If it\’s got an engine. . .

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Archive for September, 2005

Hybrid cars

Posted by ifitsgotanengine on September 29, 2005

Why, oh why can’t they get it right?

Hybrid after hybrid goes on sale, but still not one that you can plug in at night to recharge the battery.

Consider; if, like most people, your commute to work is around 10 or so miles, you have a 20 mile round trip. This is easily achievable with modern battery/motor technology. You plug your hybrid in at night, charging the batteries. You then drive to work and back without ever starting the engine.

What’s that you say? You want to visit Grandma after work? She lives 30 miles away? No problem. As soon as the battery gets too low, the engine starts and you start burning precious gasoline. All of the benefits of hybrid technology, none of the downfalls of electric-only cars.

I recommend plugging back in at Grandma’s. You know she won’t mind.


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My newest project idea

Posted by ifitsgotanengine on September 26, 2005

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. Well, at least a day and a half.

I’m going to design and build my own car. It can’t be that hard; homebuilt cars don’t have to meet any particular emissions or crash test standards. They only have to work.

This is not going to be a quick project. I envision being able to drive it in a few years.

If everything goes well.

The biggest roadblock I have to actually getting started on the design is the lack of an engine. That is, I need measurements from the engine to design the frame around. And, being me, I can’t just get a small-block Chevy. If I were going to do that I’d just buy a Nova and be done with it.

I want the most esoteric engine design out there. Something that nobody else has. Something that I can afford.

These seem like contradictory requirements. My current plan is to use the powerhead from a 200 or so horsepower outboard engine. Thisis essentially a two-stroke V6 engine. With a proper expansion chamber exhaust it should really scream.

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To merge or not to merge

Posted by ifitsgotanengine on September 25, 2005

The next time you are driving down the interstate, minding your own business, and you see a sign “lane ends 2000 feet”, ask yourself “Why?”.

If the traffic count was high enough before the change to justify three lanes, and there was no off-ramp, where did the cars go?

That’s right; nowhere.

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There is never a good reason to change the number of lanes without an associated on-ramp or off-ramp.

This is important. It means that we are spending millions of dollars unnecessarily. Consider the situation where two lanes expand into three. This gives no extra capacity, as the total throughput is still limited by the bottleneck; that is, the total capacity is the same as if the entire distance had been two lanes.

The converse is true as well. If three lanes merge into two, there is no added benefit in terms of throughput of the portion that was three lanes.

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The Big Three

Posted by ifitsgotanengine on September 23, 2005

It used to be that no one would question you if you referred to GM, Ford, and Chrysler as the Big Three. It has been a number of years now since they actually held the top three slots in auto sales, however. Currently Toyota is in the number two position — behind GM and ahead of Ford.

Let’s take a look at their new-product lineup to see if they have what it takes to pull themselves out of this slump.

I’ll try to focus on models which have already been introduced, simply because none of the automakers have a strong enough advertising campaign to sway the general public’s opinion based on models to come. And — like it or not — it’s the general public, not car guys, that will make or break the American automakers.

From the top.


  • Pontiac Solstice – A beautiful little car, it seems that Mazda has lowered their estimates of how many Miatas (MX-5) they will sell in the US based on this car. That has to be a good thing for GM.
  • Corvette – I’m afraid that Chevrolet could release the greatest car in the world (and I think they came close here), and if they called it a corvette, and most people would still associate it with the gold-chain crowd and not take it seriously.
  • Buick Lucerne – Another Buick
  • Pontiac G6 – Why not just call this the Grand Am. People are familiar with the name. It seems like good enough car.
  • Chevy HHR – PT Cruiser knock-off. It’s even designed by the same guy. Seems to be selling well, though.
  • Chevy Cobat – Should’ve just called it the Cavalier; nothing new here.


  • Mustang – Ford knocked it out of the park with the 2005 mustang. A civilized car in base form and a performance bargain in GT guise.
  • Ford 500 – A nice solid full-size car. Looks smaller than it is.


  • 300 – A smashing success. Large, roomy, affordable, and available with 425 horsepower. Not to mention it’s one of the best looking cars on the road.
  • Dodge Magnum – This car probably changed the minds of many people who would have never considered buying a station wagon.
  • Dodge Charger – A nice car, but not really any different than the Magnum. In fact, the Magnum probably should have been the Charger wagon.
  • Chrysler Crossfire – An absolutely stunning automobile. Rather pricey, but every automaker needs a car that looks this good.

It appears that GM has almost nothing going for them. Ford has the Mustang, which might just be enough. Chrysler has a nice line-up. It mostly consists of one car, the 300/Charger/Magnum, but the company managed to differentiage the individual models enough that most people won’t notice.

