Creative Engineering 101 - Blackbourn 417

By: Rob Blackbourn

Presented by

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Rob makes very little headway toward answering the eternal question - when is an engine not an engine?

Your responses to Morley’s interest in engines you’ve spotted doing unusual jobs have made good reading. Car and truck motors have been adapted to power fishing-boats, cinema gen-sets, concrete-truck drums, a Bren-gun carrier, even glider tow aircraft. What next?

Oddball engineering has always given me a buzz. I still remember being an excited 12-year-old spotting ads in the American Popular Mechanics magazine for items like plans to build a mower-engine-based petrol-powered pogo stick and even a DIY pulse-jet rocket-motor for your push bike ("What could possibly go wrong?" I hear Ed Guido muttering).

I admire the imagination of individuals who come up with applications engine designers hadn’t dreamt of. Then there’s the ingenuity they demonstrate in making the thing work efficiently. And more often than not the end result showcases some first-class engineering. Most impressive is that in many cases this stuff is done in a backyard shed or modest workshop with none of the financial and technical resources big businesses take for granted.

| Read next: Trend-bucking engines

It’s one thing to see engines doing unexpected jobs, but something else entirely when the reimagining involves changing the configuration and function of the engine itself as part of the exercise. My nostalgic attachment to Ford flathead V8s (yeah, I know, ‘It’s time to move on, Rob’…) means not much flathead news gets past me. However a recent item on a US site surprised me. This flathead V8 had been rebranded as a Schramm air compressor. It wasn’t that Mr Schramm & Co had used Henry’s bent-eights to power compressors – they had been converting them to air compressors. With new heads, manifolds and modified valve-trains Schramm used the end cylinders to operate as four-cylinder, two-stroke compressors. The central pairs of cylinders continued to operate ‘normally’ as four-stroke V4 motors to drive the things (I can’t help wondering what sort of exhaust note they produced).

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The American Schramm set-up shouldn’t have caught me out entirely because I recall seeing a similar thing done here with VW Beetle motors. In this case two pots compressed air while the remaining two provided power. They were used by small contractors back in the day. While VW compressors could only drive a single heavy jack hammer, the guys knew that at least they would start when you turned the key. That was a big contrast with third- or fourth-hand heavy-duty diesel compressors that were weary old machines by the time little guys could afford them. In that condition they could be damn near impossible to start on cold mornings. Many creative and sometimes risky procedures were used to coax the old diesel girls into life, including spraying petrol or even ether into the intake systems as they cranked them over. This was well before products like ‘Start Ya Bastard’ appeared on the scene to take the risk out of the exercise.

Suddenly I’m seeing the messages from Canberra that Aussies need to be more agile and aspirational in a new light. How about a template for a multi-function motor that would handsomely power an off-grid shed? Yep, I’m imagining something tasty and affordable set up on a stand as a stationary engine down the back of the shed behind the Cobra, the XU-1 and the Sunbeam Tiger. Perhaps a V12 Jaguar motor, with two pots adapted to air-compressor duty for the air-tools and the hoist, leaving 10 to run a two-stage generator. The first stage would supply all of the shed’s basic electric-power while the second provides arc-welder current. Radiator heat could warm the shed in winter – cooling fans for summer could be belt-driven off the crankshaft pulley. An exhaust-manifold heat exchanger could boil water for a cuppa…

Now, who’s got a nice Jag V12 they don’t need?

 

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