Bonneville Salt Flats or Bust (Via The Maxton Mile)

Having no patents, millions or any means of letting future generations know of my existence, I have decided to get my name in a record book.
I like cars. I like speed. I like the unusual. What better combination of concepts than to combine all three and go after the little looked at Land Speed Record for Steam Powered Cars.
Originally set by Bob Marriott in the Stanley Steam Rocket in 1906 at a blistering 127.66 mph. He attempted to drive the car faster the next day, but the wheels disintegrated at (it is believed ) approx. 160+ mph. Mr Stanley said it wasn't worth a human life and put an end to going faster.
In August 1985, the Steamin' Demon set an unofficial record at Bonneville if 145.6 mph. Because of technical difficulties, only one run was accomplished. The return run was canceled and the official record was still held by the Stanley Rocket.

Along comes Bobby Speeddemon with a dream and an exquisite '72 Honda Coupe. Powered with the information that you only need 250 ft lbs of torque at Talledega to go 200 mph, Bobby realized the steam record might be within reach. With a 1000 hp boiler and a V4 steam engine capable of 1000 ft lbs of torque and 1500 rpm, gear it up and get out of the way. The only other requirement is my life insurance must be maintained. I apparently have some value, albeit, worth more dead than alive. As the Mrs.'s stated-"just in case."


At some point I am sure you are wondering, How did Bobby end up with 2 almost identical '72 Honda AZ600 coupe's the same color?

The short answer is EBAY. But why 2 coupes'? Well the Ebay bidding process in the hands of a novice is a dangerous thing. The first Coupe was offered and it had rust and issues from neglect. I thought it might make a good restore project if I got it cheap enough. I bid low and waited for the auction to run it's course. Simple enough.

In the mean time, another Coupe pops up. It is near pristine. You've seen the pictures. The bidding on the rusted one starts to heat up but I remain highest bidder. In the mean time, I like the ready to go Coupe. I place a fairly low bid.

I win the rusted Coupe.  I forgot about the good Coupe. After all, I bid low and I got involved in getting the rusted Coupe out of California. The wonders of the internet.

I assumed I was out bid on the good Coupe until, low and behold, I am winning bidder. Now I need to honor the bid on both coupe's. I've already paid for the first one. No problem there.

The second Coupe is a considerable sum, but not out of the ball park and there is honor involved. Now the rusted Coupe is in California. The Good Coupe is in Ohio. I pay for the good Coupe. I arrange for the cheapest possible shipping to get the coupe out of California. According to the shipper, no telling when the car carrier will fill up- could be a week, could be a month. I'm in  no rush just as long as they pick it up from the sell- pronto. Which they did.

The good Coupe is in Ohio and I pay as much to have this coupe shipped from Ohio as I paid for the one from California. Low and be hold, the California Coupe arrives on a Friday evening.  The trucker pulls into the quick stop and unloads the car in the parking lot. It will start, but won't run. It is also uphill from the house and only 100 yards from the driveway. So, he helps me push the car to the intersection which has a stop light. We are still on level ground. As soon as the light changes, the trucker helps me push the car through the intersection. It is all down hill from here and I coast into the driveway as the Mrs. pulls in from work.  This is the first indication to her that I was interested in restoring a car.Usually she doesn't say much about what I am doing-usually.

Well, she is getting use to the idea of having a '72 Honda Coupe in the driveway. I have not had an opportunity to let her know about the other coupe which is on the way. Like I said - usually she doesn't say much. I guess one might say our relationship was somewhat strained by the "shock" of having a "project car" in the driveway.

Exactly 7 days later, almost to the minute, here comes the good Coupe. Same scenario. The trucker unloads the car in the parking lot of the quick shop. This car runs quite well. I thank the trucker and drive the car from the quick stop to the house and just as I am pulling into the driveway, guess who is coming home from work and wanting to pull into the exact same drive way at the almost identical instant. Call it bad timing, call it Kismet or call it what she called it-"Robert! What the hell are you doing with another old  Honda?"

