured into petrol engine design, at that time it was far easier to improve than electric cars and oil companies were understandably keen to see this new product thrive. A couple of world wars forced engine design ahead very rapidly, not least to power aircraft from the humble Tiger Moth to the magnificent Spitfire.
Very rapidly it became far easier to make a high power, low cost petrol engine, opening up the possibility of cheap mass market motor cars.
Electric vehicles didn’t stand a chance. Half a century ago there was simply no reason to invest in electric vehicle research, emissions concerns had not yet manifested, climate change was unheard of and oil supplies were plentiful. A few enthusiasts continued to attempt to make electric vehicles, enjoying their simplicity and quietness, but materials technology would still limit their capability.
But times change, and now with political difficulties in oil supply, a far greater and ever developing understanding of emissions problems and climate change, coupled with massive advancements in technology there is an overwhelming desire to find alternatives to petrol and diesel.
This means that funding is now pouring into research in electric vehicles. But as mentioned above this is merely the first stage in a product becoming a commercial success, early adopters such as Honda with the Insight and more recently Toyota with the Prius have been suffering the commercial pain of subsidising less than ideal technology, but remember this is another essential stage in a technology’s development.
I hope that gives you an idea of where we are; about half way to getting a really useful, cheap and effective electric vehicle. There is now sufficient funding from a sufficiently large range of institutions, governments and corporations that the rest of the development process is pretty much inevitable, after all they all want to see a return on their investments.
Of course electric cars are not the only option for reducing CO2, existing piston engines could be re-engineered to run on hydrogen, and that fuel could be obtained by electrolysis of water. Storing hydrogen is a bit tricky unfortunately, but there are some exciting new developments that could make it a viable option. This has the advantage of using existing engine technology, but introduces large inefficiencies due to the process of hydrogen manufacture, its transport and the low efficiency of the internal combustion engine. You’d be lucky to turn 15% of the electrical energy used in hydrogen production into energy at the car’s wheels. and as ever you loose all that energy as soon as you apply the brakes.
The observant amongst you will know that lost energy from braking could be recovered by hooking up generators to the wheels and using the recovered energy to power the wheels on the next acceleration, as in KERS and other regenerative brake systems, but then you are carrying part of the weight and financial burden of the electric car but without all the benefit.
When you consider the total path from the source to the wheel the electric car can work out significantly better, potentially getting 50% of the source energy to the car wheels.
The other interesting possibility is gaining some, or possibly all, of the electricity from solar cells built into the car body. Various companies are developing composite body panels and special paints that act as solar panels that can be unobtrusively incorporated into the car design. In the UK the average energy from the sun through our legendary gloomy cloud is enough to power a small family car for about ten miles each day, so if all the car does is the school run and weekly shop then there could potentially be no fuel cost. Although as ever with new technology the first cars to have this feature will be hideously expensive and totally negate this benefit, but in time it will become a viable option.
Emissions are not the only reason for going electric, as the technology matures and becomes cheaper it will eventually become far cheaper to make an electric car than a combustion engined one. On a modern small car the engine and associated emissions systems can easily cost more than the rest of the entire car, getting this cost down is a huge incentive to car companies that struggle to make a profit at the best of times. in fact car companies have been trying to get up into electric cars for decades, remember the Ford Think?
There are many other benefits too, electric drives lend themselves to the ever increasing demands of advanced traction and stability control systems. As driver aids such as auto parking gradually evolve into fully autonomous self driving cars, having a simple method of accurately controlling the torque at each wheel becomes increasingly important.
When you put all these factors together the case for electric vehicles becomes compelling, and when you add in the political desire to reduce dependence on unstable oil producing countries the argument becomes overwhelming.
Obviously we are not quite there yet, historically the big problem has always been the battery. Old methods resulted in heavy, expensive and physically large units with limited range, they haven’t really changed in over a century. But in the last ten years or so there has been renewed investment, finally, and whilst there is still a long way to go we are definitely on the road to success already.
In fact as the ‘power density’ of batteries improves, eventually it will exceed that of petrol. This means that eventually electric cars will be lighter for the same power when compared to a petrol or diesel car, or more interesting to a racer like me, an electric car will be more powerful for the same weight. Imagine massively powerful electric supercars with precise control of the torque at each wheel from its four wheel motors, the ultimate in performance. The future world of electric vehicles is a very exciting place.
So there it is, electric cars offer huge benefits to the environment, car companies, drivers and world politics. They are not perfect yet, but within a decade or two they will be as ubiquitous as mobile phones.
And yes, before you ask, I still prefer the sound of a V8. But as long as the car accelerates as if it had one then maybe I could cope, after all we can always simulate the sound!

For more news about electric cars why not follow Robert Llewellyn, a superb ambassador for the EV revolution:bobbyllew

And you must follow Jonny Smith and his fabulous drag racing electric car ‘Flux Capacitor’: Carpervert

The genesis of the Jaguar V8

There was a time when ‘Jaguar’ and ‘V8’ could not be uttered in the same breath, which is odd when you consider the majesty of the Daimler 2.5 and 4.5 V8s used since the ’60s.

But by the end of the ’80s it was becoming clear that the weight of the gorgeous Jaguar

Potent as the V12 was, it weighs about 350kg on its own! As I found out when I built this XJ-S...

