THE CAR OF THE FUTURE
Prof. E. A. Allcut
IF MOTORISTS can persuade automobile manufacturers to iron out three big wrinkles in present-day car design, tomorrow’s transportation can be cheap and dependable enough for most Canadians to be able to own a car. But right now we continually hear three general complaints about today’s automobiles. First, drivers complain, they’re tricked out in useless frills and gadgets to catch the eye. Second, they’re loaded with so much gas-burning power that they’re practically in the racing-car class. Third, safety measures are often sacrificed in favor of dramatic style changes calculated to lure the customer into turning his car in every year.
Professor Edgar Allcut, head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Toronto, has spent his life (he is sixty-four) proving that an engineer will tackle anything. He has served as chairman of a committee on atmospheric pollution in Canada and investigated mining accidents in order to suggest some safety improvements in Ontario mining regulations. Here he goes out on a limb with some informed guesswork about the kind of automobiles we are likely to be driving before long.
As a mechanical engineer and a car driver I’m interested in such talk. 1 have a feeling that car buyers in the future will be smart enough to insist that manufacturers make the most economical use of new methods and materials. For the car of the future could be a plain chromeless utility model with an almost unlimited life expectancy.
How wide is the gap between the cars we have now and the safer, longer-lasting, more efficient ones we’d like to have? Will the car of a decade or two from now be powered with atomic energy? Jet propelled? Will its body be made of plastic, or glass, or some magic material that won’t buff, scuff, wear or tear? Will it have a built-in cooling system for the body? Beds? Cocktail lounges? Will it run two hundred miles on a gallon of gasoline and last for fifty years?
I can’t answer these questions for sure. Nobody can. But by looking at what has already happened to cars I can say that the shape of things to come in automobiles will depend upon two things. First, what we, the drivers of automobiles, want. Second, the materials available to build them and, most important of all, the fuels available to run them.
The other day a friend asked me: “Is it possible to build a car that will last fifteen, twenty or even twenty-five years?”
For answer I pointed out the window of my office in the mechanical building at the University of Toronto. At the curb there sits from nine to five each day just such a car. It is a 1926 Buick owned by one of our lecturers, Peter Moore.
This car is literally in perfect shape. The paint shows no obvious blemish; the top (original one)
doesn’t leak; the door catches all work; the upholstery has no holes.
When Moore bought this car last September he put in a new set of timing gears, valves and rings. The six cylinders have never been rebored. The engine starts every morning just fine, runs along at a comfortable forty-five mph and gives twentytwo miles to the gallon. Moore has driven this car to Buffalo and Detroit and Washington, D.C., and has never been left on the road.
When I look at this ancient car I am struck by two facts. First, the mileage indicator shows that it has been driven only 68,648 miles in twentyseven years, or an average of just over twenty-five hundred miles per year. (Today the average car travels about ten thousand miles a year.) Also, the car had only one owner before Moore, a Shelburne, Ont., man who drove it carefully and cared for it well.
In other words, the life of your car depends on how far and how well you drive and the kind of care you give it. Chances are the car you are driving now would last ten or more years if you renewed all lost paint, kept it properly oiled, greased and protected, replaced all worn parts systematically; if you avoided sudden starts and stops, drove at a moderate speed and didn’t race other cars away from stop lights.
The second striking fact is that Moore bought this car for one hundred and forty-five dollars. (It cost $1,345 new.) In other words, here is the sturdy reliable car my friend mentioned, but nobody wanted it. It hasn’t the sleekness and swiftness and gadgets we now demand in our cars. To many of us the automobile is still a “frill”—a tuxedo or party dress rather than a utility suit. We still think of fashion and style rather than service.
But this attitude is changing fast. To more and more of us the car is not a luxury any more but a necessity. It is used to take Dad to work, Mother shopping, the kids to school. We can’t get along without it any more than we can get along without the house we live in.
How can the durability of cars be increased? Well, the worst destroyer is corrosion. The paint
is scraped off and water or road salts eat away at the metal. Mufflers and under parts rust away and our car gradually falls to pieces.
My metallurgist friends tell me the solution to this problem is not simple. You must find a metal, or other substance, that is light, strong, tough, noncorrosive and will lend itself to mass production at a reasonable cost. Until science discovers a cheap noncorrosive material for car bodies, chrome plating on grille and bumper is useful as well as ornamental. Automobile manufacturers claim the shiny frills pay their way by protecting vulnerable spots where ordinary painted steel would soon crumble into rust.
