Wednesday, April 18, 2012

When cars and planes converge

True story: I once met a man who had hand-crafted a wooden airplane propeller, mounted it to the back of a motorcycle, and used it to, well, propel himself along the backroads of rural Massachusetts. I met him only once, 30 years ago, so I'm hazy on the details — such as when he built his contraption. But if I remember correctly, it was well before World War II.

The point is, people have been combining technologies for planes and motor vehicles for more than a century. Even the Wright brothers used propeller drive chains built by an automotive supplier. The latest and most salient example of this convergence is the Terrafugia, the world's first street-legal plane. (Or is it a car that flies? Whatever.)

This convergence comes in many shapes and sizes. For instance, companies building in-flight infotainment systems have shown interest in the QNX CAR application platform. As it turns out, they are attempting to address many of the same requirements (device connectivity, fast boot times, etc.) as automakers.

Riding the Fiat
Botafogo Special
Time to rewind... back to 1917. That was the year an enterprising mechanic in Argentina built the Botafogo Special, a race car based on a Fiat aircraft engine and a variety of other Fiat parts. (A Mercedes gear box was later thrown in for good measure. So were brakes.)

About the power plant: The Botafogo's aero engine is a massive overhead-cam six with a total displacement of — wait for it — 21.7 liters. In other words, each cylinder is roughly the equivalent of a 350 Chevy. The engine puts out so much torque that the car can hit 60 mph at just 800 rpm. It's a brute.

Thank goodness for Jay Leno. He had this century-old beast restored to its original piston-thumping glory. What I love most is the pre-flight ritual. Before you jump into the driver's seat, you need to oil the valves, "retard" the ignition, prime the fuel pump, and, yes, tickle the carburetor. Check it out:

What about you? Do you have any examples of cars converging with planes, trains, or anything else?

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