V12 was just too much, plus its enormous physical size was hampering car design, particularly for crash performance where you need some crumple zone rather than solid engine. The engine was revolutionary in the ’70s, but in the ’80s the labour intensive assembly and expensive parts was costing the company more than it was making. For the last years of the XJS the V12 was not even on the official brochures, it was only its legend that was keeping sales alive.

The AJ6 and AJ16 6 cylinder engines were making almost the same power and saved about 120kg which made a huge difference to the cars handling. But even this engine was showing its age.

New shorter engines were needed in order to allow sufficient room for an effective crumple zone. The engines needed to warm up more quickly, for both customer comfort and the ever tightening emissions regulations. This needs more precise cooling in the heads and block plus the use of considerably less metal. The piston ring system needed to control the oil much more accurately and piston friction had to be lowered. Indeed, friction throughout the engine needed to be reduced to meet the fuel economy and emissions targets.

With these issues in mind, a number of alternatives were looked at in the late ’80s, including a V12 derived V6 with the lost power being returned by using a brace of turbos. Another V6, an Orbital 2 stroke engine which gave the same number of power strokes per rev as the old V12 engine, was looked at but oil control and refinement never quite met the targets. They even looked at a number of engines from other companies, which could be bought in without the huge cost of developing their own engine.

During the dreaded BL days there had been some discussion of using the Buick derived Rover V8, which had substantial advantages in terms of weight (in fact it weighed half as much as the V12), cost and size. Unfortunately, most of the advantage came from the fact that it was relatively thin walled and so suffered in refinement a little. But in reality this could have been developed out, as was the case in the final fling of the Rover V8 inside the P38a Range Rovers.

But that venerable V8 was itself a relic of the ’60s and ultimately suffered from the same issues as the old Jaguar engines, in terms of efficiency and emissions. It also struggled to meet the power demands of modern cars, the 4.6 version only putting out 220bhp.

So the bold decision was made to design a completely new Jaguar engine, one that would meet the forthcoming challenges of regulations and customer expectations. Originally code named the AJ12, the project used a single cylinder research engine to examine a number of different combustion chamber, cylinder head/ port and cam options. This data showed that a 500cc cylinder with 26 degree ports and a four valve configuration gave the best economy and performance for Jaguar applications.

Although AJ12 never resulted in a physical engine, the data was used to study a modular engine design concept, concentrating on a 4 litre 8 cylinder and a 3 litre 6cyl, but also looking at a 2 litre 4 cylinder, a 5 litre 10 cylinder and a 6 litre 12 cylinder engine. This would require some rather sophisticated machinery to be able to make all those variants, sharing common components such as piston and valves but little else. As the analysis data grew, it became clear that the complexity of doing all those variants would be crippling, so it was decided to concentrate on 6, 8 and 12 cylinder V engines. Thus the project now became known as AJ26, 26 being the sum of 6, 8 and 12.

The Jaguar V8 would also make a damn fine race engine...

 

But this would be hugely expensive, the fuel bill alone for testing engines runs into millions of pounds per year. At this time Jaguar was privately owned and as such there was simply not enough spare cash to invest in new products. What was needed was an owner who could suffer the financial hit in the long period between investment and return.

When Ford became interested in buying Jaguar, it was only natural to see if one of their many engines would fit the bill. Indeed it was not uncommon for Jaguar owners in the USA to retro fit a Yank V8 so there was some precedence for this already.

But work had already started on the fledgling Jaguar V8 and the Whitley team, lead by Dave Szczupak, were passionate about seeing it through, they had looked at all the requirements and designed something that would give the legendary levels of Jaguar refinement and power whilst being small, light and efficient. But there would be a long road to go, from a concept to a fully customer ready production engine. Typically it takes around 7 years, that’s a long time to ask an investor to wait for a return.

Ford looked at the arguments for both Ford engines and for the new Jaguar engines, after all the data was analysed and the requirements understood, they decided to invest the millions needed by Jaguar to make their own new engine. But this would be dedicated tooling for just the V8, all other variants were not to be.

The first year had been largely given over to defining the requirements, the specifications for each part of the engine such as how much heat goes into the coolant and the oil, how much force is needed to turn the engine over, valve train stiffness, noise levels as well as the major things like the power and torque levels.

This had lead to the basic design, this was put into the new computers and virtual tests run to establish the best coolant flow paths, the best inlet and exhaust port shape, the cam profiles and the such. A huge amount of data was produced and analysed, without making a single engine. Somewhat different to the early days of the V12 when development was a matter of calculated guess work and then lots of test engines trying it all out.

The calculation gave most of the answers, but some elements still required real world testing. To this end some elements of the new engine were experimented on in isolation, using a current production ‘slave’ engine as a base, giving rise to some odd reports in the press of the new engine being based on this that and the other engine. For example, in order to try different bore and stroke combinations on the single cylinder rig, the engineers looked about for existing parts from all sorts of manufacturers, at one point it was using a Peugeot piston and a Mazda con rod!

The first V8 engines were run on test beds in late ’89 and the first car to receive one was an XJ-S, one of the cars that had just finished being used to evaluate the twin turbo AJ16 in fact. As is always the way with the first ever engine installation, nothing fits, mounts, hoses, air intake and exhaust manifolds all had to be fabricated for the job. Steve, one of the mechanics on the job, recalls ‘they gave me a bag full of exhaust tube and various bends and told me to get on with it’. At the end of ’90, after a couple of weeks of trial and error fitting work the first 4 litre V8 Jag burbled into life and was universally admired by the small select audience of management privileged enough to see it, particularly in America which was a crucial market.

