Back in the mid 1980’s I worked at a company called Commodore Business Machines, a company that made home computers where our annual Superbowl was the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas the first week in January.
Some time in November a Datsun Z would get parked in the front lot and then not move until whatever snow mounds that got plowed over it melted sometime in early spring. Ultimately I would have it towed leaving behind a sad little pile of rust and nuts and bolts. With a bonus check in hand for finishing the newest computer on time I would go buy another used Z and repeat the cycle.
Climate Change and Rust
These days the old Datsun Z’s; 240Z, 260Z, 280Z, 280ZX, are somewhat rare, probably because they were real rust buckets even when new. After having sacrificed a few myself in search of the next home computer I set out to rescue one for old times’ sake. I really did love the car so I made it my project to restore one. Now I have a total of three Z carcasses, an engine, and a transmission all sitting out back and an almost finished Z in the garage.
Since I had torn the engine down to its bare components I took the opportunity to make some changes: increased the size of the turbocharger, increased bore and stroke of the cylinder/piston, improved the fuel distribution, and improved the flow of air with things like porting the heads and an inter-cooler.
Copenhagen Suborbitals just launched their latest amateur liquid fuel rocket. Why? Because they want to strap someone to a bigger amateur liquid fuel rocket and launch them into space.
We’ve covered them before, but it’s been a while. While they make a big deal of being amateurs, they are the least amateurish amateurs we’ve come across. We’ll forgive a lot as long as they keep making great videos about their projects. Or posting great pictures of the internals of their rockets.
The Nexø I rocket they recently launched claims to be the first guided, amateur, liquid-fueled rocket. There is a nice post on the guidance system. It was launched from a custom built barge off the shore of Denmark, which allows them to escape quite a few legal hurdles around the launch. The rocket flew beautifully. That is, it went only away from the ground; no other directions. Also, it didn’t explode, which is a lot to expect from even the biggest players in the field.
Copenhagen Suborbitals continues to do amazing work. Hopefully their next rocket will be even more impressive… for amateurs, that is.
Our most likely exposure to a steam engine these days will probably come courtesy of a railway locomotive. A machine capable of immense power and probably with significant complexity and engineering in its construction, something the majority of us will only ever be able to see at second-hand. But there was a period when steam engines were much more accessible, before internal combustion engines and electric motors took on the task of automating hard work you would have found small stationary steam engines in all corners of industry.
These engines are on a scale much more easily embraced by hackers and makers, and though vintage stationary engines are thin on the ground these days there are a significant number of people pursuing their construction by converting modern petrol and diesel engines to a more old-fashioned medium.
[Lindsay Wilson] has a lawnmower engine which a few years ago he converted with the addition of a sleeve valve to run on compressed air. It’s not a steam engine because creating a safe and legal steam boiler is an expensive process, but despite this it amounts to the same thing. The engine in question is a small sidevalve single cylinder Suffolk Punch lawnmower engine from which he has removed and blocked the valve gear, and added a sleeve valve powered by a linkage from the crankshaft and using the spark plug hole as an inlet and outlet. He provides a lot of detail on the sleeve valve’s construction, and it really is a surprisingly simple arrangement. We might look for a harder metal than copper pipe for the guide in which it runs though.
The video below the break shows the engine being run up after a period of storage. It’s an effective device, easily capable of taking more air than his compressor can supply.
A gearhead friend of ours sent along a link to a YouTube video (also embedded below) promising the world’s most powerful engine. Now, we’ll be the first to warn you that it’s just an advertisement, and for something that you’re probably not going to rush out and buy: the Wärtsilä 14RT marine engine.
A tiny bit of math: 96 cm cylinder diameter times 250 cm piston stroke = 1,809,557 CC. And it generates around 107,000 HP. That’s a fair bit, but it runs at a techno-music pace: 120 BPM RPM. With twelve cylinders, we’d love to hear this thing run. Two-strokes make such a wonderful racket! Wonder if they’ve tried to red-line it? It’s a good thing we don’t work at Wärtsilä.
There’s something alluring about radial engines. The Wasps, the Cyclones, the Gnomes – the mechanical beauty of those classic aircraft engines can’t be denied. And even when a radial engine is powered by solenoids rather than internal combustion, it can still be a thing of beauty.
The solenoid engine proves that he has some mechanical chops. If you follow along in the videos below, you’ll see how [Tyler] progressed in his design and incorporated what he learned from the earliest breadboard stage to the nearly-complete engine. There’s an impressive amount of work here – looks like the octagonal housing was bent on a press brake, and the apparently homebrew solenoids are enclosed in copper pipe and fittings that [Tyler] took the time to bring to a fine polish. We’re skeptical that the microswitches that electrically commutate the engine will hold up to as many cycles are they’d need to handle for this to be a useful engine, but that’s hardly the point here. This one is all about the learning, and we think [Tyler] has done a bang-up job with that.
It’s no secret that fossil fuels are quickly becoming extinct. As technology charges ever forward, they are disappearing faster and faster. Many of our current dependencies on fossil fuels are associated with high-energy applications like transportation. Since it’s unlikely that global transportation will ever be in decline for any reason other than fuel shortage itself, it’s imperative that we find something that can replicate the high energy density of fossil fuels. Either that, or go back to the drawing board and change the entire scope of global transportation.
Energy, especially solar and wind, cannot be created all over the world. Traditionally, energy is created in situ and shipped to other places that need it. The proposed solutions for zero-carbon energy carriers—batteries and hydrogen—all have their weaknesses. Batteries are a fairly safe option, but their energy density is pretty poor. Hydrogen’s energy density is higher, but its flammability makes it dangerously volatile to store and transport.
The Ner-a-Car represents one of those eccentric dead-ends in automotive history. Designed in 1918 by an American, [Carl Neracher], its name is a play on both its designer and its construction and it is unique in that its design is closer to the cars of the era than that of a motorcycle. It has a car-style chassis, an in-line engine, and it was the first motorcycle to be produced with hub-centre steering. The rider sits on it rather than astride it, feet-forward, and the car-style chassis gives it a very low centre of gravity. They were manufactured in slightly different versions in both the USA and the UK, and [Andy]’s machine is an early example from the British production line. Not many Ner-a-Cars have survived and parts availability is non-existent, so his work has also had the unusual effect of satisfying a significant portion of world demand for the parts-bin of an entire marque.
It’s usual for the first link in a Hackaday article to be to a page that encompasses the whole project. In this case when there is so much to see and the build is spread across twelve blog posts and nearly two years the link is to [Andy]’s first post in which he describes the project, sets to work on the chassis, and discovers the bent steering arm that probably caused the bike’s dismantling. He’s listed the posts in the column on the right-hand side of the blog, so you can follow his progress through the entire build. The work involved in remanufacturing the parts is to an extremely high standard, from machining press tools to reproduce 1920s footboard pressings through manufacturing authentic 1920s headlight switchgear and metal-spinning new aluminium headlight shells.
[Andy]’s most recent Ner-a-Car post details his trip to France on the completed bike, and tales of roadside repairs of a suddenly-not-working machine that should be familiar to any owner of a vintage internal combustion engine. But considering that the bike spent many decades as a pile of not much more than scrap metal the fact that it is now capable of a trip to France is nothing short of amazing.