Now, you must understand, the Mrs. will only drive a Honda. She has personally owned 6 of the them. Starting in 1976,

in Ohio, when you were put on a waiting list and when the dealer called and said their allotment came in and yours is gold, do you want it. And if you didn't accept the gold one, your name was put at the bottom of the wait list and you waited as much as 3 months for the next allotment to arrive. Mind you, a hefty deposit was placed.

One would think, that owning  a piece of automotive history would thrill the dickens out of someone who is so loyal to the brand. One would think. The first time I let her drive the good Coupe, she spun the tires. Dropped the clutch at 4000 rpm's at a stop light and shot off to our favorite restaurant. She said she was surprised the tires would spin in this little Coupe. Surprised my ass!

Feb '08, Bobby gets the Coupe off Ebay, orders the steam engine kit from Reliable Steam Engines out of Oregon and is looking around the internet at "steam" and low and behold, here come the Brits with $10,000,000.00 spent on a stream liner and 5 boilers fueled by LNP and twin steam turbines at the rear wheels completing shake down runs in England. Foiled by the Brits.
Not quite!

It dawned on me that this attempt as well as the Steamin' Demon are both "StreamLiners" and I am using a production Coupe. The sanctioning bodies will have to address this and I believe that there is a difference. This would require a sub-class in the Steam category.

The dream is still alive. In my mind, anyway!

Well, the engine casting has been ordered, a deposit has been paid. In just a few short weeks, the iron casting kit will arrive and any reasonable machine shop would love to tackle this project. The guy at Reliable Steam Engines assured me not only would they love to do the work, it could be done for less than $2000.00 dollars. By the way, I should look locally for a machine shop. No sense in dealing with machine shops out on the West Coast.


Now I don't know where he has been since 1962. Or if he meant in 1962 dollars adjusted for inflation. I should have asked him when was the last time he sold one of these kits. I should have been tipped off when I got the plans. The requirement for 4 Corvair pistons and rods were listed on the supplemental parts list that needed to be purchased.

I called the local Chevy dealer, got the parts dept. on the phone and the kid working the parts counter didn't know what a Corvair was. I called Auto Zone, they could get an oil filter, but that was about it. They suggested I look online.

Hmmm. Upon closer inspections of the blue prints and instructions, nothing is set up on autocad. I got a CD of the prints. I thought the CD implied that some level of "modernicity" would have been employed since Reliable Steam Engines had a web site. After all this is the 21st century. No. The CD of the plans meant I could take it to Kinko's and the plans could be printed on bigger that 8x11.

Hmmm. The original plans were drawn up by hand using a slide ruler for calculations in 1960.

Hmmm. Every machine shop wanted 2 things- the plans converted into autocad ( they didn't have any machinists left that could think) and they wanted to know how many hundred engines would I require each year. None of the shops would convert the plans into auto cad. I sourced the autocad conversion and the cost would run from $5000.00 to $10,000.00.


Hmmm. Now I am not easily daunted. However... .

Well the internet searches and the yellow pages were not helpful.

So, after a month of this merry go round, I called the Reliable Steam Engine Co. and explained my predicament on the East Coast. So the Reliable Steam Guy- Peter Carlick said he was amused- no- amazed and he would call around on the West Coast and he was sure he could find someone who would do the work reasonable.

Another month rolls by and no engine castings. Peter calls and says he has a guy who would machine the parts to spec for $10,000.00 upfront and any glitches would be cost plus 10%. He would get back to us as the glitches arose.


Hmmm. Thank God for the internet. I located some old tractor steam engines. They only weigh 3 tons and up.

The car only weighs 1300 lbs. The boilers were all rusted but there was enough of the parts left that could be machined back to new.


Hmmm. Still no casting kit.

Hmmm. Still no machine shop locally or reasonable.

I put a deposit down on the casting kit in Feb. '08. I get the casting kit in September of '08.

Hmmm. No machine shop, yet.

Hmmm. Someone suggested Craig's List.

This worked out. Several shops responded and seem interested. A couple of machine shops out in the rust belt, business was slow.

They all wanted a large volume of business. Most required the plans converted into auto cad.