It weighed about the same as the old 6 cyl but had more power and a greater spread of torque, thanks to the new variable cam timing system. But there was a small problem, it didn’t sound like a ‘Jaguar’. Although very appealing, the V8 burble sounded like any normal mid size car in the USA and part of the Jaguar magic was the very high levels of refinement and quietness. Sound is such an emotive thing and much debate was had as to what the new engine should sound like, eventually the decision was made to make it quiet and an enormous amount of work went into designing complex intake and exhaust systems. It is interesting to note how this has changed now such that the current XKR even has a device built into the bulkhead to help you hear the engines magnificent growl.

The first car I drove with the new V8 was an XJ40 in about ’93 at the Ford research centre in Dunton, Essex. The car was based on the XJ12 body, code namedXJ81, which had completely new metal work in front of the bulkhead in order to accept a V engine. This car was bristling with new technology, it had one of the first electronic throttle systems and this particular car had a manual gearbox but with an automatic clutch. As you shifted gear the systems would move the throttle and clutch so as to give you smooth gear shifts. It was marvellous to drive but ultimately it was easier to just use one of the excellent ZF 5 speed auto gearboxes instead.

Its interesting to note how Jaguar has had a history of technological innovation, and how right from the start Jaguar was showing Ford new things. In return Ford showed Jaguar how to massively improve production processes, improving quality and reducing costs. This relationship is continuing to this day, I am pleased to say, with both sides benefiting.

As the engine developed, the early tunes were used to check and refine the basic performance and emissions characteristics. Then cars were used to tune the transient response, that is to say how the engine responds to acceleration, deceleration and gear shifts. This is always a very difficult balance between good drivability and good emissions, a slightly rich fuelling on acceleration give very good drivability but will fail emission completely on hydrocarbons alone.

The new XK was launched with the revised 4.2 V8, a swansong for the first generation V8.

 

Part of the solution was to ensure the automatic gearbox control system ‘talked’ to the engine control system. This kept the throttle, fuel and spark precisely in tune with the change in engine speed during the shift, allowing the engine to anticipate the changes rather than have to react to them after the fact.

After the engine had received a good stable tune, it was time to test it in all the harsh climates it would face in the real world. Traditionally this involves driving it in the Arctic and in the deserts of Arizona or Africa. But now tests could also be done in Fords climatic test chambers which drastically cuts down the development time and expense. As well as cold and hot climate tests, the new cars had to be tested in extremes of damp to check the corrosion resistance of the components and all the wiring. Then there is the rough road testing, both on specially prepared test track with a range of harsh surfaces, and on shake rigs where computer controlled hydraulic rams try to shake the car to pieces. In short, a lifetime of use and abuse is concentrated into a matter of months. By the end of ’94 a huge amount of data had been produced and all the necessary changes had been made, the results were looking very good indeed.

After this year of climate and durability tests, the final tweaks could be made and then it was time to start running the cars at government approved test centres to get the various certifications needed to sell a new car. At the same time further tests were re-run in house just to confirm that the final version was working as expected.

In parallel to all this development, the production plant was tooling up. First prototype tooling is made and the whole assembly process is tested, any special tools or assembly methods are identified and the first set of workers are trained. The first few test cars were built this way, as were the cars eventually used for the journalists to drive at the launch in ‘95.

The cost of production tooling is huge, the Bridgend AJV8 plant cost Ford £125 million. So it was vital to be certain that everything was right before the orders were placed, this could only happen when all the test data was in and all the tweaks had been tested. This is still true today and is one of the reasons it takes so long to get a new idea into production.

Land Rover with Jaguar V8 power, a rather good combination in my opinion.

 

So, in ’96, seven years after the project started, the first XK8s were sold with the all new, entirely Jaguar, V8 engines. A new era had begun.

The original 4.0 litre V8 went through many detail revisions, and endured the dreded Nickasil debarkle that struck many alluminium bored engines of that era. All the lessons learnt were rolled out together in the later 4.2 litre version of the engine, this unit has a reputation for toughness as well as performance and has been raced with some success too. When Land Rover joined the group it was a natural choice to replace the less than reliable BMW V8 with the trusty and powerfull Jaguar unit. In Discovery it was stretched to 4.4 litres in naturally aspirated form but was left at 4.2 for the supercharged variant, 400bhp seemed perfectly sufficient for a Range Rover back then…..

As with all technology in this rapidly changing modern world, eventually it needed a rethink to regain ground lost to competitors who had brought out engines with the latest innovations. The very name ‘Jaguar’ conjures thoughts of tradition and heritage, but it is easy to forget that a fundamental part of that tradition and heritage is innovation; pushing the boundaries back and surprising the car-buying public. In the 70s and 80s, arguably they made the world’s only mass production V12, and at its launch the XJ6 set new standards in refinement and performance coupled with superb looks and all at a very reasonable price. And whatever you may personally think of the XJ-S, it was a very bold move and still has a very strong following.

The all new AJ-V8 GenIII five litre V8 engine demonstrates the continuation of that innovative tradition, capable of delivering over 500 bhp in a selection of very civilised luxurious cars. And as a demonstration of the engine’s strength, a basically standard engine, a tad over-boosted in a slightly modified XF-R was driven at 225.6 mph on the iconic Bonneville salt flats, faster than the XJ220 super car.

