Thursday, January 05, 2006

T#11: The Veyron, the Murray, and the Project

This is a bit mad, but bear with me...

The Veyron, the Murray, and the Project

I’ve noticed that I do my best thinking when I’m in my car.

What’s the relevance, you ask?

Well, in this instance the thinking went something like this:

My car has “approximately” 150bhp (harhar). It weighs, I should imagine – though I haven’t bothered to look it up – somewhere in excess of a ton. It is neither fast nor slow – being adequate for my needs without blazing any trails of fire via its BBS cross-spokes.

Ok, ok, so getting to the point: imagine a car with 10 times that power output and weighing less – road legal and on sale to rich people. That’s the proposition advanced by
Project 1221, and while it isn’t actually on sale yet, they do seem awfully serious about the idea.

Anyways, I jumped from there to something else that’s been bouncing rocks off my forehead for maybe a month now: Gordon Murray, talking about the Bugatti Veyron. I say talking about it…but what do I mean? It seems more likely that I mean putting it down – which gets me (or will get me, if you’re patient) into talking about Project 1221 again. Which I want to do because the Project absolutely fascinates me.

First of all though, Gordon Murray. If you don’t know who he is you can look him up in lots of places, including a very brief article in the Wikipedia,
here. But basically, unless you’re a Formula One nut, his most relevant work is as designer of the McLaren F1 supercar – widely held to be one of the greatest pedigrees in the history of the breed, with an extreme attention to detail, weight, and purity of driving experience. Or so they tell me. It is utterly unassisted, has a bespoke BMW V12 in the back pushing over 600 brake, and kind of has a reputation for being both very very good and a liiittle tricky at the limit. So, he’s a car designer – one of the greatest – putting him in an excellent position to act as judge and jury on the finesse and intricacies of the Veyron…but naggingly compromised as such by his aforementioned progeny.

Or is that just me?

I’m deeply contradicted by this. On the one hand, Murray is a fantastic engineer, and, given the F1, knows what he’s talking about; on the other, I’ve got three separate magazine publications – Top Gear, Evo, and Road & Track – that Murray has popped up in suddenly, recently, where he is talking about the Veyron…and, um, might I say it’s mostly in a negative sense? He seems committed to finding things wrong with it – especially in comparison to the F1.

Maybe I’m being a little unfair. Murray is very clear that the engineering is an amazing accomplishment; his dissatisfaction centres instead on the compromised conception that then necessitated such effort. Bugatti/Volkswagen ran over their own feet by signing off an exterior design that was not as aerodynamically efficient as the pre-determined – another issue – performance characteristics required, leading to the now notorious troubled gestation period. The basic shape of the vehicle is wrong, with high lift characteristics and an unfortunately large drag coefficient – leading to the need for an extra 400bhp just to achieve 12 more mph. This is not helped by the cooling demands of the W16 engine. These are fundamental problems that feed off each other – the one makes the other worse. Murray’s respect for the engineers who overcame these and other associated difficulties is unquestionable.

Speaking of the W16, Murray also has a dislike for non-naturally aspirated engines. The Veyron has four turbochargers – the resultant lag is enough for Murray to downplay the Veyron’s bare acceleration and top speed figures out-weighing the F1’s, explaining instead that the superior in-gear response of the McLaren makes for a more usable road car experience, better for overtaking. The Bugatti apparently (?!) doesn’t feel that fast on the road – testament perhaps to the development team’s determination to make it so easy to drive that even your wife could handle it (Automobiles Bugatti President Thomas Bscher’s words, not mine). But it is lots of fun on a race track…can you imagine the brake and tire bill after a few serious track days? Especially given the car’s substantial 2-ton curb weight – another area where Murray’s “sports car” blueprint is compromised.

So that’s the Veyron – technically brilliant considering its inadequacies in comparison to the McLaren F1.

What I would love to hear is Murray’s take on Project 1221. I’ve posted some inane babbling on this madness
before, but as that really was inane, let’s recap, elucidate, and expand.

Project 1221’s ambitions include private jets and motor yachts, but their starting point is the supercar. The outfit exists somewhere in the Modenese hills, CEOed by a chap named Andrea Andrianos, and has Mauro Forghieri as its chief engineer – a man heavily steeped in the history of Scuderia Ferrari, starting with the 250GTO in 1962, but also former Technical Director with Lamborghini, and Bugatti Automobili circa EB110. Significant others involved included Design Service Network’s Emanuele Nicosia, who’s looking at exterior design, and Anna Visconti, who’s doing the same for the interior, as well as Oral Engineering – where Forghieri is Commercial and Technical Director. The line up is so far intended to consist of two distinct vehicles that share the same power plant, wheel base, two- or four-wheel drive option, and a list price of €675,000. They differ in virtually everything else except the name: MF1, apparently in Forghieri’s honour.