I realize that this discussion completely left out the truck and SUV market, which could have had a major effect.

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Cheapest BMW ever?

Posted by ifitsgotanengine on September 22, 2005

And anyone can build it.

Cheap on gas, too.

Probably not very crashworthy, though.

That’s right it’s the paper E28, courtesy of E28 Planet. If you are not familiar with the BMW series naming conventions, the E28 is the 5 series from 1982-1988. They include the 524td diesel, the 528e with the baby six, and the 533i and 535i with the big six. There were also M535is and M5 performance versions.

Also interesting is this origami VW bug (warning: pdf link). Note that the paper BMW is not origami, in that it requires cutting the paper.

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World Carfree day

Posted by ifitsgotanengine on September 22, 2005

It’s world carfree day.

Can’t say that I care.

Now, if it were free car day . . .

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Bugatti Veyron not what it claims?

Posted by ifitsgotanengine on September 22, 2005

252 miles per hour.

That’s the claimed top speed of the quad-turbocharged Bugatti Veyron.

The good people at Auto Express disagree. They tested the car and were only able to get it to 220 mph. They were told the car was unable to reach top speed due to the elevation at which they were testing.

Allow me to explain why this cannot be the case. First, a little history.

Airplanes have long had to deal with large variations in air density due to altitude changes. Most light planes have a mixture knob to lean out the fuel mixture as altitude is increased. Otherwise the carburetors would be delivering too much fuel for the available air, resulting in poor running or fouling of spark plugs. Even when the mixture is properly adjusted, the power level is down at higher altitudes.

The turbocharger changed all that. It works by using the engine’s exhaust to turn a turbine connected to a compressor. This compressor forces air into the engine at whatever pressure it is designed for. For the first time, airplane engines could make as much power at 10,000 feet as at sea level.

This works on land as well. The Veyron has four turbochargers. Bugatti’s claim that the Veyron couldn’t reach it’s claimed 252mph top speed due to being at an elevation of 3300 feet is clearly false. In fact, the lowered wind resistance at higher elevations should make the car faster, not slower.

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Classic European cars

Posted by ifitsgotanengine on September 21, 2005

There are more classic cars on the road in Britain than in the U.S.

A naturally inquisitive mind might want to know why that is the case.

One word: MoT.

The MoT is a battery of tests that would shame any U.S. safety inspection. Requiring virtually every component of the car to be brought to the as-new condition yearly, it has the side effect of making older cars more worth keeping. Thus, more older cars on the road.

The fact that there are more classics around helps to keep the prices down, as well. The 1954 Riley pictured here is only £6950, which works out to around $12,000. Check Practical Classics for more examples.

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We don’t need engineers

Posted by ifitsgotanengine on September 21, 2005

I’m sure that was the general feeling at British Leyland — owners of the MG brand — in the seventies. After all, their cars were already designed. All that they needed to do was just keep building them and selling them.

I became certain of this after owning a 1972 MGB. There were a lot of very good things about this car. I’ll list them if I can think of them.

It also had some pretty serious faults. One of the most severe was the convertible top design. The MGB Experience website pretty much sums it up:

The Brits never did quite get the hang of making a convertible top that is easy to lower and raise. Folks who own a Fiat or Volkswagen (or virtually anything else built outside the United Kingdom) who can simply flip two toggles and throw the top back don’t know how fortunate they are. Proceeding under the assumption that lowering the top on an LBC is just as easy can produce disastrous results.

Another shortfall of the MGs was the draconion maintenance requirements. I understand that maintenance is required, but the MG’s requirements were a bit excessive. Most american cars built in this timeframe would run for 100k miles with nothing more than oil changes and maybe a fresh set of spark plugs. By comparison, the MGB required routine maintenance approximately every 30 feet.

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What finally convinced me that British Leyland had no engineers on staff was the layout of the choke cable. The fact that this car, built in 1972, still had a manual choke was bad enough, but this design would have any engineer in tears. I assumed that mine was just installed wrong, but no; they meant for it to be that way. The cable itself is firmly fixed to a bracket underhood (bonnet?). The sheath around the cable is connected to the choke lever. When you pull the choke knob in the cockpit, the cable tries to unkink and, in the process, manages to actuate the choke.

It’s like someone hooked it up wrong and it just happened to work, sort of. So they left it that way for 18 years of production.

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Pirate keyboard

Posted by ifitsgotanengine on September 20, 2005

Well, it seems that I’m a day late.

Yesterday (September 19th) was Talk Like a Pirate Day. In honor of this great day, the good folks at Engadget bring us the Corsair Ergonomic Keyboard for Pirates.

This is a great relief for me, as all the pirates in my hire have been rumbling of a lawsuit due to Carpal Plunder syndrome.

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