It is interesting to draw a comparison with the magnificent old Jaguar V12, intended to provide approximately 20% greater performance than the 4.2 XK six cylinder engine of the time.

In a similar way, the new AJ-V8 5 litre replaces the 4.2 V8, and pushes power levels up by similar amounts; from 420 to 510 bhp for the R version. However, some things are radically different this time round; the new larger engine manages the rather impressive trick of being significantly more economical than the engine it replaces. An astonishing achievement but absolutely essential in today’s, also radically different, environment.

The V12 was also very advanced for a road car engine at the time, in both its concept and manufacture; it was all alloy and designed for fuel injection from the outset, although they were forced to run carburettors temporarily on the E Type. By comparison the new V8 also uses the latest materials and sports an advanced fuel injection system which heavily influenced the engine design, specifically the cylinder heads with a central fuel injector in each combustion chamber.

From E Type to XJ supercharged 5.0 V8, innovation lives on.

 

The injection concept was proved out before any prototypes were made, on a highly modified current production engine taken out to 4.5 litres. The first real prototype engines were created in 2004 and were immediately and relentlessly tested in engine dynamometers, where each engine can be tested in isolation under precisely controlled conditions. Some engines did specific tests such as trying to deliberately foul the spark plugs, or push the performance limits, and others were run on durability cycles designed to stress components to the max, many a time I walked past a test cell where the exhaust manifolds were glowing bright orange as an engine was run at full tilt.

It is of course the people that really make a company, such as the crack team of expert technicians who build and prepare engines ready for testing, often covered with so much complex test equipment that the engine is totally obscured. Or the chaps in the dedicated powertrain machine shop, a small room packed with tools to weld, cut and machine almost any component, often at short notice, using a mix of the ultra new and the traditional techniques that have served Jaguar engine development for many decades. Research by its very nature involves the unforeseen and as a team, their resourcefulness and creativity has saved many a day. It is the talents of dedicated people like this that form the ‘DNA’ of the company.

After initial assessment of the engines, it soon became clear that the naturally aspirated version would meet its performance targets with ease, something that is quite rare in the rest of the car industry, and the supercharged version could exceed expectations without effort so the original power target was raised from 500 to 510 bhp.

The first car I drove with a prototype engine, in 2007, was one of the first engineering ‘hacks’ and so the engine tune was still splendidly raw. It is from this point that skilled engineers start refining the car’s response, making the car do what the driver wants rather than just reacting to crude mechanical inputs. Before work could begin, this particular car had to be driven from Gaydon, where it had been assembled, to Whitley for testing. As I was making that journey myself I volunteered to take the test car, unfortunately it was pouring with rain and as yet there was no traction control – this lead to a few moments of unintentional entertainment and a degree of sideways progress, but even at that embryonic stage it was still a wonderful car to drive.

Indeed it is an essential part of the vehicle’s development to test drive in every type of likely environment so that the design can be finalised before test cars are sent for official emissions certification all over the world. So cars are out and about with disguise kits on years before launch, trying to avoid the hoards of press photographers camped out in the hedges near the factory. Whenever ‘spy shots’ of a new car are printed, it’s standard practice to work out who was driving and then mock them mercilessly, although sometimes it can land the driver in real trouble if more is revealed than is wise.

As ever, refinement is an essential Jaguar characteristic and this has been achieved by ensuring the moving parts are perfectly balanced in the traditional manner, but also with the new Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) system, where the fuel is forced directly into the combustion chamber at very high pressure. It controls combustion in such a way as to minimise vibration and noise, effectively by shaping the way the cylinder pressure rises, as well as reducing emissions, better fuel economy and higher performance as if the system raises the fuels octane rating. The whole engine is designed round the system and a lot of hard work ensures all the different factors work in harmony, from the computer synchronised high pressure pumps to the crystal operated injectors that give a sequence of perfectly formed fuel pulses.

An experimental race vehicle recieves the new 5.0, light and strong with a tuning potential well above 600bhp.

 

The technology has near magical control, when you hit the start button the engine will synchronise, analyse the current air and coolant temperature, check the oil level and temperature, check all the sensors are working, set the fuel pressure on the twin double-acting high pressure pumps, check and adjust throttle angle, set all four cam positions, charge up the ignition coils and the 160 volt injector control circuit and be ready to fire the first cylinder within one revolution of the engine.

And it’s not just the engine that makes for a stunning drive; the gearbox is a lighter yet stronger version of the ZF 6 speed which works in a detailed and complex harmony with the engine, exchanging data and requests in a high speed electronic conference. For instance – when changing gear the gearbox asks the engine to adjust power to balance the kinetic energy left in the drive train and so removing any cause for a jolt or surge, it all happens in a fraction of a second, all for your driving pleasure.

It’s all very impressive stuff and a million miles away from the possibilities available nearly 20 years ago when the design of the last V8 started. The sheer volume of work that goes into the new engine merits a celebration: so for the privileged few of you who get to drive one of these wonderful cars, please take a moment to look under the bonnet, a lot has gone into that modest space.

