Thursday, 3 July 2008

What's outside today 45 - 1915 Ford Model T

Outside Ford's Dunton Technical Centre last weekend, that is. This year is the 100th anniversary of the Ford Model T and Ford offered us the chance to use it for the Verdict, albeit on private roads. This is the car with Ivan Bartholomeusz, one of the people who looks after Ford's UK Heritage Collection, which is kept in a big warehouse in Dagenham, rather than in a museum.

This car is a lot of fun, once you get used to the bizarre pedal arrangement shown below. The left-hand pedal engages first gear in the depressed position and second gear (there are only two forward gears) in the raised position. Between the two is neutral. The centre pedal is reverse, and the right-hand pedal is the footbrake. The lever is a transmission brake - when applied, it also puts the car into neutral. The throttle is operated by a stalk on the steering wheel, rather than any of the pedals. It sounds absolutely impossible, but it's not too difficult to grasp with a bit of practice.

One interesting fact I picked up from the chaps at Ford; while these cars are very old and exceptionally appealing, they are in fact not worth very much. Ford simply made too many of them for them to be particularly valuable.

Glorious Goodwood (II)

Just been looking at the Goodwood website and it appears that the Airbus A380, which is even bigger than the 747, will be making an appearance on the Saturday 'in low speed action'.

I just hope the display will be a bit more ambitious than that low-key description suggests.

Glorious Goodwood

Counting down the days until the Goodwood Festival of Speed, which starts at the end of next week. As usual, I'm looking forward to it enormously but this year I'm also feeling slightly nervous about the whole thing as I've invited one of my car-mad German friends to come along too; I've been telling him for years what a fantastic event this is and he's finally decided to take the plunge, so I'm really hoping it doesn't rain like last year, which could turn the whole thing into an enormous disappointment.

Just about everyone I've spoken to about the Festival of Speed has the same favourite memory as I do, which isn't strictly car-related at all; back in 2004, I think it was, the organisers lined up a South African Airways Boeing 747 to do an aerobatic display.

Exactly. That's what I'd have thought if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, but it is possible for a jumbo to put on a spectacular show, as the very capable crew of that SAA plane showed. I don't think they quite got it to loop the loop but more than once I was convinced the thing was going to fall out of the sky. I suspect that there may have been some complaints from the Earl of March's neighbours as I don't think the 747 has appeared at Goodwood since. I suppose it's too much to hope for a repeat performance this year!

Reinventing the wheelchair

Back in the saddle, or perhaps that should be back at the wheel, after a long busy period dealing with other stuff.

Lots of catching up to do but one thing I'd like to mention straight away is my small role in spreading the story of the revolutionary new Trekinetic wheelchair. I first encountered the wheelchair's appropriately named inventor, Mike Spindle, when he took part in the Verdict test a month or two back. We got chatting about his work and in particular the wheelchair; the chair itself is fascinating, but so is the story of its development. I thought it deserved a wider audience and when I outlined it to the powers-that-be at the Independent, they obviously agreed because they immediately commissioned me to get it into the paper. This appeared yesterday and you can read it online if you click the title link for this post.

I don't think I even began to do justice to the product, the designer or the story with all its twists and turns - that would have required a book, rather than a double-page feature - but I hope some of the flavour comes across.

The Trekinetic chair embodies a wide range of innovations but probably the most obvious of these is its 'monocoque' design in which the main components are attached to a very strong and stiff carbon fibre seat. Traditional wheelchairs, which haven't changed much since the thirties use a steel tubular frame with a canvas seat stretched across it. The change is analogous to that made by the car manufacturers when they abandoned separate chassis and bodywork in favour of lighter, stronger all-in-one body shells.

The functional advantages of the Trekinetic chair for wheelchair users are very clear, but what's difficult to get across to anyone who hasn't seen it in the metal, is that it is also an exceptionally beautiful object, especially in the recently introduced GT-3 version, which is optimised for street use and finished in white.

The other thing that is difficult to convey on the page is Mike Spindle's enthusiasm and his commitment to the project over the last eight years or so. If every British fifteen year old could hear Mike tell the story of how he developed the chair, we'd be a nation of engineers within a generation. That said, it's important not to underestimate the quality of what we've already got; Mike has a background in the highly successful UK Formula 1 industry (seems strange to refer to it as that, but that's what it is) and can source most of the work and parts he requires for his high-tech product here in the UK.

The Trekinetic website is at