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Transportation Technology

Steam-Powered Car Breaks Century-Old Speed Record 187

Posted by timothy
from the we-say-horsepower-but-not-buggywhip-power dept.
mcgrew writes "New Scientist reports that a steam-powered car has broken the 1906 record of 204 km/hr (127 mph) for the fastest steam-powered automobile, the Stanley Steamer. The Inspiration made a top speed of 225 kilometres per hour (140 miles per hour) on August 26. 'The car's engine burns liquid petroleum gas to heat water in 12 suitcase-sized boilers, creating steam heated to 400C. The steam then drives a two-stage turbine that spins at 13,000 revolutions per minute to power its wheels.The FIA requires two 1.6-km-long runs to be performed in opposite directions — to cancel out any effect from wind — within 60 minutes.'"
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Steam-Powered Car Breaks Century-Old Speed Record

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  • are from two runs of the same vehicle.
    They don't ahve to be opposite directions.

    • by couchslug (175151) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @06:26PM (#29209357)

      The Stanley Steamer record is vastly more impressive. Tires, brakes, and suspension in 1906 were primitive, materials were not nearly as reliable, and design was done on a drawing board.

      "That smashes the previous official record of 204 km/hr (127 mph) set in 1906 by Fred Marriott of the US in a modified version of the then-popular steam car known as the Stanley Steamer."

      Sorry, but only going thirteen (13) miles an hour faster than a record more than a _century_ old is shit. He might have done better by using a replica Stanley engine made from modern materials (to allow heat increase without a boiler explosion) instead.

      • by DJRumpy (1345787) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @06:42PM (#29209591)
        If it was that easy, it would have been broken before now. You belittle the achievement without understanding the challenges involved.

        Another thing to consider is that during speed runs, brakes, and suspension are not really a factor. The car is driven in a straight line at maximum speed. It's not taken on a touring expedition to test is comfort and handling performance. The tires need only be capable of not blowing at high speeds.
        • by Kral_Blbec (1201285) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @06:43PM (#29209611)
          Is there really anything scientific or technological that we cant do vastly better now that 1906? Its like the captain of the senior football team boasting about stealing lunch money from a 7th grader.
          • by ae1294 (1547521) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @06:48PM (#29209679) Journal

            Is there really anything scientific or technological that we cant do vastly better now that 1906? Its like the captain of the senior football team boasting about stealing lunch money from a 7th grader.

            In the US? yeah I'd say we can't do 7th grade math any better without using some sort of damn dirty machine...

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Bob9113 (14996)

            Is there really anything scientific or technological that we cant do vastly better now that 1906?

            My guess is yes, but I can't come up with a good example at the moment.

            Here's an unbroken 1960's land speed record set by one guy with very little money working in his garage:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burt_Munro [wikipedia.org]

            Very fun flick too, if you like hackers.

            • The only remaining record listed there is fastest speed for an Indian motorcycle, and that's just a little bit silly. Might as well have a list of records for fastest pink vehicle.

              I'm not scoffing what he did, but his class record of 183.586 miles/hour has been broken at least 18 times, and a quick glean at the certified LSR records [scta-bni.org] puts the new record in that class at 240.913 miles/hour, which is 31% faster.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by fooslacker (961470)
            Have steam engines really evolved that much since 1906? I mean materials science is better but I doubt (and I could be wrong) that we've pumped much R&D effort/funds into small steam engine design over the last 100 years. Anyone know?
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Alien Being (18488)

              Turbine versus reciprocating parts has to be a huge factor. A 1906 Stanley was ran like those old steam locomotives. This new one is arguably closer in design to a modern turboshaft.

              Steam is simply a lost art in automobiles. What's old becomes new again, though. An old steam car saved energy as hot water. Insulation around the boiler facilitated that heat storage. I recently read that the latest Toyota Prius saves its heated engine coolant in a vacuum flask when you shut it off.

            • No we haven't but I've seen some pretty amazing designs from small low-budget outfits.

        • by couchslug (175151)

          "If it was that easy, it would have been broken before now. "

          What supports that asserted conclusion?

          There wasn't much of a steam car enthusiast community after they went out of popular use. Hot rodding the simple petrol engines of the time was easy (carbs, manifolds, cams, compression, OHV conversions) and there were plenty of them. If you blew an engine, more were available cheap or free. Steam cars even at their height of popularity were a niche market.

          The Model T Ford, the flathead Ford, the small block

        • You pretty quickly dismiss the suspension as not being a factor. That lake bed isn't exactly as smooth as a billiards table. If you want to keep control of the car and keep going in a straight line, a decent suspension is a good thing to have when your going over 100mph.

          • by dwater (72834)

            Indeed. Suspension is a big factor in keeping the wheels on the ground, and since this is not jet or wind powered, I think that's quite important.