The Mugen Honda Civic Type R

The Mugen Honda Civic Type R has a very long name, it also has a very big rear spoiler which is attached to a very small car. Small cars with powerful engines are a tried and tested recipe for fun, thrills and teenagers driving into lampposts outside McDonald’s, in short it’s a winning formula so it seemed rude not to take up the offer of thrashing this icon of the Burberry clad yoof of the day. The location for said thrashing was the fantastically twisting snake of a road that is Millbrook’s Alpine route, yes that’s the one where they filmed James Bond rolling an Aston but as I am not being chased by super-villains I feel confident that the car will remain shiny side up. And that is quite important as there are only 20 of these UK models, although as always with ‘limited editions’ if popular there will surely be further runs of similar but not quite exactly the same models. Right, enough preamble, to the car:

More badges than a keen Scout.

Snug is a good word, even the word ‘snug’ feels snug, as do the Mugen’s seats. The interior is a bit like a condensed version of that corner of Halfords where all the hoodies gawp at excessively loud stereos, as well as the usual dash with the now obligatory ‘Start’ button there is an extra set of largely pointless gauges telling the driver things that most wont really understand in a sculpted pod. When I used to write for Max Power magazine I would see a lot of this sort of thing. But whilst it is very easy to mock, the remarkable thing is I rather like it, it appeals to the child within in much the same way that those enormous Lego Technic sets do, I feel that at my age I really shouldn’t but actually I really want to. As soon as the seat hugs me and I pull the red seatbelt down the whole car just screams to me ‘drive fast’, so not wishing to disappoint that’s what I proceed to do.
The superb two litre VTEC engine is quite audible but still reasonably civilised, it pulls away without drama and can be driven normally, although I have no idea why you would want to because as soon as it comes on cam at about 5500rpm there is a goodly surge of thrust and the engine starts screaming like an aged rock star on a come back tour; strong, purposeful, loud, tuneful with a rough edge, exciting even, but not necessarily something you would want to listen to at 6am on a damp Tuesday morning commute.
In low gears the 8600rpm rev limit arrives rapidly and a certain joy is to be had swiftly charging through each of the close ratio gears, the selector is wonderfully accurate and fast (I believe the trendy term is ‘snickerty’ or something, but that sounds like a word made up by people who cant describe things properly).
The exhaust noise is predominant but the intake makes a healthy roar too, when blasting through the gears the rasping and popping is terribly addictive urging me on to higher speeds just so I can change gear again. I actually found myself laughing out laud.

The Civic is a futuristic looking car anyway, maybe it should fly?

Turning into fast corners in the standard Civic results in the now traditional dull under-steer and a vagueness to the steering, the Mugen is a world apart and very direct, a lot of the compliance has been taken out and the geometry altered to suit the sportier driver with remarkable results. The turn in is so positive that I feel I could just will the car to go round corners, it responds quickly to every input from me and almost becomes an extension of my body. I say almost as it is not quite the same as a true race car, but there again this is a road car that can still accept a full load of shopping, it’s still hugely addictive and I soon find myself deliberately taking tighter lines round corners just to enjoy the joy ride.
Each corner follows the same format; brake late enjoying the powerful and responsive brakes, short shift a couple of gears enjoying the bark from the exhaust on overrun, throw an arm full of steering in and power out with the engine screaming round to the rev limiter, slicing through the roller coaster Millbrook track. Admit it, you want a go now don’t you!
For the first few minuets this car brought me sheer joy, I was laughing out loud. But after a while the fact that I had to keep constantly changing gear became a tinsy bit tedious, and the fat tyres tram-lining on the rougher bits of road surface required constant correction which started to become tiring.
And that’s it in a nutshell; the Mugen is huge fun, briefly. Not an everyday car, unless you are extremely addicted to go-karts and are slightly hyper active, in which case constantly flailing your limbs about to get the best out of the car will second nature.

Whats in a name? About 237bhp, actually.

Would I buy one? Probably not. But would I borrow a mates one? Oh yes, as long as I could get back from the race track before he finds out what I’d done with it!

Spec:
Weight 1247kg
Performance 6.0sec 0-62mph, 150mph, 30mpg
Length/width/height in mm 4280/1795/1440
Price £38599
Engine 1998cc 16v 4-cyl, 237bhp @ 8300rpm, 157lb ft @ 6250rpm
Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive

Subtle, unobtrusive, both words that seem lost near that wing.

The most powerful piston engine in the world

Big is good, it’s official.
As you hopefully know, power is generated in our car engines by burning fuel. The heat makes the pressure go up which pushes the piston down just like you foot bearing down on a bicycle pedal. It’s a nice simple theory. The trouble is that most of the heat released into the cylinder is wasted, at full throttle about a third goes into the coolant and the other third goes down the exhaust pipe. At part throttle its even worse, up to 90% of the heat is wasted. A small fraction of the exhaust energy can be recovered with a turbo but basically it’s very wasteful.
So how can we improve things? Well, to retain more of the heat energy in the exhaust we can reduce engine speed, allowing longer for the heat to be used. But how can we reduce the heat absorbed by the cylinder wall? We could use some funky materials like ceramic but that has its own problems.

