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Really Important Automotive Breakthroughs

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Really Important Automotive Breakthroughs

Old 05-20-2010, 09:19 AM
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Default Really Important Automotive Breakthroughs

I’d really like to hear what others think about this. I have been thinking about “breakthrough inventions” in the automotive (racing) field, new ideas that provide overwhelming advantage. Not things like direct-injection rather than port injection, or variable valve timing rather than static – those provide advantages, true, but only small ones and in a way that is very anticipatable. Also, I am not talking about “tricks” like the recently controversial “f-duct” in Formula 1 – that is innovative, even beyond that, incredibly clever, but even if legal it is not in the spirit of the rules (and it is now banned I think) although I can see why McClaren had to go with it once they thought of it.
I’m talking about new inventions that provide so much advantage that a car without them simply cannot compete in a fair race against a car that has them. Looking back all the way to the end of WWII, I see only three developments this big – one of them recent (which is why this is on my mind). They are, in the order I think are most important
Disc brakes – I rate this first because it not only is a huge advantage overall, but creates an easy way to pass other cars and thus move up in position– with disks, once well into a race, you can count on being able to massively outbrake a car with drums, and thus pass before a corner and just outbrake the other guy. I realize many readers have never driven an all-drum brake car, particularly in a race or wet weather where the brakes fade to nothing, but believe me, when Jaguar was the only team at LeMans with this it is impossible to understand how they could have lost.
Wings – again, this is not spoilers or aero-streamlining but real “wings” a la Jim Hall and his Chaparrals. A car without “artificial” downforce cannot possibly out-corner a car with them: F1 cars with wings corner at 3+Gs, cars without about 1.4Gs max: in other words, you stand no chance without them. Harder to use this to pass, but it can be and is done.
Dual clutch electronic sequential transmissions (EST)– 0-60 times for Porsche Carreras and such have fallen almost half a second in just the last two years just because of direct and indirect effects of this invention (Porsche calls it their PDK transmission, Ferrari their F1, etc.). ESTs have paddle shifters but are not, like most paddle shift transmissions (e.g., Mercedes McClaren and other top end MB cars, the Corvette paddle shift, etc) an automatic transmission, but a self-shifting manual. ESTs shift faster and more perfectly than any human can, and make it possible to put more gears into the transmission (you would never put eight or more gears in a car a driver had to shift manually but you will with one of these), and do downshifts much better than a human ever will. They provide a big advantage but not quite enough that you can get the two or three lengths you need to pass on a short straight, so I rate this last.
This is on my mind both for intellectual reasons and because I deliberately avoided the EST on my latest purchase – I wanted to shift the gears myself and frankly while ESTs result in faster reported 0-60 times in magazine road tests, but they don’t do that much for you on the street. I went to a good deal of trouble to buy one the last Ferraris to ever be made with a clutch and manual trans andI must admit I often wonder if over time I will miss having the EST.
Regardless, comments and other thoughts are welcome – truly interested in what others think.
Old 05-20-2010, 06:35 PM
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As always, great post Lee!
Speaking of inovations, not a lot of people know that a lot of high performance engine developement came from the war birds of WWII. Stand next to a P-51 when she fires up, or the radial powered planes. At idle you can hear the cam doing it's job. Also the introduction of blowers and turbo chargers aiding in high altitude, thin air flight.

I still want to see a multi-focus laser ignition system. ; )
Old 05-20-2010, 08:11 PM
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They also used NOS (Nitrous Oxide) in WWII fighters - not sure they invented it but some of the fighters had it. My dad, a pilot in the war, told me about it - it the last resort in combat. One minute on NOS would probably get you away from any enemy on your tail, and it would ruin the engine, BUT -- if you got shot down then it sort of ruined the engine and more, so it was an easy choice. He never had to use it in combat, but did admit to using ten seconds of it now and then to see what it was like. The mechanics, he said, could always tell he had done so but never reported it (I guess there was paperwork every time you ruined an engine).
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