British Steam Car with a Need for Speed

What is it with Brits and their Need for Speed? I've covered Greenbird, the record-breaking land yacht, Quicksilver, a contender for the world water-speed record, and Bloodhound SSC, the concept design for another world land-speed car from the team that holds the current record. What do they all have in common? You guessed it, they are all British-based teams. Well, we can add another team to the list - that of 'The British Steam Car,' who recently broke the world land-speed record for a steam-powered car.

A steam-powered car is a throwback to the dawn of motoring, prior to the emergence of the gasoline engine. Both electric and steam-powered cars were part of the early search for personal transporters that didn't eat grass and emit copious amounts of manure (horses). Electric vehicles are currently enjoying a renaissance of sorts with the focus on zero-emissions vehicles, but there's no such love for steam-powered cars.

However, no-one accounted for the British obsession with speed records. So it was that The British Steam Car team decide to challenge the oldest world land-speed record; that of a steam-powered vehicle, dating back to 1906.

The essential ingredients of a steam-powered car are identical to most power stations, whether they be coal, gas, or even nuclear powered; you need a heat source, a boiler, and a steam turbine. The boiler is fed with water that is heated, converting it to steam, then the steam is directed through the steam turbine to provide useful work. The challenge for a vehicle is to make the entire system mobile - which requires strong, but light-weight materials capable of withstanding the high-pressure steam. Oh yes, and the vehicle needs to package the entire system in a streamlined body that minimizes drag. Sounds like a target rich environment for Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD).

Quite a challenge, but not overwhelming for speed-obsessed Brits. The British Steam Car team broke the existing world land-speed record over a mile for a steam-powered car (127mph) with 140mph at Edward's Air Force Base, California on August 25, 2009. They then broke the 1 km record a day later with 148mph. Surely given the Brits Need for Speed it was never in doubt.

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