An engine, look carefully in the middle there is a bloke on the third floor! (Picture - WÄRTSILÄ)

However, one fundamental scaling rule applies to all things in the universe, if you double the volume of something, the surface area only increases by about 1.4. This is good for engines because a smaller proportion of the heat is lost to the cylinder walls. It’s not so good for creatures that breathe through their skin, like spiders which can never get much bigger than your hand without collapsing in a heap.
So why not use massive engines everywhere? Of course the efficiency bonus of big engines only applies at high loads, at part throttle the massive cooling effect of a high surface area ruins the fuel economy, so in the car world we size an engine to be appropriate for the job the car is supposed to do. For instance, when cruising down the motorway most cars only need about 18 bhp, so building a small engine that has peak efficiency at that power would be great for that single job, and indeed that is what the ‘mileage marathon’ cars do, but of course there is nothing left in reserve for accelerating, so we go for something closer to a 100bhp engine in a smallish car.
But what about something bigger? The biggest vehicles produced are ships, and in particular supertankers which can be the length of a drag race track.
So the subject our adoration is the mighty Wärtsilä-Sulzer RT-flex96-C, in particular the 14 cylinder version. Its total cylinder capacity is 25480 litres, I’ll just let that sink in for a moment.
It is a two stroke diesel engine with four, very large, turbos and computer controlled poppet type exhaust valves. It gobs out 84.4Mw which is 114800 bhp at only 102 rpm, and as you probably know torque is power divided by speed, that equates to about 6 million lb/ft of torque. Which is a lot.
Fuel economy is brilliant at full load – amazingly only 171 grams of fuel per kWh, ok that might not mean too much to most people but it is about twice as good as a diesel car. But if you drop the load to 85% and best efficiency the consumption is only 163g/kWh, which with the fuel containing 42.7 Mj/kg relates to about 51.7% efficiency. But this is not the best efficiency in the piston world, I think that is the Man S80ME-C7, catchy names.
Now that's a big crank, you should see the ballencing machine! (Picture - WÄRTSILÄ)

Everything about it is big in a whole new way; each cylinder is 960mm (37.8 inches) bore by 2500mm (98.4 inches) stroke, giving 1820 litres per pot. At full tilt, 102 rpm that is, a mean piston speed of 8.5 meters per second and the average pressure in the cylinder (MEP) is about 20 times higher than atmospheric which all means that each individual cylinder produces over 7700 bhp (the same as a top fuel drag race car) whilst consuming about 160 grams of heavy smelly fuel oil each stroke.
The outside is even more impressive, they call this type of thing a ‘cathedral engine’. At nearly 14 metres tall, 28 metres long it has four stories of walk ways round it. And weighing in at 2300 tonnes its not going to fit in a car!
Even the fuel pump is impressive, it looks like a huge V8 designed by Dr Frankenstein and delivers up to 1660 gallons per hour of heated fuel oil at 1000 bar to the common rail diesel injection system. Each cylinder has three injectors which are operated independently to control the combustion flow, the way the flame moves around the chamber, resulting in no smoke even at full load. The fuel control allows the engine to run over a wider range of speeds than older generation engines, indeed on the 12 cylinder version they managed to get it to run at only 7 rpm experimentally, that’s one ‘kaboom’ every 9 seconds, which is very slow.
It uses, more or less, the usual two stroke block scavenge intake system, that’s where the underside of the piston compresses the air. But that’s as far as normality goes, here it is refined with one way valves the size of tea trays and then the air hits four very impressive turbos, each the size of a small garden shed, before going through inter-coolers the size of Portacabins and entering the cylinder via a port near its lower edge. For starting, massive electric blowers pump in air at about 30 bar.
The exhaust poppet valves are fully computer controlled, a servo uses oil at 200 bar to move the valve up and down, so the cam profile exists only as software in the virtual world of the control box and is totally variable. The exhaust valve opening is reduced at part load to keep the exhaust temperature above 150 ºC to prevent tons of sulphur from the unrefined fuel corroding the exhaust after treatment system.
The pistons are mounted solidly onto an upper con rod, called a piston rod, that has a joint at the bottom that runs in guide rails, to keep the piston rod upright all the time. It’s called a cross head and ensures that the piston has no side loading and the oil control is tight enough to give the engine a 30 year service life, and most of the time in all those years the engine will be running flat out, which is pretty amazing. The lower end of this rod connects to the con rod proper and then on to the crank, the main bearing caps have ladders on them for the service crew to walk up.
Did I mention it’s quite big?
These engines are used in container ships like the Emma Maersk, about 170 thousand tons of it which is propelled at up to 26knots and is assisted by no less than five 8000 bhp Caterpillar engines just for helping with manoeuvring.
It’s got quite a big propeller too.

Ever wondered how to design a land speed record winning vehicle?

On the weekend of 22/23 May 2010 team Runningblade took the World Land Speed Record for lawnmowers. The magnificent machine was driven by Don Wales, grandson of Sir Malcolm Campbell, on the legendary Pendine sands reaching a speed of 87.833 mph and taking the record for the British team.

Pendine sands at 90mph on a mower!

The original idea was the brain child of team chief Steven Vokins, who’s day job is playing with cars at Beaugleigh Motor Museum, and I was thrilled when he asked me to come on board as technical advisor.
Making a genuine lawnmower do that speed is no mean feat, the machine was built by seasoned mower racers at Countax in their spare time, a quite magnificent effort which not only goes damn fast but is also very stable at speed, looks good and even cuts grass!
In fact part of the regulations required us to cut some grass before the speed attempt, so the lawn outside the Pendine Museum of Speed benefited from a quick trim in front of the world’s media. Currently the museum houses Bluebird, Malcolm Campbell’s land speed record car from the ’20s, so it’s fair to say there is a lot of family history there.
Runningblade also raises funds for two heart charities, so please look at the web site and spread the word. The record breaking run was witnessed by the previous record holder Bob Cleveland who has vowed to take the record back to the USA next year, but he also raised over 1000 dollars back home for our charities, now that is a damn good sport.

