Underbonnet Complexities - Blackbourn 401

By: Rob Blackbourn

Presented by

engine engine

Apparently there are times when you just have to keep on truckin', at least until the onions are caramelised

Despite heavy deadline pressure the office banter always continues. Nothing’s safe from inclusion on the editorial-team’s argy bargy play-list – not even impossible-dream questions. "Was there something vital we all missed about Brocky’s Polariser?" "What if Elon Musk had been around when Ted Pritchard needed backing for his steam-powered Falcon?" "How did the gas turbine die given the commitment shown by Rover and Chrysler?"

Young Angelo, Unique Cars design guru and resident Thunderbird aficionado, pipes up immediately: "C’mon, it wasn’t all about Chrysler in the States. Ford was a serious player. Even General Motors."

"Sure Ang, next you’ll be telling us Ford put a gas turbine in a T-Bird."

Milliseconds later Ang presents the image – a ‘Baby’ Bird’s engine-compartment proudly displaying its gas turbine, immediately confounding the doubters (especially me).

Layers of heavy thermal-lagging on its huge exhausts and the thermal-shield around the brake master-cylinder demonstrate that gas turbines produce high under-bonnet temperatures. It prompted me to say, "Looks like you could cook a full roast lunch under the T-Bird’s bonnet while you’re driving the family to the beach on Sunday."
"WTF?" said their troubled faces in unison.

Manifold -destiny

Using engine heat for cooking was part of the mythology of my upbringing…

An old uncle who worked at a bush sawmill as a young fella reckoned he prepared meals ‘just like Mum’s’ using a little ‘oven’ he had fabricated on the side of the steam-boiler’s firebox. Auntie’s response was that he’d barely managed to boil an egg in the time she’d known him.

A bloke who’d done road maintenance in the Territory told another version, about heating his lunch on the exhaust manifold of his ‘Cat 12’ grader, holding it in an improvised steel-mesh cradle keeping it all in place with heavy-duty hose-clamps.

Personally I’ve had mixed success with the technique over the decades. The good news story: We burst a heater hose on our VC Commodore during a Melbourne to Port Douglas trip decades ago; my emergency fix left a sizable opening through the firewall (where the hoses and rubber seal had been). I had to stuff it with rags to keep engine noise and heat out of the passenger compartment.

Coincidentally our pre-schooler had been punishing us for long days on the road by chucking tantrums about the lunch-menu offerings at highway roadhouses. Another coincidence: his irrational affection for canned ravioli that year had led us to pack a few tins, just in case. In a ‘light-bulb’ moment, about an hour before our next lunch stop, I jammed a can of ‘100 per cent Italian goodness’ against the opening and packed the rags and the carpet around it. Money couldn’t buy the happy glow our little bloke displayed as he tucked into a bowl of perfectly heated ravioli that day, and on some other occasions that followed.

There was, however, my attempt to have a hot meal during a night-shift. I was minding a turbo-diesel bus engine doing an endurance run on a dynamometer. I brought a big bowl of curry, left over from dinner at home (it was a ripper – I was just getting the hang of doing a good curry). With a couple of tightly wrapped layers of foil around the stainless bowl, I wired it to the test-bed frame near the turbocharger.

Around 2.30am, salivating heavily, I arrived with side-cutters in gloved-hand to discover the foil wrapping peeling back, allowing diesel-laden exhaust-gas into my bowl. The seal between the turbo and the exhaust-pipe flange had just sprung a leak.

When I mentioned my plan for this column to a mate, a more strait-laced, middle-of-the-road bloke than me, I expected him to be gobsmacked at such wackiness. He replied: "There’s a book about it – called Manifold Destiny, I think."

I’ve ordered a copy.


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