Wednesday, October 31, 2007

This Isn't Real, Right?

Over on Kos, we have, well, the impossible:

This story is so incredible, I had to do additional research to confirm that it was indeed true. It centers on Kansas City auto mechanic and inventor Johnathan Goodwin.

Two years ago, Goodwin got a rare chance to show off his tricks to some of the car industry's most prominent engineers. He tells me the story: He was driving a converted H2 to the SEMA show, the nation's biggest annual specialty automotive confab, and stopped en route at a Denver hotel. When he woke up in the morning, there were 20 people standing around his Hummer. Did I run over somebody? he wondered. As it turned out, they were engineers for GM, the Hummer's manufacturer. They noticed that Goodwin's H2 looked modified. "Does it have a diesel engine in it?"

"Yeah," he said.

"No way," they replied.

He opened the hood, "and they're just all in and out and around the valves and checking it out," he says. They asked to hear it run, sending a stab of fear through Goodwin. He'd filled it up with grease from a Chinese restaurant the day before and was worried that the cold morning might have solidified the fuel. But it started up on the first try and ran so quietly that at first they didn't believe it was really on. "When you start a diesel engine up on vegetable oil," Goodwin says, "you turn the key, and you hear nothing. Because of the lubricating power of the oil, it's just so smooth. Whisper quiet. And they're like, 'Is it running? Yeah, you can hear the fan going.'"

One engineer turned and said, "GM said this wouldn't work."

"Well," Goodwin replied, "here it is."

And what's the bottom line for Goodwin's modified vehicles? Stuff like this:

Goodwin's feats of engineering have become gradually more visible over the past year. Last summer, Imperium Renewables contacted MTV's show Pimp My Ride about creating an Earth Day special in which Goodwin would convert a muscle car to run on biodiesel. The show chose a '65 Chevy Impala, and when the conversion was done, he'd doubled its mileage to 25 mpg and increased its pull from 250 to 800 horsepower. As a stunt, MTV drag-raced the Impala against a Lamborghini on California's Pomona Raceway. "The Impala blew the Lamborghini away," says Kevin Kluemper, the lead calibration engineer for GM's Allison transmission unit, who'd flown down to help with the conversion.

Remember -- Detroit tells us it's impossible to increase gas mileage without taking a hit on horsepower. Yet here's Goodwin -- with an eight-grade education -- able to design motors that blow the doors off the conventional (and obviously bullshit) wisdom.

His latest project?

Goodwin leads me over to a red 2005 H3 Hummer that's up on jacks, its mechanicals removed. He aims to use the turbine to turn the Hummer into a tricked-out electric hybrid. Like most hybrids, it'll have two engines, including an electric motor. But in this case, the second will be the [jet] turbine, Goodwin's secret ingredient. Whenever the truck's juice runs low, the turbine will roar into action for a few seconds, powering a generator with such gusto that it'll recharge a set of "supercapacitor" batteries in seconds. This means the H3's electric motor will be able to perform awesome feats of acceleration and power over and over again, like a Prius on steroids. What's more, the turbine will burn biodiesel, a renewable fuel with much lower emissions than normal diesel; a hydrogen-injection system will then cut those low emissions in half. And when it's time to fill the tank, he'll be able to just pull up to the back of a diner and dump in its excess french-fry grease--as he does with his many other Hummers. Oh, yeah, he adds, the horsepower will double--from 300 to 600.

"Conservatively," Goodwin muses, scratching his chin, "it'll get 60 miles to the gallon. With 2,000 foot-pounds of torque. You'll be able to smoke the tires. And it's going to be superefficient."

He laughs. "Think about it: a 5,000-pound vehicle that gets 60 miles to the gallon and does zero to 60 in five seconds!"

And here's the punchline:

Goodwin's work proves that a counterattack is possible, and maybe easier than many of us imagined. If the dream is a big, badass ride that's also clean, well, he's there already. As he points out, his conversions consist almost entirely of taking stock GM parts and snapping them together in clever new ways. "They could do all this stuff if they wanted to," he tells me, slapping on a visor and hunching over an arc welder. "The technology has been there forever. They make 90% of the components I use."

The problem with Detroit isn't the laws of physics, it's the fact that a guy who never even went to high school can do things -- with stock parts -- that Detroit's auto executives and their armies of engineers claim is impossible. Good ol' American know-how and ingenuity is alive and well, just not where we need it.

And here's the video of a '65 Impala smoking a Lambourghini:


If I hadn't seen it I wouldn't believe it. There HAS to be a catch.

(Turbine/Electric hybrid? Isn't that essentially a Batmobile? If it isn't, it damned well should be. somebody call Christopher Nolan!)

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