Matt Prior

Auto Car (UK) - - THIS WEEK -

Are en­gine en­thu­si­asts a dy­ing breed?

We’ll need more than just boxes of im­pe­rial tools to keep cars go­ing

Those who fetishise the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine will be per­ceived the same way as steam en­gine en­thu­si­asts are to­day.

At least, that’s what some­body on the in­ter­net told me the other week in fewer than 141 char­ac­ters. I think he meant it as an in­sult.

Which, I thought, was a bit dis­mis­sive of those who ap­pre­ci­ate a ma­chine that, over the past 120 years, has lib­er­ated the world, brought free­dom to bil­lions and re­lief to the needy, built com­mu­ni­ties, short­ened wars (other views on its role in them are avail­able) and made in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal travel pos­si­ble.

But in­ter­net matey was right. The path is set. Even Mclaren (see p50), maker of spe­cial­ist high-per­for­mance cars, knows the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion (IC) game is over. Sure, beyond our highly de­vel­oped world of high-tech, high-den­sity liv­ing, I’ll be stag­gered if the IC en­gine doesn’t have another cen­tury of life in it but, still, its time will come. When solid-state bat­ter­ies be­come ‘a thing’, and Dyson (see p18) reck­ons they will by the time it in­tro­duces a car in 2020, the IC en­gine’s num­ber, which is al­ready up, will look even shorter. “Please tell me this doesn’t run on gas,” they’ll one day say, like Dr Calvin in ‘I, Ro­bot’, upon en­coun­ter­ing an MV Agusta motorbike. “Gas ex­plodes, you know?” Yes. We know. Goody.

And so, even­tu­ally, these ma­chines will be­come the pre­serve of the likes of… who? Us? Bearded, jaun­tily hat­ted old men (plus some women; but mostly not), mess­ing around in sheds, keep­ing things go­ing, keep­ing skills alive, get­ting grubby hands, in the name of his­tory.

Only, even­tu­ally, it won’t be that grubby a job, will it? It some­times al­ready isn’t, be­cause of cars like the Mclaren P1 – cars with IC en­gines but also a plethora of elec­tri­cal and elec­tronic sys­tems. We’ll need more than just boxes of im­pe­rial tools to keep cars go­ing. There’ll be elec­tron­i­cally ac­tu­ated dual-clutch gear­boxes, ac­tive rear steer­ing, e-diffs, hy­brid sys­tems, mov­ing aero­dy­namic ad­denda, and more, all to worry about. One day, cars with all of these will be clas­sic cars and they’ll need look­ing after. They’ll need specialists who aren’t au fait with balanc­ing a quar­tet of car­bu­ret­tors but can look through lines of code on an ob­scure lap­top pro­gramme and di­ag­nose that your camshaft sen­sor is ka­put. In­stead of some­body who can beat alu­minium pan­els, you’ll need a spe­cial­ist who can cook up a new car­bon­fi­bre split­ter or 3D print a bit of a clutch ac­tu­a­tor.

And so on it’ll go, I sup­pose, un­til one day, to­day’s next bit of tech­nol­ogy is out­dated, too. Ap­par­ently, there are specialists, even now, who re­tain banks of old com­put­ers so that they can para­chute (not lit­er­ally, pre­sum­ably) into a thor­oughly mod­ern com­pany and sort out what­ever ob­scure fi­nance or data­base sys­tem, for which they re­tain the cor­rect soft­ware or op­er­at­ing sys­tem, goes awry. There was a lovely Post-it note on top of a lap­top, next to an old For­mula 1 car, at this year’s Good­wood Fes­ti­val of Speed, which read: “Please set com­puter’s date to 1997.”

Then, decades after that, they’ll laugh. Oh, bless, you quaint solid-state bat­tery fans. Can any­body tele­port me a fu­sion sen­sor for a 2097 Nis­san Sunny? And on it’ll go, I sup­pose. I’m not tak­ing it as an in­sult.

Matt Prior

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