Designing a land speed record machine is a skill hard leaned by the pioneers of speed, luckily for us we can draw on their incredible tales to reduce the amount of pain we have to endure. The same rules apply no matter what sort of machine is being designed; stability at speed is essential for safety and to allow the pilot to apply full power, secondly you need to balance power and drag so you can reach the target speed in the distance available.

Early concept work with key parts held roughly in place.

Most speed machines gain stability by using a very long wheel base, in fact it’s the ratio of the track width to the wheel base length that influences the twitchiness of the car, or yaw stability if you prefer the technical term. But making a car to narrow makes it easier to roll, so we start by setting the track width then altering the wheelbase to suit.
The width is a big problem though, for speed we need to make the frontal area as small as possible so it pushes a small hole in the air. Air is heavy stuff, each cubic meter (about the amount of air under a coffee table) weighs about 1.1 kg, driving at 100 mph means that the average car (2 square meters of frontal area) is pushing 110kg of air out of the way every single second!
The ease or difficulty with which it manages to move the air is down to the shape of the car, sleek slippery shapes carve through the air but brick shapes shovel the air in front of them in a massive pile of pressure slowing the car horribly.
And here is the first problem; lawnmowers are traditionally shaped like tractors with a brick shaped bonnet. Luckily Countax make a fairly well streamlined bonnet which became the starting point for the whole vehicle. We also leaned the driver back as far as possible, unlike race cars the view forwards is surprisingly unimportant, usually they are looking a long way in front and so they can be sunk deep into the vehicle with their eyes at bonnet height.
In fact getting everything as low as possible is vital, a low centre of gravity helps stability and crucially reduces the effect of side winds. One of the great problems with a land speed machine is that the aerodynamics are set for minimal drag which means minimal down force, so at very high speed even a slight side wind can blow the car badly off course.
This means that land speed record cars run with a fairly high weight to hold them down at speed, the complete opposite of nearly every other form of motorsport. It’s not that we add weight, more that we don’t try to minimise it, making the structure very strong and the such like. Where the weight sits is very important though, we try to put the majority of the weight over the front axle so the steering wheels have grip, the worst case is the front going light at speed because then the car can spin and roll or on faster machines could flip over backwards. Loosing grip at the back makes the car twitchy and with rear wheel drive obviously acceleration is lost but generally the car stays on course. Going back to the problem of side winds, as the wind blows on the side of the vehicle the most force is applied in the biggest side area, on a mower this would normally be somewhere at the back of the engine area, the point where the car is pushed is the centre of pressure. setting the centre of gravity in front of the centre of pressure means the car is more stable, that’s one of the reasons why proper land speed record cars have a big tail fin.
Brum brum, beep beep...

With all these factors in mind one of the first things we did was to lay all the main components on the floor and get Don to sit on the seat so we could get everything in the right place. Apart from being a useful exercise it is also very funny, and yes we did force him to hold the steering wheel and make brum brum noises.
So now we had the height, width and length sorted out it was time to resolve the details, the most important one being the tyres. Again we have a dilemma, bigger diameter makes a smoother and more stable ride, a wider tyre reduces ground pressure on the soft sand which reduces rolling drag. But the greater the tyre frontal area the greater the aero drag. The decision was constrained by the fact there are no standard lawn mower tyres rated for 100mph, so we had to use ordinary car tyres. Tread pattern is critical on sand, to minimise power lost in breaking up the beach surface we needed the least aggressive tread pattern possible, we even considered slicks at one point, which may seem surprising. But remember we are not doing any cornering, just a straight line, and too much lateral grip could be a problem if it makes the steering too twitchy, if the vehicle does spin it is
Testing, testing and more testing, one day is not long enough.
desirable for it to slide rather than dig in when going sideways to avoid rolling.
Indeed, to stop the steering being too twitchy the rack ratio is reduced making it a lot slower to turn and increasing the turning circle many times.
With all these factors set, we needed to sort out the shape, the aerodynamics and crucially the drag dictates the power required from the engine. At this point well funded teams would model the vehicle on a computer and hone the bodywork in a virtual wind tunnel. We weren’t well funded so we had to do it the old fashioned way, we built a prototype and drove it down and airfield to see how fast it went. Using a data logger lent to us by Racelogic we could see how fast the vehicle accelerated and get accurate top speed readings. As we knew the weight of the vehicle and the engine power curve it was fairly straight forward to work out the drag coefficient.
Who needs a Stig, we've got a Don!

My good friends at Dunsfold Park, home of the Top Gear test track, very kindly let us use the runway for a day. It’s amazing how much work is required before a vehicle can actually drive onto the track, after arriving and unloading the van the initial checks are made and fuel added, I mounted the datalogger and set up the GPS speed reading. Don suited up and the engine was warmed up, that fairly large single cylinder mower engine sounded quite meaty with a race exhaust. A couple of low speed runs warm up the transmission and then it comes back in to check nothing is leaking before the propper test run.
Tring different seat hights and wind deflectors.

