A sterling sollution gone to waste

The drive to improve on the combustion engine lead to the development of the emission-free, multifuelled Stirling in the Netherlands 30 years ago. Abré J Steyn discusses why it’s never seen the light of day.
Issue date 6 February 2009

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With a throaty roar and Michelin XAS front tyres that smoked and squealed, my little white Mini station wagon streaked away from the railway line. Tim’s bright yellow Opel sports sedan with the black and white racing stripes over the bonnet was left behind, right from the start. Being a father of school kids and not a reckless teenager anymore, I’d resisted Tim’s challenge for weeks – to dice with the last Mini I ever owned against his new yellow sports car. His nagging eventually got the better of me and we agreed to race for 20km on the old, quiet inland Matuba road from the railway line just outside Empangeni to the last farmhouse before crossing the Enseleni River.
Tim gave me no chance and although happy that the tricky, twisting road through the sugarcane fields would give the Mini an edge over the Opel, I didn’t know how fast it was. I needn’t have worried, though. Even at the first sharp bend before the narrow bridge over the Kulu River, Tim was already half a kilometre behind. The highly modified and fully balanced 1 300cc Cooper engine with its huge 1,5-inch SU Volvo carburettors, made the old, somewhat shabby Mini station wagon lightning-fast. When I arrived at the finishing line in front of the last farmhouse with Tim still nowhere in sight, the big drop of the fuel gauge needle indicated that although fast, the Cooper engine wasn’t very fuel-efficient. At the time it didn’t bother me – fuel was cheap and victory sweet.
But times have changed and the price of the once-cheap crude oil from which petrol and diesel is made, went through the roof last year, resulting in ever-increasing food and commodity prices and contributing to the global recession. Of greater importance is the role of fossil fuel in global warming, and the only solution is to replace it with biofuel produced in an ethical way.
It’s long been known that: “… the powerful oil industry, of course, opposes developing rival alcohol fuels. This would not only threaten oil profits but would break the industry’s monopoly … The great US auto industry has hundreds of millions of dollars invested in engine plants and would be hesitant about scrapping them to build a revolutionary new engine, no matter how good.” (Popular Mechanics, September 1950, pages 348 to 350)
This is the reason why modern versions of the 200-year-old Stirling Cycle engines, used nowadays in space satellites and in navy submarines, were withheld from the public. Perfected three decades ago as highly suitable power plants for motor vehicles, these wonderful emission-free, non-polluting, quiet, multifuelled engines, which I discussed last week, were shelved so that these highly unethical industries could milk us dry until the last oil well runs dry. To them it matters little that the world is suffering, as long as they can wallow in wealth.
They could do this because evidence clearly indicates that in every recent North American presidential administration, whether Democratic or Republican, several key cabinet appointments were filled with individuals who had large and powerful interests in the automobile and oil industry. There were many whose names we don’t know, but a few of the most familiar are: George Romney of the American Motors Corporation, Robert S McNamara, former head of Ford Motor Company, Nixon’s vice president Nelson A Rockefeller, with his vast oil interests, succeeded under Jimmy Carter by Cyrus Vance, board chairperson of the Rockefeller Foundation. The list is endless.
The development of better engines was not just a pipe dream. Throughout the previous century, there were many more-or-less secret attempts by technicians to develop something better than the dirty internal combustion engine, which is the major cause of global warming. Many of them were successful and had great potential, but the greed of those in power had them shelved.
To me, however, the most remarkable was the 860cc, four-cylinder Stirling engine, jointly developed during the early 1970s by Ford and the Phillips Gloeilampenfabriek of Eindhoven in the Netherlands, which had been working on it since 1938.
Phillips had already produced a Stirling-driven DAF bus (Popular Science, June 1971) and the new engine was revealed to the public on 14 April 1976, in Dearborn, Michigan. Shortly afterwards it was locked away, never to be seen again.
Its performance was remarkable. It was built into a 1975 Ford Torino full-sized sedan, replacing the standard 5,7 V8 Mustang motor. It was paired with a standard 3-speed automatic transmission and only minor modifications were necessary like cooling slots in the bumper and a larger radiator.
It out-performed the V8 in every respect. Using less than half of the fuel the V8 consumed, it produced 170hp against the V8’s output of only 150hp. It had a higher top-speed, faster acceleration and with 300ft-lb of torque at 1 400rpm against the 244ft-lb of the V8 at 2 800rpm, its pulling power was in a different league and resembled that of a big diesel engine. All that from an 860cc, four-cylinder – wow!
Imagine what difference such an engine would make to our lives and to those of future generations. Apart from the fact that it only had the displacement capacity and fuel consumption of a Mini engine, it had the power to drive a truck, tractor
or the largest modern 4×4. If you arrived at a petrol station and the petrol was finished, this would pose no problem. You could fill up with diesel, paraffin or whatever was available that would burn – even whisky, if you could afford it, and you’d never need an oil change, as it used no oil.
Being totally sealed, it also had the potentialof a much longer life than an engine that, despite several filters, is continually soiled internally by dirty fuel, abrasive carbon and dust or corrosive atmospheric moisture.
So, there you have it – life could have been much more of a pleasure instead of a constant struggle for millions, if it were not for the greed of the automotive and oil barons. In my book, they’re Enemy No.1 of a happy and prosperous world.
Contact Abré J Steyn on 083 235 4822 or e-mail [email protected].     |fw