Of the metals, magnesium alloys are light and strong. Already one large manufacturer is using them for clutch housings, oil-seal plates, steeringcolumn shrouds and other parts. But they won’t do for bodies because they corrode. Stainless steel is light and strong and noncorrosive. But it is more difficult to work than the steels generally used for pressing and is very expensive.
Aluminum alloys are perhaps the best. But they will corrode, too. Recently seaplane manufacturers have been covering aluminum alloys with pure aluminum with very good results. They are strong and tough and resist corrosion. Already several small European cars have such bodies.
Or, the car you buy ten years from now may have a body made of glass.
During the past year a number of automobile manufacturers have produced car bodies of what they call “fibrous glass-polyester laminates.” Glass fibres can be woven like cloth or put together in a mat like felt. These mats are impregnated with
synthetic resins and laid in plaster molds. The result is a rust-proof body with all the hardness and gleam of the present metal ones.
These fibrous glass bodies have several other advantages. They can be molded all in one piece, including the floor, and so are not so likely to squeak or rattle. The material will break, of course, if banged hard enough, but will not crack or crumble and can be easily patched. The resins can be tinted to give almost any combination of colors. One plastic expert, considering lampshades made of the
same material, suggests that we may have a translucent top that will “allow softly diffused light to reach the car interior while shutting out heat, cold and moisture.”
So far fibrous glass-polyester laminates have been used almost exclusively in custommade sports bodies that are fitted onto standard chassis.
They cost from five hundred dollars to one thousand dollars depending on the size and fanciness and weigh between one hundred and fifty and two hundred pounds. They can be made into just about any shape and are being built to compete with European - made sports cars.
So far the glass bodies cannot be mass-produced as cheaply or rapidly as metal bodies, but I see no reason why this difficulty can’t be overcome.
That brings us to the question of fuels and engines. Ever since t hey unhitched the horse from the front of the cart and put the horsepower under t he hood the question of what to feed that horsepower has been a vexing one.
Nicholas Joseph Cugnot built the first horseless carriage in Paris in 1769. It had three wheels and could do three miles an hour with power provided by steam. In 1801 an Englishman, Richard Trevithick, built a steam car and other Englishmen built more until their activities were curtailed by legislation such as the Red Flag Law (1831-1897) which required that all self-propelled vehicles be “preceded by a man carrying a red flag by day and a red light, by night.” In 1885 two Germans, Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, each put internal combustion engines into three-wheeled cars. Ever since then the internal combustion engine—the old “up and downer” as it is sometimes called —has been the standard engine for motor cars.
But it has gobbled up the world’s supply of petroleum at such a rate that now we find ourselves in a pretty pass. Dr. A. Parker, CBE, director of fuel research for the British government, reported in 1949 that the world’s supply of petroleum was a total of “thirteen thousand million tons on an optimistic basis,” or sufficient for twenty to twentyfive years at the present rate of consumption. Yes, he was taking into account new developments such as the recent finds in western Canada. He pointed out that forty-two percent of these supplies are in Asia and the Middle East—an area that might be closed to us at any time. So, whether we like it or not, the well may run dry.
Is it possible for a car to go two or three times as far on a gallon of gasoline? Every so often we see a headline in the paper something like this: “Garage mechanic develops carburetor to give two hundred miles per gallon.” Then the story tells how somebody drove from Saskatoon to Winnipeg
or some other place on two or three gallons of gasoline. After the first (lurry nothing more is heard about t he new wonder and somebody whispers that the “big oil companies” have bought up the patent and shelved it to protect their sales.
This is nonsense. Over the past thirty years 1 have tested a number of “wonder carburetors” and found that most of them work by atomizing (breaking gasoline up into very small drops) or preheating fuels. By this means it is possible to increase mileage by five or six percent. But the cost and complication usually erase the advantage gained.
How then do such stories get around? Here is an example. A few years ago a scientist whom I know and trust came to me and said, “I have tested this carburetor in my own car and I know for a fact it gives a saving of twenty-five percent.” I tested it in our lab motors. It showed a saving of about seven percent. He wasn’t satisfied and I agreed to make a check test on his own car.
We took it out for a road test. First I directed that the gas tank be disconnected and a small measuring tank attached to the dashboard. Then we measured off an exact distance on a road that gave us typical driving conditions and drove both ways—with and against the wind. Result: a saving of between five and six percent. If a scientist can make such a mistake, how much easier for a layman.