        • by doug141 (863552) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @11:34PM (#29212031)

          "If it was that easy, it would have been broken before now."

          An economist and his son were talking a walk. "Look Dad," said the boy, "There's a $20 under that bench over there." The man looked down at the boy, "That's not possible son, passers-by would pick up any free money laying about."

          • by lgw (121541)

            Let me know the next time you see a $20 lying around in a public place. Then your story will make the point you seem to desire, and not the opposite.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by evilviper (135110)

          If it was that easy, it would have been broken before now.

          No. There are a vast number of things which are easy to do, but NOBODY cares enough to bother with... Steam-powered vehicles being one of them.

          Even if some new million-dollar racket could guarantee you'd win every round of badminton, do you really think anybody would buy one? Even at the Olympic level... who cares?

      • by Carnildo (712617) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @07:01PM (#29209847) Homepage Journal

        Tires, brakes, and suspension may have been primitive, but in 1906, steam propulsion was a mature, well-understood technology.

        • by westlake (615356)

          Tires, brakes, and suspension may have been primitive, but in 1906, steam propulsion was a mature, well-understood technology.

          But steam technology was not easily adaptable to the automobile.

          The "cold" start-up could take twenty minutes, so you kept the pilot light burning. The Stanley did not have a condenser until 1915, which severely limited its range.

      • by Michael Woodhams (112247) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @07:53PM (#29210353) Journal

        I was thinking the same: 100 years of technology and only 10% faster? However, at the end the article says "... the team is planning another run on Wednesday, to try to get even closer to the car's theoretical top speed of 274 km/hr (170 mph)." My interpretation is that they didn't want to go flat-out right away so that any engineering problems could show up at lower speed first. So they are doing progressively faster runs, and this just happened to be the first that was faster than the old record.

      • Which leads to the question "What would be the best way to make a modern steam-powered land speed record contender?"

        I reckon it would be based on a turbine instead of pistons, cranks and rods. Maybe the turbines should be in the wheel hubs. Is a two-stage necessary?

        What are the best modern materials? Metal? Ceramic? Best Fuel? Is there a fundamental limit to how fast a wheel-driven steam car can run on a given course?

        I wonder what the total boiler volume was in this one. i.e. did they leave the starti

      • Stanley steamers generate steam in drum shaped boilers ranging from 14" to 30" in diameter and from 14" to 18" in height. Similar to a battery the Stanley boiler stores steam energy for later use on demand. Unique in their design, no Stanley boiler has ever been documented to explode. The circular boiler walls are strengthened with three layers of exceptionally strong piano wire to provide sidewall strength unequalled in boiler designs for similar ratings. The use of between 500 and 1,000 fire tubes not onl

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Indeed, the 1906 record is far more impressive, and that's what actually struck me. In 1906 my late grandmother was only three years old, as was powered flight. It took over a hundred years to break that record.

        However, in 1906 steam technology was at its height, or nearly so. As TFA points out, at the time steam powered cars wer the norm, and internal combustion autos were rare due in part to the danger of the hand crank to start them, while unlike steam trains, steam cars were safe. In 1906 most if not al

  • by swanzilla (1458281) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @06:18PM (#29209221) Homepage
    Next up...ridiculously large front-wheeled bicycle speed record.
    • by oldhack (1037484)
      Wonder what the record is for the fastest cockroach?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by owlnation (858981)

        Wonder what the record is for the fastest cockroach?

        What do you mean? An African or European cockroach?

    • by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @07:19PM (#29210055)

      That style of bike is called a Penny-farthing.

      It's not like we use steam for cutting-edge tech like nuclear power plants or anything.

    • by ev0l (87708) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @07:38PM (#29210225)

      The name of the bike you are, presumably, referring to is called a penny farthing. They worked by direct drive. The cranks were tied directly into the front hub. You would generally get the largest wheel your legs would allow so that you could travel as fast as possible. The bigger diameter of the front wheel the further you would go with one rotation.

      Interestingly the first geared bicycles, that resemble the ones we ride now, were called safety bicycles. Presumably this was because you were closer to the ground and had less distance to fall. However the invention of gearing on the safety bicycle allowed a rider to travel much faster than would of even been possible on a penny farthing. Bicycles today are far more dangerous than a penny farthing. Even going downhill, the penny farthing rider is limited to how fast they can pedal (the cranks never stop spinning) but todays bicycles employ multiple gearing ratios and free wheels/hubs that allow for extremely fast speeds. As I understand it penny farthings quickly died out after the invention of the safety bicycle.