That’s the credentials, now for the mad stuff.

The cars are to be powered by a 1500hp gas turbine engine – note the lack of a b, as this is “shaft horse power”: the power available at the drive shaft driven by the passage of hot gas through the turbine. The intended weight is approximately a ton, not including the armour plating option offered on the treposti, three-seat version. The dueposti two-seater should have a slight weight advantage again. The Project also claim selectable right- or left-hand drive, ample luggage space, and huge range from large fuel tanks. Not to mention a 270mph+ top end.

The cars are intended to be very aerodynamically efficient, with a teardrop shape cited as the ideal – to the extent that the rear track may actually be narrower than the front, suggested to also aid in the placement of the vehicle when driving; unlike the supercar norm, there will be no ginormous hind quarters to be conscious of when threading through traffic, or hustling along narrow lanes. Possible issues with high-speed stability as a result is a question unanswered but they claim they’ve accounted for. The only press shots so far released are partial crops, one of each design, giving nothing away aside from some rather curious shutlines.

Feels like a con. Feels ridiculous. Until you start researching gas turbines.

Chrysler and Rover both experimented seriously with turbine power for road vehicles during the mid 20th Century. They were effectively outlawed as a propulsion unit from Indy Car racing in the 1960s – after nearly winning the Indianapolis 500 first time out. Marine Turbine Technologies make a turbine powered superbike.

I’m not going to go into it heavily here, but if Project 1221 can get the turbine part to work satisfactorily they stand a good chance of blowing everything else away.

A gas turbine can run on virtually any fuel – including perfume and vodka, but more significantly petrol, diesel, kerosene, even renewables such as corn- and Soya-oil. Without flushing the tank.

For their size and weight they are much more efficient than internal combustion installations, generating more power per pound with only very limited cooling requirements. The M1 Abrams tank uses one for this reason (also 1500hp, incidentally). But just to clarify: there are no easily available figures for the Veyron’s W16, but it must be somewhere in excess of the two W8s that it consists of – and they weight 190kg a piece. The Project’s turbines are reputably to be supplied by Williams International – a company that supplies turbines to the aero industry, founded by Dr Saw Williams, a man who began his engineering career with the Chrysler turbine cars.

Williams International has a 1500hp turbine called the FJ33, intended for use in private jets, but compact enough to make it at least potentially feasible in a road car. This weighs in at approximately 136kg. And a turbine doesn’t need any of the radiators that plagued the Veyron’s engine and aerodynamic development. Compared to the Bugatti, the Project’s power-to-weight is reckoning on an entirely different kind of accelerative experience.

There are inherent problems, however. Murray, I suspect, would be keen to question the use of a turbine for the same reason he questions the use of a turbocharger: lag. There is inevitably a delay between depressing the accelerator and the turbine reaching its optimum rotational velocity (and therefore maximum power). With the early turbine cars this could be as long as seven seconds. The Project rebuffs this by pointing out that no-one has ever put such a powerful turbine into a car before, so throttle response should be adequately brisk. Rover had a 200hp “JET1” turbine powering a vehicle based loosely on their P4 road car to 152mph in 1952; given that over 50 years of development has gone into turbines – as well as electronics and transmission technology – since then, I’m prepared to accept this argument for the time being…

Fuel consumption and heat emissions are other issues. The first is irrelevant on a supercar. The second seems to provide more of a challenge – not so much with the temperature, but with the volume (if you’ve ever stood anywhere near the back of a jet plane when it’s being fired up, you’ll know what I mean). The Project seems intent on harnessing this to their own advantage, though – by using the heat as an aerodynamic aid. If you think about how Formula One cars of recent years direct their exhaust over the rear wing, you can start to see how this might possibly make sense.

Is that enough?

Oh God, it’s all just crazy speculation! What would Gordon Murray say?

But it is such an intriguing concoction of people and ideas that I really so want it to be true – I want Project 1221 to be able to make this work. I want to see a lightweight (comparatively), environmentally acceptable (vaguely), aerodynamically efficient (allegedly), gas turbine powered (armoured plated) supercar. With 1500hp and rear wheel drive. Not to prove the engineering effort behind the Bugatti wrong, but because it represents such a pure and completely formed idea.

And if it does work, then we can start talking seriously again about the turbine as a power plant for the ordinary road car…

Soon as I'm back at uni I'll post a more comprehensive set of turbine related links. Regretably this probably isn't the last you'll here from me on this subject...



Project 1221

#9: Project 1221 [internal]


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