However, Brian Palmer of Palmer Industries, in Dawsonville, GA. responded. He was not only intrigued by the project,

he had a CNC machine in his basement. He and his father worked on Stanley Steamers- rebuilding them for museums.

He didn't need the plans converted into autocad.

And he was willing to do the project for a fair and reasonable price.

In fact, he assured me he could get the work done by Feb. of '09.

He could not turn the crank shaft. I would have to send that out to an engine shop.

No problem, I said. You think I would have learned by now.

Feb.'09 came and went. No engine. I called on an old friend in the racing engine business. Gary Grimes of Twister Engines in Alpharetta, GA. He had loaned out his crank shaft grinding machine to a speed shop in South Atlanta.

So, he could assure me of the quality of work, but he could not quote the price of the work. He would get back to me.

I left the casting of the crankshaft with him.

About a month later he and I meet and he said the shop in South Atlanta would do the crankshaft and he gave me the price. I gave him the go a head.

Well, 3 weeks later, I have the crankshaft. It is a beauty. But the guys from the speed shop were crying the blues.

They were losing their shirt on this one and the cost jumped 50% over their quote.

So, Gary and I are looking at the crankshaft and it is a wonder to behold. If you like beholding 10 lbs. of machined chunk iron. The crank is to spec. Gary says the shop is really looking for more money and it was up to me. Then Gary says, "You know, these guys quoted a price and when they quoted the price they had the iron casting and the blue prints. They knew what they were getting into. As a matter of fact, they have made a ton of money off of me over the years. You can do what you want, Bob, but I say let them eat it. They were using my machine and it's not like they hadn't turned a crank before."

So I paid the balance due on the original invoice.

In the mean time, the power in a steam engine is from the apparatus that produces the steam.

The Reliable Steam Engine Company has several boiler designs available. Peter Carlick suggested one that was 36" in diameter. It is more of a heat exchanger than a boiler. By heat exchanger I mean heat is applied to the outside of pipes that are coiled  inside a confined space. Water is pumped into the pipes and the pipes are cooled as the water carries away the heat in the form of steam- if enough heat is applied and there is enough contact time. Other wise you have a hot water heater. Similar to a tankless hot water heater for the home. Very quickly you can see there is a balancing act of adding enough heat to get steam and waiting long enough for the water to turn into steam before you draw off the steam and preform work.If you draw off the steam too slowly you run the risk of raising the steam pressure too high and you have what is referred to as a catastrophic failure. This is a big advantage to the heat exchanger style of boiler.

Should you have a failure in the piping it typically develops as a crack and there is not the extreme  explosion from a run-a-way burner under a vat of contained water.

I contacted several boiler manufacturers in the South East. They could not or would not for various reasons tackle designing and manufacturing a heat exchanger for a car nut. One of manufacturer's reps  suggested I contact the Chicago Pipe and Bending Co., outside Chicago. I did.

I had a productive chat with Mike Melton who not only helped with the design modifications, he was willing to get the job done and even suggested I  contact Pinson Valley Heat Treaters in Alabama to heat treat the Stainless Steel piping and pressure check the heat exchanger. Mike Melton of Chicago Pipe Bending not only came in on time and under budget, he also helped with the shipping to get the heat exchanger to Alabama ( and out of their warehouse).

Some people just can't do enough for you.


So now I have a properly designed heat exchanger made out of material that will withstand the pressures and temperatures required, it will also fit inside the car! Stew on that.

Now that I have a containment vessel for the steam- How do you heat it up?

The nuclear reactor on an atomic submarine uses a radioactive heat source to raise the temperature of the water to steam.

An old locomotive uses coal to fire the boiler. The British Steam Car Challenge used liquefied Natural Gas. Current Land Speed Record holders for Steam Powered Cars-149.1 mph-give or take a decimal.

I have opted to use compressed Hydrogen gas.

A 5 ft. cylinder of compressed Hydrogen gas contains about 254 cu. ft. of hydrogen at 3000 psi.

Same kind you can get at a welding supply. You can walk in, pay a deposit on the cylinder and you are good to go.