      -Will

       

    • It was called the "Penny-Farthing" because of the ridiculous small wheel and the ridiculous large wheel. The big wheel had no gearing AFAIK, so you had to REALLY lay on the leg-muscles. Now.. lesseee.. I'm not a Brit so which was the "Penny"? I seem to remember UK pennies as bieng quite large and HEAVY! I remember being in London during the 1960s, and the only place that would take my damn pocketful of pennies (my pants were about to fall down) was a slot-machine arcade. Now, presumably all road bic
    • Next up...ridiculously large front-wheeled bicycle speed record.

      You may have a challenge ahead of you [pennyfarth...ldtour.com].

  • And slope (Score:5, Insightful)

    by seifried (12921) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @06:24PM (#29209331) Homepage
    "to cancel out any effect from wind" - and any slope, otherwise we'd have people dropping cars off cliffs claiming speed records like nobody's business =).
  • Slow down.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by pablo_max (626328) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @06:30PM (#29209395)

    Slow Down you damn Steam Punks! And stay the hell off my lawn.

  • by brkello (642429) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @06:31PM (#29209435)
    Stanley Steamer...you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. *shudder*
  • That seems like cheating. I guess the Stanley Steamer Rocket still retains the record for the fastest piston-powered steam car.

    (Interestingly, this [conceptcarz.com] article also claims that the Rocket unofficially hit 150mph right before it crashed and was totaled in 1907.)

  • Meh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stokessd (89903) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @06:50PM (#29209715) Homepage

    I have to agree with the underwhelming nature of only 13MPH faster.

    We now have a much better handle on material science and metallurgy. We actually have the capability to model the predicted performance and make design tweaks. We have the ability to machine to tolerances only dreamed about back then. And we have composites and alloys that weren't available.

    I realize that it's not a linear scale from a drag standpoint, but our victory could be due only to 1906 measurement error.

    Sheldon

    • I have to agree with the underwhelming nature of only 13MPH faster.

      We now have a much better handle on material science and metallurgy. We actually have the capability to model the predicted performance and make design tweaks. We have the ability to machine to tolerances only dreamed about back then. And we have composites and alloys that weren't available.

      I realize that it's not a linear scale from a drag standpoint, but our victory could be due only to 1906 measurement error.

      Sheldon

      "Our" victory? We as the people of 2009 banded together to defeat those godawful sons of bitches from 1906?

      I think it's impressive to even make a steam powered car now. Sure, the 1906 record is more impressive, but this one is cool too. It's like getting back to the Moon would be pretty impressive after we basically abandoned the related technology.

      • by scotch (102596)

        "Our" victory? We as the people of 2009 banded together to defeat those godawful sons of bitches from 1906?

        Side hurts, thanks.

    • We now have a much better handle on material science and metallurgy [etc]

      Sure, but in the early 1900's, I'd bet they were putting a lot of money and man-hours into researching steam engines.

      This was done as a student project.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by u38cg (607297)
      Don't be too quick to assume that our mechanical engineering is better than in 1906. That was an industrial age, and the skills and capability they had in place back then were very strong. It's literally impossible to reproduce many of the things they used to do with modern capabilities (look up the story of the building of the new Peppercorn steam engined train for more of this sort of thing).
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Perhaps they've made 100 years worth of improvements to the car from a reliability and usability point of view.

      TFA is wrong in saying that 100 years ago steam cars were easier than petrol ICE cars, but that's not to say petrol ICE was easy. The management lingo term "turn-key" was invented a long time AFTER cars were invented that's for sure. Cause cars back then weren't exactly "turn-key" regardless of the engine under the bonnet.

      This video of Jay Leno's sort of shows what steam cars were like, though this

  • hybrid (Score:5, Funny)

    by Eil (82413) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @06:51PM (#29209721) Homepage Journal

    'The car's engine burns liquid petroleum gas to heat water in 12 suitcase-sized boilers, creating steam heated to 400C. The steam then drives a two-stage turbine that spins at 13,000 revolutions per minute to power its wheels.

    Cool, a hybrid! Where can I get the government coupon to purchase one?

  • NABT (not a boiler technician) but I'd like to know how much pressure the thing generates. I've been around 600 pound and 1200 pound boilers, and learned some of the problems with the high pressure system. (basically, it was shit) I'm curious how much pressure this thing is using, and why and how. 400 degrees really means next to nothing, I don't know why they even put that little detail in the story.

    • by RandomJoe (814420) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @08:50PM (#29210851)

      Sure the temperature means something. You don't get steam above 212F without increasing the pressure. So the temp tells you roughly the pressure. I did a quick search for a chart, and it says 400 degrees would be around 235 PSIG. In comparison, your 600 PSIG boiler ran about 489 degrees and the 1000 PSIG ran about 546 degrees.

      http://www.indpipe.com/images/PDF/steam_temperature_pressure_table.pdf [indpipe.com]
      (Just the first link I found.)

      • Nice, thanks.

