Congratulations to the British Team behind the British Steam Car Challenge with their car ‘Inspiration’. Today they broke the record they set yesterday with a new land steam speed record of 148mph for the measured mile averaged across two runs in opposite directions. For more news see the UK Steam Car Club.
With the timing equipment being set up on the 7mile lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base and battling extreme daytime temperatures well over the old century, the British Steam Car Challenge is showing every sign of being capable of breaking the official land speed record for a steam powered car. The record, set in 1906 at 127.69 mph has already been passed in tests with the car reaching 148mph yesterday and averaging 131mph for the two way run within 60 minutes as required by the international timing federation (FIA).
The team recognises that the fastest steam car to date – and the one to beat – is the ‘Steamin’ Demon’ of the “Barber-Nichols Team”. On 18th August 1985 The Barber-Nichols Team carried out three successful passes and achieved an American National Record at 145.607mph. But at that stage there was no attempt to establish an FIA record. That car used a conventional piston engine powered by a boiler designed by a student of Abner Doble for use in a steam powered bus. When the us trials fell through, the Barber-Nichols team acquired the power plant and installed it in a car.
With the formal record attempts to commence at 2.00pm GMT, 53 year old principal driver Charles Burnett III is no stranger to world speed records – mostly on water. He holds world records using catamarans and monohulls powered by diesel, petrol and LPG. He was included in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1999 for an offshore water speed record of 137mph.
The Barrett steam car, auctioned on ebay one year ago from the estate of the late Peter Barrett, has been meticulously checked, tinkered, and using Barrett’s notebooks to understand the reasoning behind every component, and finally has been brought back to life. The car is a kit sports car with a modified VW engine converted to run on steam. Although built in the 1970s-80s it has a computer controlled steam generator that builds 1500 psi in a few minutes at 750F. When Barrett had it going it was capable of 80mph. A true modern steam car. I’m really pleased that Barrett’s work did not die with him. And the car is finally drivable as you will see here
The 12 fires burning in the State of Victoria, Australia – 26 blazes in total – are the biggest in recorded European history. More than 700 homes have been lost and more than 84 people have died with hundreds injured.
There is a google map showing the extent of the disaster
The news scenes bring back difficult memories of the Canberra bushfires in 2003. ABC news has provided a good overview of the extent of the fires.
For a couple of years now I have been trying to catch an exhibition of machine models made by Florentine craftsmen to Leonardo daVinci’s designs. The exhibition has been put together by the Florence museum and has been traveling the world. I just missed it in Sydney and then it was due to head off to Perth, then to Christchurch, but was due to finish there on 28 Sept. And it has not been widely advertised. So imagine my surprise when I spotted a desultory poster advertising the exhibition, and noting that the season has been extended to 27 October at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch!
I quickly cleared a morning and decided to go – there are 60 models from the simple to the complex, covering a good range of Leonardo’s designs.
At the entrance is a speculative full-scale model of the controversial bicycle – possibly drawn (crudely) by one of Leonardo’s apprentices, or possibly a rather later fake.
Either way, the bike lacked any means to steer, so at best it would have been something like the 17th century boneshaker. That said, Leonardo certainly drew designs of chain drives, noting their efficiency as a means of transferring power from one cog to another.
Leonardo’s studies for flying machines are well represented, including the flyable hang glider – tested in modern times, as well as the famous helicopter
The helicopter is derived from a children’s toy that was known in Italy at the time – and probably not too unlike the one I was able to get to fly, using a string pull – see the instructions here.
And while his war machines are well documented – and represented at the exhibition, I was particularly taken with some of the lesser known aspects of Leonardo’s work, notably his theatre machines. Leonardo was known for his designs for spectacular special effects in theatrical productions for his patrons. Some of these appear remarkably prescient, such as the magic lantern projector
And what has been touted as his car – actually a programmable stage cart that was able to steer a pre-determined course apparently sensing and avoiding obstacles. The cart was driven by bow-like springs, but it also had a separate spring-driven cam system for the steering – not highlighted in the exhibition, but demonstrated in other reconstructions of his models.
The catalogue is well worth the money, although the literal translation into English from the Italian is flowery and resmbles a machine translation rather than a full rendering into English. But it is very well illustrated.
All up the exhibition is excellent – with models very faithful to the originals and many hands-on exhibits. It is on now at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch NZ on Rolleston Avenue. Canterbury Museum is open every day (except Christmas Day)
Summer hours: 9.00 am – 5.30 pm (October – March); Winter hours: 9.00 am – 5.00 pm (April – September).