No questions asked. (Don't tell them Al Quida boys).

Strap 2 of them in the suicide seat, link them together. Pressure regulate them down to 3-5 psi, throw a match to the burner and you get steam.

After you regulate the pressure down from 3000 psi, you have to have a proper burner. A burner diffuses the gas evenly across a surface and allows air to mix with the gas and form a flame. Sounds easy. A gas stove top in your kitchen does this day in and day out for millions of people around the world.  Safe, proven technology and simple.Key word here is simple.

Hydrogen is a little trickier in that it is considerably more volatile. Once you cut the pressure off the hydrogen gas (typically a cut off valve which is placed back from the burner head several inches) the burning gas follows back to the source.The gas is explosive and now it is in a confined space- (the gas line). This is why you don't have Hydrogen as a home heating and cooking fuel. So how is Bobby going to defeat this natural tendency of the volatile gas?

Quite simply design the burner head with the gas exit holes so small the lit gas can't travel back to the source.

Now, I can tell you how this is done except it is a secrete. In fact, Bobby might have to patent the burner.

Palmer Industries is almost finished with the engine. Brian has handed over the cylinders and I have taken them to Twister Engines in Alpharetta, GA. There, Gary Grimes is overseeing the honing of the cylinders to make sure the Corvair pistons fit exactly as they should.

While at the world head quarters of Twister Engines, I mentioned to Gary that several car guys were insisting that I stretch the wheel base of the Honda. Gary asked one pointed question-"Exactly how fast do you expect to go?"

When I told him a minimum of 175 mph and a maximum of 210 mph, he stopped  and pondered my statement intently.

Then he looked me straight in the eye and said  "If I were you, I stretched it to 120 inches. Then he pointed to one of his drag cars and said that little car has a 108" wheel base and the steering is far more forgiving the longer the  wheel base and he wished they had stretched that wheel base at least 12 inches. While they only drove it a quarter of a mile, the last 300 feet got real dicey. The stresses and aerodynamics above 150 mph. start to wreeck havick on your trajectory and the longer the wheel  base, the more stable the ride and the forces acting on the chassis tend to be diminished.

Or at least you can have time to react.

I asked Gary if he happened to know anyone he might reccommened? He sure did. He suggested I talk to the guys over at Robinson Racing. And I did.

Robinson Racing is covered up and they suggested I come back in 4 weeks and they should have time to look seriously into the stretch.

I'll Be back.

In the mean time, Gary Grimes at Twister Engines has completed honing the cylinders and has balanced the crank shaft, assembled the pistons and rods, fluxed the rods and matched them. The engine is now 99% complete.

Next, build the burner.

Just checked in with Robinson Racing. They are covered up. Suggested I come back again.

Since that conversation, I have talked with another expert- so to speak- and his suggestion is that I  have the caster

adjusted on the car as is. Don't stretch the car until I have exceeded that driving capability of the existing set up with minor modifications. After all, the car may not go 200 mph right out of the chute. I may be putting the cart before the horse.  Test the systems and determine the capabilities first. Then if it is necessary, stretch the car.

This particular expert would like  to see the car in a more aerodynamic configuration, first, since I am driving a brick through the air. His concerns are that the aerodynamics are going to be a greater detriment to the speed challenge

and will slow the car and prevent the need for stretching.

Gary Grimes at Twister Engines is preparing to balance the crank. He has honed the cylinder walls. Gary needs the sprockets for the chain drives- one for each side of the engine, more exactly one for each drive axle.

I need the exact diameter of the ends of the crankshaft, so I went over to Twister Engines and was talking to Gary about the progress. He mentioned that he needed the fly wheel for engine to complete the balance. He went into an explanation about how the fly wheel  helps to smooth out the action of the pistons and the crank shaft and he thought  just off hand I  would need about 50-75 lbs of weight in the fly wheel for 1000 rpms. We both thought the chain sprockets would not weigh this much. Gary said way back in his mind there was a simple formula to determine exactly how much fly wheel weight would be required. He studied it some in school, it was a simple formula,

and he was rough guessing. To say Gary knows engines is like saying Michael Angelo  is an artist.