        TBH, after I posted my remark above, I got to thinking a little. Yes, it's obvious that temp and pressure are related, but didn't really have any idea if it's a linear relation or what. Temps in that chart look a little higher than memory tells me - but again, I wasn't a boiler tech.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ragefan (267937)

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ideal_gas_law [wikipedia.org]

          Assuming that in a boiler, the volume of the boiler and amount of water in it is constant (i.e the amount of steam leaving is the same as the amount of water coming in), then the temperature and pressure are directly proportional.

    • That's what's not clear is what the boiler is producing in saturated steam before it's superheated, I found that the car in the article is in fact superheated to 782F, where the stanley's boiler ran at 600PSI and gives the temperature as 488F, so the extra 150 degrees of superheat brings the system up to 638 F.

  • by reboot246 (623534) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @06:59PM (#29209829) Homepage
    but can it get my carpets clean any faster?
  • Out of steam (Score:4, Interesting)

    by westlake (615356) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @07:01PM (#29209843)

    The fate of the steamers is a cautionary tale for backers of projects like the Tesla.

    They were handcrafted for the extremely wealthy.

    The total production run for the Stanley was 11,000 cars in 25 years. Stanley Steamer [stanleymotorcarriage.com]

    No matter how you price such a car, you never generate enough cash to remain competitive in R&D - never enough to survive hard times.

    • by u38cg (607297)
      In some ways, it's surprising that the internal combustion engine won out. Steam was a century old technology, well understood, efficient, powerful, and well supported. Petrol engines were weaker, harder to fuel, prone to explode, and extremely difficult to maintain. It would be interesting to see why they ended up winning out over steam.
      • ... support of the porn industry
      • by smoker2 (750216)
        It's not surprising at all.

        Steam engines are heavy, prone to explosion, need regular top ups of water and fuel, take a long time to reach operating temperature, they emit dirty smoke, are noisy, mechanically complex and expensive. They are also larger for an equivalent power output compared to ICEs. Would Ferrari ever have existed if it had had to fit a boiler, firebox, coal bunker, external pistons and rods, chimney, water tank, and a fireman just to make it move ?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by u38cg (607297)
          Yes, but none of that was true for quite a few years *after* petrol engines were invented. The only advantage petrol had was the instant-on factor, but given that this was an era when you stabled a horse and had it looked after 24/7, it's not such an advantage in 1900 terms.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by DuckDodgers (541817)
          You're thinking of the very first steam cars, where solid fuels were used and someone on the vehicle had to stoke the fire by hand. The last steam cars were dramatically superior to that. Check http://www.stanleymotorcarriage.com/GeneralTechnical/GeneralTechnical.htm [stanleymotorcarriage.com]

          1. Steam cars did not emit dirty smoke. Unlike steam trains, steam ships, and very early steam cars, the later steam cars only used liquid fuels. It burns fuel like a propane stove, and burns very clean. Internal combustion engines bur
  • by Burning1 (204959) on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @09:03PM (#29210977) Homepage

    What impresses me about this accomplishment is that it must have been achieved among a small group of enthusiasts.

    With the internal combustion engine, an amateur can draw on a huge pool of professional resources and documented knowledge to build up a high performance vehicle. In fact, very few people, if any are a master of every component on a modern race car - usually your race team will have access to suspension specialists, tire specialists, engine builders, aerodynamic and chassis design guys...

    There really can't be that many experts on the automotive uses of steam engines, and a huge amount of new development must have gone into this car - that's something fantastic.

    Materials have come a long way... But how much of of an advantage does that give you against the massive loss of experience we must have had over the last 100 years?

    I'm a motorcycle racing enthusiast, and even at my amateur level it's amazing how much knowledge is only available through experienced teachers. There are literally more in-depth books about programing in ruby than books about motorcycle chassis engineering and physics.

    • by yzf750 (178710)

      Well think about it. If you write a book on motorcycle racing, how many prospective buyers do you think you will have? Not nearly as many as a book on Ruby. Perhaps now with micro publishing we will see more. Also there is a wealth of info in the intarweb, well maybe not so much on actual chassis design, but you can get quite a background just from reading some of the amateur racing websites.

      Have you read Kevin Cameron's "Sportbike Tuning Handbook"?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 26, 2009 @09:34PM (#29211193)

    The Powell steam engine and it's associated motor vehicle was far more advanced than the Stanley systems and also more powerful and reliable than the Packards, Duesenbergs, Auburns, etc. of it's day. Powell was devastated by the collapse of the economy in the late 20's and his patents and inventions remain locked away somewhere to this day.

    Cars and Parts magazine ran a month's long series on this revolutionary inventor and his motor car in the early 70's.

    It was, as I recall, a horizontally opposed, 4 cylinder engine, ran completely silent and exhaust-free, with none of the dire explosion risks the Stanley Bro's systems had.

    Worth a read if you can locate the article series.

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