A businessman who bought two of these revolutionary carburetors stated recently, “They are locked in my vault. We have never been able to make either run, let alone get mileage out of them!”
No, there isn’t much chance of saving a great deal of fuel through magic carburetors. Let us look at the the other alternatives.
Atomic energy? Personally, I feel it unlikely that atomic energy will Continued on page 64
The Car of the Future
CONTINUED FROM PAGE It
ever send our cars scooting down the highways. The difficulties of size, weight and safety are too great. Many people seem to think that atomic energy could he used with tin; present automobile engine. They have vague ideas about dropping a “pill” into the gas tank and traveling thousands or miles on it. It. isn’t quite that simple.
The energy that drives a ear —or produces most kinds of work, for that matter—is heat. In the engine cylinder, air is heated by combustion of gas; it expands and drives a piston. Now, nuclear fission will certainly produce plenty of heat, but this heat must 1«; transformed into driving power. This would probably be done with a steam boiler which is heavy and cumbersome and, as we shall set;, not very satisfac-
tory in other respects. Also, nuclear fission is dangerous. Scientists working with it in laboratories are protected by a screen of glass and oil thirty-six inches thick. Lead or other materials can be used instead, but the weight and hulk required to protect the occupants of the car from radioactivity make the whole idea impractical.
Then there are jet engines. They send aircraft through the air fast enough. Why can’t they send cars along the road just as well? Let’s take a look at the jet engine to see how it works. Basically, air is drawn in through the front of a chamber, compressed, heated in a combustion chamber, passed through a turbine that drives the compressor and then allowed to escape through a jet pipe at the other end. It is this escaping air that provides the forward thrust that drives the plane.
The first difficulty of using a jet engine in a motor car is high temperature. The air shooting out the hack is between seven hundred and fifty and
twelve hundred degrees Fahrenheit. How would you like to drive behind that? Just picture a line of traffic with each car spewing air heated to around one thousand degrees F. into the nose of the one behind. Second, aircraft people have found that jet engines are not efficient at speeds under five hundred miles per hour. They may be used in racing cars but hardly in the family automobile.
Then there is the gas turbine. This works on the same principle as the one described above except that the heated air passes through another turbine which turns a propeller or wheels. This has already been tried on the Rover car in England. It has the advantage of using kerosene instead of gasoline and requiring no cooling system.
It also has a few disadvantages. A gas turbine small enough to fit into a car is a relatively inefficient engine, since it converts less than twenty percent of the heat produced into work as compared with twenty-five to forty percent for the internal combustion
engine. In other words it takes about fifty percent more fuel than a gas engine. Also, although kerosene is cheaper than gasoline at present, it is made from the same petroleum (which is scarce, remember) and if it did replace gasoline it would soon be taxed enough to bring up the price.
Another phrase you sometimes hear concerning automobile driving power is the “closed circuit .” This sounds like something pretty fancy but actually is nothing more than a variation of the steam car. Steam has been tried many times since those first cars, as in the Stanley steamers, the White steamers and others. The theory is wonderful. You just, heat water and it drives your car. There is plenty of power at any speed and all you hear is a slight hiss.
Actually steam has drawbacks. In the first place, some of the water boils away. The early steamers required twenty gallons of feed water every one hundred miles (later improved to three hundred miles). You had to get your water where you found it, which often meant using hard or alkali water that played havoc with the boiler. Besides, sitting on a high-pressure steam boiler that might get overheated wasn’t the most comfortable feeling in the world
An alternative is to substitute for the water a chemical with a low boiling point, such as sulphur dioxide. The vapor passes through an air-cooled radiator where it is condensed back to a liquid and used all over again. Unfortunately when you need the most liquid and power (say, when laboring up a hill or starting) you get a minimum cooling effect because of the relatively slow air speed through the radiator or condenser.
Also, there is bound to be some leakage, however slight, and sulphur dioxide when mixed with water becomes sulphuric acid, which will corrode almost anything —including the human skin. Besides, we are still faced with the problem of providing a suitable fuel to heat and vaporize the liquid. This, again, would probably be a petroleum product. You can’t get around that.
Gas at 11 Cents a Gallon
During the past war producer gas was used in many countries to power trucks, buses and some cars. This gas was made by heating wood or charcoal in a steel stove mounted either on a frame at the back or side of the chassis, or pulled along on a trailer. Perhaps the car of the future will pull its own furnace around with it.
Before this happens there are two ways of counteracting the diminishing petroleum supplies. The first is to make gasoline out of something besides petroleum, and the second is to put more economical engines in our cars.