I told him I would get the fly wheels and the sprockets.

I called Peter Carlick and mentioned the fly wheel issue.  Peter asked what are the target rpms. I said 1200- 1500 rpms. He thought about it for a second and said 50 lb flywheel on each side and not exceed 15" in diameter.

If you  go smaller you add weight and if you go larger you decrease the weight. There is a formula. But this will work just fine for your application.

Chains and sprockets are ordered. Waiting to hear back from Grainger for delivery times and price.

Just heard back from Grainger. Good news and bad news. They can get the sprockets, roller chain and bearings.

Roughly $1600.00. And that is not the installed price. I have only incomplete information. I need the large sprockets that will be fitted to the crankshaft to weigh 35 -50 lbs a piece. I am hoping to use them as the fly wheel. Starting to run out of space on the crank shaft for "accessories".

The pillow blocks and main bearings to hold the crankshaft/motor to the engine bay bottom plate are only $116.00 each.

They should be real, real nice. Hold down bolts -extra. Pics to follow.


Still no pics. Still no sprockets and chains. I will go to Grainger Monday and order the items directly, myself.

Good news is that  the larger sprocket which is attached directly to the crank shaft weighs 70 lbs. It, in effect, is the fly wheel I need.

I can add weights to the outer perimeter, if necessary.

The Hydrogen gas is just that - a gas- under high pressure- 3000 psi. It is contained in a metal bottle like acetylene.

In fact, you pick it up at a welding supply. Cost $36.00 for 200 cu.ft.

Slap a regulator to control the reverse flow out of the tank. You don't want too much at any one time. Remember the Hindenburg?

 That's why I will have to wear a fire suit- Nomex.  The key thing to remember is that the Hydrogen is highly excitable.

If there is a leak on the high pressure side of the regulator, the friction of the escaping gas will cause it to ignite.


Pretty neat stuff.















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Comment by Michael Thies on March 21, 2011 at 11:09pm

You can add links to the photos you have uploaded to the Photo Gallery, as well. As an example I am inserted and posting the URL for the yellow Honda.


Comment by Bob Sarda on March 21, 2011 at 10:14pm

I was just kidding about the trophy. Thanks for the vote for people's Choice.

My little car is simply a survivor car. I have no delusions about that. There were many more cars far and away nicer and classier than  mine.

what kind of drawings and pics do you need. I am not much of an artist.


The tail aof the Dragon people in Robbinsville, NC are in need of a caretaker for the Tail of the Dragon Out let. They need someone to man the operation- a simple retail outlet7 nights and 5 or six days from April thru October.

 A retired couple  or single looking to enjoy the spring/summer and fall in WNC. Needing to pick up some extra cash. Honest and dependable are the key words.

The caretaker now is heading to a Rock band in Fla.

Comment by Michael Thies on March 21, 2011 at 7:44pm

We need to add some photos and drawing in here. Call me if you want help doing that.


Comment by Michael Thies on March 21, 2011 at 7:43pm
Not to worry, you a destined for bigger trophies! :-)  I voted for you for "People's Choice"!
Comment by Bob Sarda on March 21, 2011 at 6:04pm
I don't thing Scott saw that, which is why I did not get an award!
Comment by Michael Thies on March 21, 2011 at 5:34pm
On Sunday you pulled the spare tire out of the "trunk" to hold down your sign/chair from blowing over.  It made me smile to remember where the spare went. :-)
Comment by Michael Thies on March 11, 2011 at 10:50pm

Great stuff here! Keep 'em coming, man!


Comment by Hugh Dudley on December 14, 2010 at 6:13pm

 I know Garry real well.....we went to high school together.....He is top notch, stand up guy. His Dad is a A+ machinist hisself.

Comment by Tony Hooton on December 9, 2010 at 12:36am
by the way, love the tag, "mininsx" :D
Comment by Greg Foster on November 24, 2010 at 11:31am
Nice ! !

I can't wait to see it kickin' up salt and bustin' up records @ Bonneville ! ! !

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