Gearheads, Give Up

I'm a gearhead. I like double overhead camshafts, six-speed transmissions, and small-displacement, high-revving engines that make lots of noise. I like fast cars with great handling. I'm having trouble adjusting to hybrids and even more trouble adjusting to plug-in electric cars that need to have electronically-generated noise added to alert pedestrians. Low-performance econo-slugs aren’t interesting to me.

A colleague — not a car guy — suggested that electric cars like NASCAR vehicles would never sell until they raced at the Daytona 500. That hasn’t happened yet, although electric cars are setting speed records.

The Buckeye Bullet (version 2.5), an electric car designed and built by students at Ohio State University’s Center for Auto Research, recently set an international record for electric cars: It traveled at an average of 307.7 miles per hour in back-to-back runs on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. That may seem slow, but the wheel-driven land speed record car needed a 3,750 horsepower turboshaft engine to go 470.4 miles per hour.

The Buckeye Bullet was sponsored by Venturi, a French electric vehicle company, and used lithium ion batteries designed by A123 Systems of Watertown, Mass. Both are involved in the production of electric or hybrid passenger cars.

Some people may see racing or speed records as frivolous, but there’s a precedent. Henry Ford used the proceeds of a race with a Winton automobile to establish his company. “Old 999,” a car built by Ford and driven by Barney Oldfield, gained immeasurable publicity. Henry Ford himself drove another “Old 999” to a speed record of 91.37 miles per hour. “Old 999” helped build the Ford Motor Company. Other companies also raced to prove the practicality of their cars.

Then, as now, the speed wasn’t the point. The point was to establish that the thing could be done, indirectly proving that the same technology could be used to build practical, useful vehicles.

Gearheads are going to have to give up. High-performance, gasoline-powered cars have a certain allure, but they also have problems. There is a finite supply of oil. Clean as today’s gasoline-engine cars are, they still contribute to environmental pollution. Electric cars, hybrid or plug-in, are going to replace them.

That may be OK, even for gearheads. Land speed records show that electric cars can be high-performance cars, too. If any further proof is needed, check out the Porsche 918 hybrid supercar concept: 718 total horsepower; 0 to 62 miles per hour in 3.2 seconds; a claimed 78.3 miles per gallon; and a top speed of 199 miles per hour. The Porsche 918 is far beyond most people’s means, but it’s a hint of what’s to come. We can use far less oil, create far less pollution, and still have high-performance cars.

As usual, the semiconductor industry will be at the forefront of this revolution. Better batteries will be essential. Even more important will be more efficient power transistors. They are needed to convert battery DC power to more efficient AC motor power and to convert efficient AC alternator power back to DC to charge the battery. Also important is better micrologic control of the transition between gasoline and electric power. All of those semiconductors are on the way.

That said, I’m still not ready for a Daytona 500 with electronically-generated noise.

11 comments on “Gearheads, Give Up

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 22, 2011

    300-plus mph doesn't seem slow at all. As far as racing goes, wouldn't there be an upside to electric cars, in that there is less risk of explosions/fire?

    I agree, though, the Daytona 500 wouldn't be the same without the sound effects (for the 90 or so seconds I tune in).

  2. SP
    February 22, 2011

    I was watching a movie of Tom Cruise where races in Daytona. Well with the kind of perfection and speed those races need, I am not sure if electric cars are ready for it. But as they nothing is impossible only it takes time…personally i would like to use electric car but not sure with global warming going on and the price of electricity. But whenever I see someone riding one it gives impression that its to relax and enjoy not race…

  3. Tony Massimini
    February 22, 2011

    OK, I'm the colleague who suggested racing EVs in NASCAR.  Get some of those good ole boys excited and the EV will seem “normal.” 


    “HOOO WEEEE! I love the smell of ozone in the morning.”


    Speaking with Morry the other day, he pointed out that given the kind of gas mileage cars get at a race like Daytina 500, you need to pit every 50 miles or so.  I know some people get excited about what happens in the pits with all these big guys hauoling tires and 10 gallon gas cans.  If you limit the number of battery packs you have in the pit, then instead of the guy with the huge gas can, you have the guys with a mechanism to swap out the huge battery. The pit crew has to manage the re-charging of the battery packs so the driver can get across the finish line.


    Of course there will be racing teams who will try to get an unfair advantage with how they tweak the cars programming. 


    As for the sound, the regular street EVs are required to produce sound for up to 18 MPH.  You can program a race car to make whatever sound you want at any speed.  Here those good ole boys can have some fun.  In addition to a distinctive design and number for their car, they can have their own sounds.


    OK maybe I am getting a little carried away. But I believe EV's are the future and what ever can be done to promote the technology should be tried.


    “Gentleman, charge up your motor!”