Gasoline can be made from bituminous or other coal of which there are still in the earth an estimated six thousand billion tons, or enough to last about four thousand years at the? present rate of coal consumption. At present gasoline can be made from coal for about eleven cents a gallon.
Also, about one gallon of alcohol can be added to four of gasoline without decreasing efficiency. Alcohol can be made from our surplus wheat (one bushel gives two gallons of alcohol), beets, sulphite liquor (a byproduct of pulp-wood manufacture), or from trees.
We can make the gasoline engine more economical by making it smaller and by throwing away the carburetor entirely.
It is ridiculous to provide one hundred horsepower or more to carry three or four people around. After all, before the horsepower went under the hood, two horses were plenty for anybody. Greater horsepower simply provides
increased speed. We’re going too fast for safety now.
Now for the carburetor. In the carburetor gasoline is partly vaporized, mixed with air and fed through a long pipe called an intake manifold to the cylinders where it explodes and drives the pistons that drive the car. But the distribution of the gasoline to the cylinders is uneven. Tests on aircraft and automobile engines show that the amount of tetraethyl lead (the substance that keeps your engine from knocking) may vary in different cylinders from four to twelve percent. Be-
sides, carburetors are tricky. In Great Britain last year 11.41 percent of all cars that stalled on the road did so because of carburetor failure.
We can replace the carburetor with a fuel-injection system: a series of little pumps that spray gasoline directly and independently into each cylinder. This system is used in aircraft engines and has been tried experimentally in car engines where it increases efficiency.
But this still leaves the complicated electrical system for igniting the gas in the cylinders. Trouble in the ignition system was responsible for no less than
19.66 percent of all engine breakdowns in Britain last year. The Ford Motor Company is reported to be experimenting with a method of igniting gas with shock waves that produce temperatures of up to forty thousand degrees centigrade.
But why bother about all this? By using a diesel-type engine that requires neither carburetor nor spark plugs— compression in the diesel cylinders raises the temperature of the air so high that it ignites the fuel—we could eliminate thirty-one percent of engine headaches at one stroke.
What about the safety and comfort of the car of tomorrow? Undoubtedly puncture and blowout-proof tires will be used on most cars. We will have special glass to cut down glare. Cars may have stronger materials in top and sides for greater protection. One designer has suggested an oval-shape car with bumpers all around so that even in most head-on collisions it would receive only a glancing blow. It may be advisable to sacrifice a little comfort for safety.
Today’s cars are just about as comfortable as our living rooms. Heaters keep us warm in winter. Ventilators bring in fresh air from outside. But we still roast under the direct rays of the sun. Why not put a refrigeration system in the car? Refrigeration, like all other work, can be accomplished with heat. Thirty to forty percent of the heat produced in a car engine goes out the exhaust as waste. A small refrigeration unit, possibly of the Servel type, with no pumps or other moving parts, might change that heat to cold to keep your car at a lovely seventy degrees temperature under the boiling sun. In wintertime you could switch it over to heat your car.
No Limit to Leopard Skin
What about design? Your guess is as good as mine. There is talk of doors that slide open instead of swinging out into the street, of three-wheeled cars that are easy to park, of engines in the rear, of convertibles with retractable hard tops and so on.
It seems to me, though, that there will he not one car of the future, but two—the luxury car and the functional car. For the luxury car there are no limits to the amount of chrome, gold, silver, leopard skins, gadgets and cost. The functional car will be simple, sturdy, reliable, economical and comparatively cheap. It will be “an extra set of legs” as necessary to most of us as the two we were born with. It will range in size from the two-seated puddle jumper to the ten-passenger station wagon. It will probably be powered with an internal combustion engine, possibly using gasoline made from coal with alcohol added. The body will be made of light, strong, noncorrosive metal or plastic and the design will change little from year to year. This car will last as long as we take care of it.
When will we get such a car? Just as soon as enough of us want it. As long as we ride the present crest of prosperity we’ll want new and fancier cars each year. And the manufacturers will be happy to accommodate us. However, the popularity of small English cars seems to indicate that more and more drivers are looking for utility rather than style. American and Canadian manufacturers know a trend when they see it. They will give us what we want. it
CHANGING YOUR ADDRESS?
Be sure to notify us at least six weeks in advance, otherwise you will likely miss copies. Give us both old and new addresses — attach one of your present address labels if convenient.
Manager, Subscription Department, MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE,
481 University Ave., Toronto 2, Ontario