The prototype peaked at just over 60mph with a 27bhp engine, which may not sound impressive but it gave us the drag info needed to design the real deal. The prototype had another job to do too; every world land speed record team struggles to find the cash to go on and a vital part of the teams work is generating publicity and generating support, in fact if you saw Runningblade at the launch party at Beaugleigh you saw the prototype, the final version was still being built at that time.
A man with a blue helmet, behind Don is another Bluebird.

One key ingredient is power, in fact more than any other form of motorsport power is critical, and wee needed more. To cover the measured mile at the target speed the vehicle needs more power than you might think, first of all it needs enough power to maintain top speed as it overcomes drag and mechanical losses, but it also needs extra power to accelerate the vehicle comfortably in the run up zone. Not only this but the engine will be running flat out for a long time, so it needs to be able to generate this power reliably but also maintain it as everything runs at maximum speed and temperature, so a degree of safety margin is required and it is common to use an engine with at least 10% more power available than you need.
The problem on this project was the need to use a real lawnmower engine, these usually have the cylinder flat and the crank vertical to drive the front belt pulley. There are not many high power versions about. The 27bhp engine in the prototype was one of the biggest available, but this only gave us half our hoped for top speed, the trouble is the force due to air drag on the front goes up with the square of speed, and worse the power needed goes up with the cube of speed. So to double the top speed we need eight times as much power!
The bigest vertical crank mower motor we could find.

To meet the challenge we needed to drastically reduce the drag as well as increase the engine power. Kawasaki had just launched a new big mower engine and being fabulously helpful lent us one of the first in the country. This mighty 1000cc V twin engine produced well over 40bhp as standard and with a few tweaks we eventually got about double the power of the prototype.
To get the drag down the final version of Runningblade was slightly lower and narrower, the seat canted back a touch and the wheelbase extended to cope.
By now all funds and time had been exhausted, we had booked Pendine sands and the worlds media were pouring in, it was now time to prove we could do it even though we had no time for any final testing.
The view ahead. You need to double click and see this bigger to get it.

Pendine is a fantastically evocative place, there has been so much triumph and tragedy here and Don’s family ties are so great that the land speed museum there houses many of his ancestor’s artefacts. Tides dictate the days timing, as the water goes out it takes time for the moisture in the sand to ebb away, if you drive on it too soon it is too wet and the car will bog down, leave it too late in it is dust and the car digs in, there is a fairly brief window of opportunity of about an hour where the sand is firm and speeds are highest. As soon as the tide has gone the first job is to clear away all the debris by hand to prevent ‘foreign object damage’ or FOD, clearing the drift wood, shells and rubbish is known as fodding and a sterling band of volunteers form the local scouts assisted in this back breaking work. At the same time the course is laid out with the start and finish ‘gates’ being marked out and the electronic timing gear set up and tested. A FIA sanctioned timing official was hired for the day so we could give Guinness World Records verifiable data. Much of the setting up and moving kit about on the beach was done by the local Discovery Owners Club who’s help was vital, they also posted cars at set points on the course to act as emergency aid just in case.
Whilst all this was going on the mower was equipped with it’s cutting deck and a witnessed mow of the museum lawn took place in front of the officials and media, plus a fairly large gathering crowd. No pressure then.
Gina Campbell putting 'Mr Woppit' on Runningblade. Google them. Now!

Then the call came through that the course was ready and the tide time was spot on for the first run, so the cutting deck was removed for safety and we headed for the golden beach.
Initially we ran with a roll cage and harness as we had no idea how stable the mower would be at higher speeds, Don set off for the first timed run, the V twin sounded awesome with no silencing, a bit like a Harley. It soon got up to 80mph and was humming along brilliantly, but then disaster struck and the speed dropped dramatically. We all dived into support trucks and rushed to the scene, the Countax guys flipped the machine onto its tail stand and immediately we could see the drive belt has fragmented. The prolonged run at full power had made it so hot it just disintegrated. Adjustment were made to pulleys to minimise slip and flex and a new belt fitted.
On its tail stand you can see the pulleys that drive the axle and cutting deck.

The return run went without a hitch, Don got out and reported it felt incredibly stable at speed and the beach was at its best, so we decided to remove the roll cage to reduce drag.
The second run was faster, but still not near the target so more tweaks were tried, gradually run by run the speed crept up a tiny amount at a time. There was a gentle breeze up the beach and with a tail wind the machine broke 90mph, but the return run into the wind dropped the average to 86.7mph.
Sun, sand and sea air. How relaxing, oh hang on...

And that was enough to snatch the World Land Speed Record for lawnmowers, the mower had given everything it had to give and it was time to celebrate.
Winning.

Speed records are strangely addictive, once you have had one you need another, it doesn’t matter how fast you go you want to go faster. Speed is a drug, and the competition at every level is fierce, there is a category for almost everything, even road legal furniture, you name it some one has driven it faster than you would think possible.
Just being part of a team is a real privilege and a thrill, if you love speed machines then why not get involved, I joined the Bloodhound SSC club who have loads of thing for members to join in with and it’s a real buzz. Go on, get involved!

See more about our mower at:
www.projectrunningblade.co.uk

This video clip may stop being hosted at some point, when it does let me know and I will remove the link:
http://watch.discoverychannel.ca/daily-planet/may-2010/daily-planet—may-20-2010/#clip304733

Follow Bloodhound SSC at:
www.bloodhoundssc.com