Cold Shoulder

As engineers we have to test cars in all environments, and whilst a lot of time is spent testing in hot and cold countries the bulk of testing is done back at the engineering centre in special climatic chambers. These are basically glorified garages with a high powered air conditioning systems that can chill the cars down to -40C or heat them up to 50C.

I have to say that -40 is very chilly, but some weird things happen when testing in a chamber. For a start there is no wind, so as soon as you walk in from the nice warm office you don’t feel the cold, not straight away anyway, it sort of creeps up on you and can catch the unwary out leading to sudden loss of blood pressure and blacking out. This results in the strange phenomena of seeing engineers wearing full Arctic clothing in the office in the middle of the summer, often with frost on.

There are a few crucial rules to observe when getting into a chilled car, everything looks normal, the car has no frost on because there is no moisture in the cell, it just looks like a normal shiny new car. Those publicity photos of cars covered in frost are made by spraying water from a plant sprayer over the car first, who ever said the camera never lies!

But even though the car looks normal if you touch a metal part with a bare hand the moisture in your skin will instantly freeze solidly to the metal part, pulling away will rip the outer layer of skin off but staying put will gradually freeze the whole hand, this is to be avoided.

The reason moisture is not present is that at these low temperatures it simply falls out of the air, which is handy as any dampness in the door seals would freeze and lock them up solidly. The test chamber has electrically heated door seal for precisely this reason. I once made the mistake of driving a car into a chamber after it had been raining, many years ago, by the time the car was cold enough to test we couldn’t get the doors open, eventually three crowbars, a dented door and torn door seal later we could start work.

Strange things happen when you take a frozen car out of the chamber, particularly on a typical wet British summers day when there is a lot of humidity in the air. As soon as the chamber doors are opened the warm humid air rushes in and turns to fog, instantly obscuring the frozen windscreen.

As you drive the car out it works as normal, then moisture freezes on the tyres which are still well below zero, they make a crunching sound as the car rolls forward and can skid if the road is wet. Its strange but for a few yards until the tread warms up its like driving on ice, but on a warm day.

The next trick catches many people out, when first moving the car out of the cell the brakes work normally, but as you drive across the yard ice forms a hard layer on the discs and as you park up the brakes don’t work. By which I mean they don’t work at all, the callipers are squeezing on smooth ice and there is no retardation at all, not even the hand brake works. The trick is to drive with the brakes on until the discs have warmed up to zero.

Proper climatic chambers cost a fortune and are always in short supply, so some companies use cheaper options. I once worked for a well known gearbox manufacturer who used a modified artic freezer trailer that used to take frozen fish to the shops. It was just possible to get a car in and open the drivers door enough to get out, but it was tight. The control didn’t have a thermostat, just a lever that ran the chiller to a greater or lesser degree, there was one engineer who had got the feel for how far to push the lever to get the desired temperature. Usually he got it bang on, but not always.

On one occasion I loaded a prototype car in and he set the control to give us -20 for the following mornings cold start test. Or so he thought. But overnight the ambient temperature dropped unexpectedly quickly and instead of -20 we got something nearer -40, a temperature where the engine had yet to be calibrated and stood no chance of starting at. The only solution was for me to attach a large truck battery (the cold oil was to much load for the car battery) and apply a hot air gun to the intake until it stood a chance of starting. Remarkably this bodge worked and the prototype engine spluttered into a very lumpy idle. It was then that I found my thick soled shoes had frozen to the floor! It was a few more minutes with the hot air gun before I could escape.

Such is the glamorous life of an engineer.

How many cars can an ‘Enthusiast’ have?

Or put another way how much space do you really need…

Phenomena from the parallel world of project vehicles.
Indeed, fleet size is related to theoretical storage places thus:
Fs = Pth + Ptemp + int(0.5+(Dnew + S))
Pth is the theoretical storage places is based on Mini sized vehicles, stacked.
Ptemp is theoretical storage places available on a temporary basis from friends and family,
Dnew is variable between 0 and 1 based on desirability ratio of the new purchase.
S is the imaginary factor, 0 to 1, induced by the concept that ‘its a scrapper with loads of good bits on which I can sell on eBay and make…’

Thus, someone with only one parking space will own two cars and be in the process of scrapping a third, in a friends chicken shed, whilst looking at prices of an intermittent fourth.
There is also the fact that when four or more actual spaces are available, one of the vehicles becomes a ‘long term project’ and will not move for at least five years until trees grow through it, only then may it be replaced with a newer long termer.

Garage capacity.
Garages are permitted to only store half their actual storage capacity (as opposed to theoretical capacity which is based on packing cars in so tight you get out through the sun roof and lift a mini in sideways).
The other half must be full of the ‘useful bits’ that you took of the scrappers over the last decade, plus half a bag of soil per car per year stored.
There is also the ‘cyclic focus phenomena’.
This is where one starts with a wreck (project) and one purchases another wreck (donor) in order to restore the first wreck to its (imaginary) former glory.
At the start of the process wreck A is the focus of all the attention. Talk in the pub centres around original or novel features and the fact that one much like this almost won le Mans in 1963 (but with a different engine and chassis/body). Mention is also made to the massive potential the car has to be ‘tuned up’ to produce five million hoarse power by using the Canadian market intake and tubular exhausts.
Wreck A was bought with a few months MOT left on it. It was driven round a bit and only broke down when it rained or after it was left parked on a slight incline. Then it was laid up in an arbitrary garage/lock up/friends field with a tarp over it (thus ensuring massive corrosion).
This must be left for at least six months before any work may start. Don’t know why but it just seems to be that way.
Then, one day when the sun comes out, an investigation reveals corrosion (we can patch that up), some parts completely worn out and some bodges that the previous owner has installed. How it got an MOT like that is a mystery, but you would quite like to know the number of that garage to see if they can do your other cars!
So many parts are needed that wreck B is purchased.
Wreck B is a bargain, it has almost (but not quite) all the bits you need plus a really ‘desirable’ dash quadrant trim piece that you are sure will sell on ebay for the price of the car.
Whilst removing the seats, you see shiny paint and notice the floor is in really good condition, much better than wreck A.
There now follows the ‘focus re-alignment phase’.

A gradual process where more parts from wreck B are to be fitted to wreck A, until the tipping point is reached and there is more of wreck B in Wreck A than there is original bits.
There now follows much discussion and beer drinking. Some standing around the car and a fair bit of pointing at it.
Now the plan is to fit a few bits from A onto B and swap the registration.
During this whole phase, no actual parts are physically touched, they just sit there, rusting and seizing.
Now the focus has been successfully moved to wreck B and wreck A will be sold as a ‘project vehicle, 90% finished’.
Money has been spent, rent has been paid, time has passed. But you still have a shit car.

Abnormal behaviour.
Anyone found with space in their garage will be excommunicated immediately. Anyone found with a clean and tidy garage will be shot. Anyone thinking of converting a garage into a spare room will be shot twice and excommunicated an indeterminate number of times.