Friday, August 21, 2009

I feel a Need for Speed!

Some time ago my typist made me aware of the British Steam Car Challenge, an attempt to break the 127 mph Land Speed Record for steam driven cars. The current FIA certified record was set by a modified Stanley Steamer in 1906. Another record was set by in 1985 by Bob Barber at 145.607. However the Barber record was not FIA certified.

The lads of the British Steam Car team are currently at Edwards Air Force base attempting to break both records with their steam turbine powered car.



The car uses several flash steam generators fired with LP gas to provide steam for a turbine that drives the rear wheels directly. The theoretical top speed is around 170 mph.

For a FIA record the car must make two timed passes through a one mile segment of the trial venue. The second run must be in the opposite direction of the first. The average speed of both runs is the official speed for the trial.

The first attempt was this past Wednesday. The first run the car performed quite well, but mechanical difficulties prevented the second run. I believe they intend to make the attempt again today. I wish them luck.

When I first heard about this attempt I began to wonder. Why is it that there is no challenge from Caledon? After all are we not Steampunks? So I sat down at my desk in my study and began work on a Victorian steam land speed record car.

After several months of work in my shop I now have a completed vehicle with which to attempt to take the record. I call it "The Spirit of Caledon".


I attempted to limit myself strictly to the use of Victorian/Edwardian technology, and I feel I did fairly well on that goal. Still the two cars are very similar in several regards.

The chassis is made of tubular carbon steel rods fastened together in machined steel sockets by rivets (since arc welding wasn't available to me) and reinforced by use of the best adhesives I could find. The body shell is a thin but rigid laminate of wood and thin brass plies with spruce framing. The wheels are the new wire spoke types commonly used on bicycles, but much sturdier in build. The spokes are covered in sheet metal to aid in airflow.

Like the British team I decided to use one of those new fangled turbines. However since our metallurgical arts are not as advanced in some ways my turbine is somewhat larger and heavier than theirs. I opted to drive the wheels through a two speed planetary transmission system so as to give better torque for acceleration. This is to compensate for shorter venues for timed runs (more on that later) and hopefully will counter the increased weight.

The steam is provided through a flash steam generator, as on the British car. I couldn't find any "LP Gas" in Caledon so I fuel my car with highly compressed town (coal) gas. The exhaust is total loss since the goal here is weight savings and speed, not range.

I had originally planned to make an attempt at the record before now, but remaining technical issues and other personal matters have delayed me.

One such technical problem to be resolved is where to actually make such a record attempt. Dry lake beds are exceedingly rare in Second Life and non-existent in Caledon.

The North road to Penzance is long and level enough but far too narrow and is also lined with homes. I have done some initial testing there but there is little margin for error. I gave poor Mr. Drinkwater quite a fright one evening during a test run.

(I also damaged some flowers in the gardens of a few homes when I swerved to miss Mr. Drinkwater. My apologies to my neighbours and please forward the bills for damages to me at my home in Eyre.)