  4. Jay_Bond
    February 22, 2011

    I am definitely a gear head. I enjoy classic muscle cars along with new sports cars. I also turn wrenches on these vehicles. There is definitely something about the sound of a big V8 or a supercharged engine. As much as I love these cars, I am well aware that they are an endangered species.

    I pay close attention to the new technology that is still going to allow sports cars in the electric age. The biggest problem out there is cost. The vehicles that are currently being made and their prototypes are expensive for consumers. This technology is also expensive to the car companies. Until more companies can get involved in the needed technology, these cars are going to be few and far between. Until then, I'll take my loud gas guzzlers.


  5. Adeniji Kayode
    February 23, 2011

    I feel with time, EVs will be perfected to replace gasoline cars.

    It migth be expensive today but as more companies take on manufacturing them, the price will fall and more people will embrace them.

    while EVs have few and sensitive disadvantages, they have more advantages enough for us to embrace them.

  6. prabhakar_deosthali
    February 23, 2011

    The EVs of tomorrow will surpass todays Gasolene cars not only in performance & speed but will also satisfy those gearheads with their programmable sound profiles which will match the engine sounds of the popular old gasolene models. So the gearheads would enjoy the best of both the worlds. But do you really want that noise ? Looks at the railways – how many people would now like to go back to those days of huffing and puffing of those steam engines and the coal fired boilers. It is good for nostalgia sake but todays superfast trains with their near noiseless drives give you more leisure and comfort in long journeys. Finally our day-to-day life is not a race track but  a silent husle-bustle  in the air-conditioned offices and everybody would just love to drive home in those silent EVs.  A couple of years back when I visited China I used to get pleasantly surprised to see hundreds of workers commuting back to their homes on e-bikes, hardly creating any traffic noise. It was in a stark contrast to the noisy atmosphere through which  I have to commute back home in India.

  7. Taimoor Zubar
    February 23, 2011

    Besides the environmental factors, there is lesser risk of explosions and fire while using electric cars in racing. I think a lot of people tend to ignore the safety factor. I am all up for racing with electric cars. I believe it won't take long before people start finding them cool.

  8. stochastic excursion
    February 24, 2011

    Let's not ignore the money-making opportunities.  I see a day when people won't be satisfied with just any old artificial engine noise.  They'll want the sound of high-performance engines and download them like ring-tones!

  9. Ford Kanzler
    February 24, 2011

    Morry – While I also love the sounds of high-performance engines, I'm looking forward to EVs that are fun to drive at a reasonable cost. Something along the lines a Mazda Miata EV. On the green side, what's called for is an equally affordable solar EV recharging kit for home/apartment use. Then you don't have to feel guilty about running up a power bill based on petroleum.

    To: stochastic excursion – I can hear it now. A beat up old Toyota hybrid sounding like a Ferrari formula 1 race car. 🙂 – for an earfull of what that's like, go to:

    Disclaimer: I do not own stock in either Shell Oil or Ferrari

  10. Morry Marshall
    February 24, 2011

    Thanks for the comments!   I agree that the EVs of tomorrow may surpass gasoline-engined cars in performance and that the real goal is cleaner and less noisy cars on the street.  Racing is just a developmental exercise with immediate feed-back that can help accomplish that.

    Fuel cells have pretty well eliminated dangerous fires or explosions on the track; but pit stops are dangerous, with a constant threat of a fire or an explosion.  Electric racing cars would not eliminate crashes, but they would eliminate the fire danger in the pits.  One danger that electric racing cars do have is the potential (pun intended) for high-voltage shocks if high-voltage wiring is not properly isolated.

    I own a Miata now and would not object if it were replaced by a high-performance hybrid Miata that sounded like a Ferrari.



  11. Ashu001
    February 27, 2011


    Great article!!

    There is no disputing that Hybrids become very cost-effective in The West as well as most of Asia at current or even higher Crude Oil Prices[Above USD 100/Barrel].But

    what happens if Crude Oil prices suddenly collapse to below USD 50/Barel like what we saw in 2008?

    There are three important factors that are causing this current spike in Crude Prices.

    1)Tensions in Major Oil Producers in the Middle East/North Africa region.

    2)Significantly growing consumption both in Asia (which is galloping back at Double Digit rates today) and the USA(which is just starting to come out of Recession).

    &3)US Dollar printing(accompanied by more money printing by Europe,UK,China ,Japan and India).

    What happens if more than Two of the factors mentioned above no longer exist???

    What happens if all three supports vanish?

    Think its unthinkable?Marc Faber talks about this issue in his latest interview with McAlvany.

    Basically the sceanario involves The Worldwide Derivatives market collapsing leading to a complete reversal of all the Liquidity pumped in by Global Central Markets,accompanied by a Collapse in Chinese Property Prices.

    This one-two punch is more than enough to bring Crude Oil back below          USD 50/Barrel.

    What will that do to Hybrid sales???My guess is people will think Twice before purchasing the most expensive versions.



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