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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Was Bill Lear's steam-powered Vapordyne more than Indy-racer vaporware?

The STP Turbine race cars on display at the inaugural American Speed Festival got me thinking about other alternative powerplants that have been used to go racing. Today we have battery-powered Formula E, and Formula 1 uses hybrid combustion/electric drivetrains. In 1952, the Cummins Diesel Special started the Indy 500 from the pole position, having set a record qualifying speed.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/was-bill-lears-steam-powered-vapordyne-more-than-in...
5 REPLIES 5
wdb
Advanced Driver

This story goes to show that not all of the loony dreamers on earth are French. Vive la idee! (Or something like that.)
59Bugeye
Pit Crew

Not sure why you would describe the Deltic diesel as "Heath Robinson". They ran the British Rail locomotives for a long time. The Royal Navy used them in the Ton Class Minehunter vessels because of their non-magnetic characteristics. Very compact because of the delta configuration and as long as they were kept out of their oil throwing rev range, I don't remember too many reliability issues. The cartridge start was a novel feature (to me at any rate).
RokemRonnie
Instructor

I'm just happy that someone got the Heath Robinson reference. What I said was that it was "a Rube Goldberg (Heath Robinson for our readers in the U.K.) looking opposed piston design". It may work, but it still looks overly complicated. Has anyone ever put an opposed piston engine to practical use in a car or truck?
59Bugeye
Pit Crew

In the UK, Commer had a screamer of an opposed piston two stroke diesel in their medium duty trucks around the late 50's/early 60's. You could hear them coming for miles. In the US, submarines used an opposed piston Fairbanks Morse diesel. I guess because of its shock (hence seismic) qualification, it was also used as a backup generator prime mover in nuclear power plants where it got a reputation for exhaust fires. I haven't got personal experience of running them in that configuration, but suspect that it might have had something to do with keeping constant luboil flow because of their standby status. Since one crank was above the combustion chamber, oil may have been flowing into the cylinder and getting thrown up the stack on start up. On the other hand, maybe it just had a propensity to throw oil like the Deltic......
TG
Technician

I don't have any personal experience with the opposed piston Fairbanks Morse, but I would suspect that the exhaust fire issue is probably along the same lines as 2-cycle diesels like Detroits where the air passages and the crankcase cross paths at some point in the cycle - leading to lubricating oil in the combustion process