The electric land speed record

The electric land speed record
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An artist's impressionof the Baker Torpedo
An artist's impression
of the Baker Torpedo
Camille Jenatzy's andhis "Jamais Contente".
Camille Jenatzy's and
his "Jamais Contente".
An early advert fr theBaker Electric car - circa 1908
An early advert fr the
Baker Electric car -
circa 1908
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October 29, 2004 The Ohio State University's electric vehicle, the Buckeye Bullet, has broken the electric vehicle land speed record, raising the bar to more than 300 miles per hour on the Bonneville Salt flat last week.

Over several days the car set an official world record of 271.7mph, an official US record of 314.95mph (different rules), and became the fastest electric vehicle ever at 321.8mph.

The Bullet was designed and built by undergraduate and graduate students at Ohio State University (OSU), and has been pushing the electric land speed record upward since it first set a new mark of 257 mph 12 months ago. With the record now firmly in its grasp the team is fund-raising for its next attempt, and in the process is offering a piece of history.

The team has a novel promotional idea to give everyone a chance to share in the historical occasion and get a memento to own. The Buckeye Bullet 400 horsepower electric motor is fed by 12,000 nickel-metal hydride batteries and the batteries used in the record attempt are to be sold individually at US$20 a shot. Accordingly, the team could deservedly bolster its finances by US$240,000.

Through its Centre for Automotive Research, the university has fuelled students' enthusiasm for automotive engineering for more than 10 years by competing in events to design and race electric cars. The projects teach students about sponsorship, teamwork, dealing with suppliers, meeting deadlines, and matching analysis results to refining designs.

Four years ago, after repeatedly beating teams from other universities, OSU students decided to aim for land speed records. They chose SolidWorks Education Edition mechanical design software ( .) for the Buckeye Bullet project because of the software's intuitive interface and powerful design capabilities.

"Weight is a huge factor in designing fast electric vehicles," said Isaac Harper, Buckeye Bullet team leader and an OSU junior. "We need to fit a 17-inch diameter motor into a 24-inch chassis, and still ensure the motor is relatively light while delivering the performance to maintain speeds as high as 300 miles per hour. SolidWorks gives us the design visibility to make sure every component meets every single spec that could affect the car's overall performance."

SolidWorks' short learning curve helps freshmen quickly get up to speed on 3D modelling, while its association template automates changes throughout the design, saving time otherwise spent recreating solid models, according to Harper, who is working as a co-op student in research and development at Honda.

Students also use the SolidWorks COSMOSXpress design analysis tool to analyse their designs and troubleshoot errors prior to production. This tool is particularly important for testing weights and general tolerances.

"We can come up with a fast component design in SolidWorks in less than an hour, and test it in two to three minutes with COSMOSXpress. Other more expensive packages might have to run the same simulation analyses overnight," he said.

Students separate into teams that focus on different areas of the car, such as the drive train, aerodynamics, etc. The teams manage all aspects of design and production, and occasionally seek faculty or external design advice.

"I've essentially entrusted the students to work on their own for mechanical design," said Giorgio Rizzoni, director of the Centre for Automotive Research and the faculty adviser to the students.

"I've got enough confidence in the students and the software to give them autonomy over the project. This is how we help to create a future workforce that grows beyond the classroom, learning about teamwork, sponsorship, and how to use state-of-the-art software."

Rizzoni is also the university's Ford Motor Company Chair in Electromechanical Systems and a professor of mechanical and electrical engineering.

Electric cars - a tradition of speed

The humble, 'green tree-hugging', politically-correct electric car is set for an image make-over of "Queer Eye" proportions in the coming years. As China's growing thirst for oil is driving petroleum prices skywards, we can expect to see the electric car made-over by the auto companies of the world. And the post-enhancement image will be one of power, ease-of-use and reliability.

The electric car's credentials were once impeccable in all these areas, but the spin of a century-old industry selling pollution-producing, petrol-engine vehicles will need a bit of revision.

Most automotive history begins with the invention of the combustion-engine car back in the 1880s. Ask almost anyone who made the world's first car and they'll tell you it was Karl Benz in 1886 with the three-wheeled Motorwagen. Electric vehicles date back to the 1830s, and until 1912-15, were a serious competitor for the petrol-engine car.

The leading manufacturer of electric vehicles in the world at that stage was the Baker Motor Vehicle Company, started by Walter C. Baker in 1898. Indeed, the company still sands as the largest producer of electric vehicles in history, despite ceasing business in 1916.

The Baker Motor Vehicle Company displayed the first shaft-driven auto at the first US automobile show in Madison Square Garden and Baker sold his first electric car to Thomas A. Edison himself. Edison believed that electric cars would eventually win out over their petrol-engine competition. Other early purchasers of the Baker included the King of Siam.

Baker electric vehicles were much cleaner and quieter than petrol-engine cars - though the major negative was their limited range of around 100 kilometres.

In its final form, the Baker Electric had a top speed of 23 mph and a range of 160 miles, but in the end it failed to secure market acceptance.

Baker's incredible foresight deserves a place in automotive history. He was one of the founders of the progressive Cleveland Automobile Club, and the go-ahead committee recognised a number of trends early and positioned the CAV as the most progressive auto association in the world. It opened one of the first travel agencies in America and was the first organisation in the US to use radios to despatch emergency road service vehicles.

Baker's vehicles were very popular, and like most manufacturers of the day, he was heavily involved in demonstrating the virtues of his car in speed and reliability trials.

An electric vehicle captured the land speed record back in 1899 - the outright land speed record was a set at 66mph by Camille Jenatzy's "Jamais Contente".

Baker set out to go one better, building a car so advanced that the world would not see anything like it for another 20 years. It was called the Baker Torpedo, and it was destined to become one of the most famous cars in history on several fronts. It looked like a design from the thirties, with low frontal area and sleek aerodynamics, a far cry from Jenatzy's design which looked like a sky-rocket with wheels.

Powered by 11 Edison lead acid batteries and driven by a 14 hp Elwell-Parker electric motor, the car had a potential top speed of nearly 130 mph, but the potential was never to be realised.

The day Baker became the first man to travel at 100mph, a wheel came off the vehicle and killed two spectators. Though Baker had run a mile in 36 seconds, the paperwork for the attempt was never filed, and he never attempted another record.

The golden era of the electric car was the period 1905 to 1915, and it finished due to several factors, including;

* The invention of the electric starter for automobiles - electric cars could be entirely operated from inside the car whereas petrol-driven cars required external hand-cranking until Charles Kettering invented the electric starter in 1912.

* America's road system improved, requiring longer-range vehicles.

* Oil prices fell dramatically when oil was discovered in Texas, making petrol more affordable to the average consumer.

* the mass production of Ford (petrol-engine) vehicles saw them quickly become much cheaper than electric vehicles, which were all manufactured by older production methods.

By 1912, a Ford was almost one-third the price of an electric vehicle.

Baker died in 1955 at age 87, and like Edison, he died firm in the belief that electric cars would make a comeback.

Gizmo is keen to tell the full story on the Baker Torpedo, so if any readers can assist with information, contacts or images, please email

Related Links An artist's impression of the Baker Torpedo More adverts for the Baker Electric car - circa 1908

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