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The Artcar: 2002/09/08
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Well, we made it. Got there late, late Wed night and lucked into finding our camp mates who'd shown up on Tuesday to snag our reserved spot.

The car looks nice, doesn't it? That's about all it ended up doing. Click-thru for a video of the engine test.

jetbuggy at burning man
Thursday I did a final walk-thru/safety check on the car and discovered that I'd never bolted on one of the tie-rod ends. So I wandered off to see if I could scrounge a nut that'd fit it and see what I needed to do to get DMV/Pyro licensing.

A couple of hours later I got back, remembered that I'd brought a big box of random metric fittings, and found a nut that would fit the tie-rod end. When I went to put it on, I discovered a piece of the sort of tubing I used for the fuel lines. I'm bad to throw scrap around while I'm working, but I'd made a point of cleaning everything up before I put the car on the trailer.

Then I recognized the shape of the metal -- it was one of the fuel lines on the car. Not two hours earlier I'd gone over this very piece of line making certain that all the joints were secure. Best I can tell, someone busted off one of my fuel lines and tossed the broken bit of line up in the front of the car, near the brake pedal. I don't know if it was intentional sabotage, or if someone was trying to clean off some of the tarp scraps that'd gotten tangled in the engine mount and fuel lines. I had planned on cutting off these little bits of plastic instead of yanking them off. I'd like to think that someone was trying to yank them off and screwed up my car instead of intentionally sabotaging it. (Note to self for next year: don't just bring spares for things that could break, bring spares for things that other people can break/steal.)

As a result, I spent a fair amount of Thursday taking off fuel lines and trying to piece together something that would fit and still be safe. By the time I got that done, it was dark and I didn't feel like testing in the dark, so I wandered off with my friends to enjoy the night.

It was Friday afternoon before I was ready to test fire things, so I went and found Pyro again (thanks Augur, for all the advice) then there was a dust storm, so I didn't actually fire the engine up until Saturday around 1300hrs. Talk about your "playa-time", eh?

So what happened? In short, the car didn't move under its own power. The engine lit up, made a huge amount of racket and burned lots of fuel, however no significant thrust was developed. Maybe it was the fuel lines I'd built from inferior parts, maybe the fuel pressurization was wrong, maybe the fuel lines were too narrow or had a kink, maybe the guys at Windspire made a bum engine. On the playa is not the place to re-engineer something on this level, so I put it back on the trailer, hauled it back to my camp, and went off to enjoy the rest of the burn.

UPDATE, 2003: I spoke with a fellow who has a real Gluhareff engine, built under the supervision of Mr. Gluhareff before he died. It looks like I was doomed to fail from the start: even a perfect engine wouldn't have developed enough thrust on regular propane. A mixture of isopropane and propane is needed to even get close to the rated 130# of thrust. Furthermore, it's not clear that the engine I had was built to spec. Not being an expert on Gluhareff engines, I can't say for certain.

What I can say is that I should have bench tested the engine for total thrust before I spent a dime on anything else. Live and learn, I guess.

My girlfriend captured the test fire on video. Here's a short video of the engine making funny noises as it doesn't go to full power. If you look closely, you can see the flames coming out of the engine and the heat-distortion-waves on the playa surface.

And here's a couple of photos taken by Marc Merlin, used with his permission. You should check out his web site at http://marc.merlins.org/perso/bmguide.html, he took a lot of photos this year of mutant vehicles. Click on either one to see a nicer, larger version. In the first one, you can see the heat distortion in the air while the engine is running -- I dunno what he uses for a digital camera, but I think I want one.
photo by Marc Merlin

photo by Marc Merlin

As for what's next, I dunno. I'm making myself take at least month off working on the car just to get some mental space from the project. I talked to Steve from SRL who told me some good things about Hiller engines so I might switch to one or two of those. Maybe I just need to fix the fuel problems and everything will be fine with this engine.

Or I might just toss the entire jet-engine concept, slap in a regular engine/transmission, and use it as the framework for some other Mutant Vehicle. Putting a big enough engine into this to make it move might require going to a turbine, and I really, really don't want to try and run one of those on the playa.

But you know, even if it never goes, I had a lot of fun getting it to never go.


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All original text and images Copyright 2000-2002 J. Eric Townsend.