Jerry Blanchard: On Simplicity and Complexity, Thoughts on the Perfect Vehicle
On Craftmanship • by Jerry Blanchard | Some people are fascinated with mechanical creations of great complexity but for me the highest goal is to make the design as simple and strong as possible while still being able to meet the needed functions. Some items like a watch are necessarily complex but can still be made fairly sturdy with proper attention . For me it is better to limit the complexity of an item to the absolute minimum especially if expansion of the complexity results in loss of strength or creates loss of durability or difficulty in caring for an item over the long haul. An example of bad design is a car with accessory features that seem desirable to many people when new but because of their inherent complexity and inevitable failure create nightmarish service problems and in a short time make the resale value of the car less than a car with simpler features.
I believe part of the appeal of basic cars like the older jeeps or Volkswagens or even classic cars is the simpler design philosophy. Most modern vehicles are throwaway items like a washing machine or refrigerator. They work pretty well until they fail and then there is nothing worthy of restoration or preservation. For the most part ,the vehicles are designed intentionally for a short life. In contrast, many older vehicles from the twenties and thirties and even forties were sturdier, had thicker metal, solid frames and axles, and were constructed in ways that that made individual components more readily serviced.
Modern metals are often better and certainly the accuracy of the average machine work is much better today thanks to the great developments in modern machining equipment and techniques. If the superior materials and machining of today were mated with design sensibilities of the thirties to create vehicles with great strength, beautiful individual components, virtually infinite durability, and an elegance of design that chooses refined simplicity; we would really have something of value.
Most vehicles rust out before they wear out, and it has been frustrating for me having worked with stainless steel most of my life, to see the opportunities of using these superior alloys largely ignored by vehicle makers. Of course titanium and other metals also offer advantages but with few exceptions it seems like only government agencies have really taken advantage of these superior materials in a big way.
I have owned many cars and even a 1934 Rolls Royce and elegant as it was in design, I feel the perfect car has not been made yet.
If I were to design the perfect car for me, it would probably have a heavy frame of nonmagnetic stainless steel , body of stainless steel or possibly aluminum, a simple engine of tremendous durability and strength, 4 or 6 cylinders in line, overhead cam or cams driven by a chain, forged or billet crank. A basic mechanical type fuel injection system would be a good compromise between simplicity and fuel efficiency. Access to all components would be made as simple as possible. For instance, the dash would be hinged at the bottom to allow complete access to the instrumentation and wiring. The front axle would probably be a bar type with kingpins and leaf spring suspension because of durability and simplicity. Brakes would be disc type on all wheels, but complications like ABS would definitely not be installed.
Each item should be designed in relation to everything else so that everything fits and flows in an elegant design. The engine compartment should be clean and uncluttered in design with room for servicing any individual component without removing any other component first . All sharp corners and danger points would be removed with an eye toward the mechanic who has to work on the vehicle. The rear axle would be the full floating type and could perhaps include readily changed gearing so ratios could be quickly and simply altered.
One feature of the Rolls Royce I particularly liked was the heavy one piece firewall onto which many of the components were bolted. Wiring ran in metal channels bolted to the firewall; protecting it from chafing.
Rust is the big enemy but it may be impractical to use corrosion proof materials for all components. Items like the transmission housings, rear axle housing, crankcase, etc. although made of cast steels can be made quite proof to rust on their exteriors by some of the newer coatings and plating. For instance, I once suggested to a colleague that he get the entire frame of his international scout hot dip galvanized. He cleaned the frame and welded on several special clips and items he wanted, then sent it to the San Francisco Bay Area where a company which does hot dip galvanizing on large items like roadside light poles galvanized the whole frame. The zinc coating was very thick and done on every surface inside and out and I¹m sure he will have no problems with rust.
Many people like cars that sit very low to the ground but I do not. Certainly there are aerodynamic reasons for reducing frontal area but I want a vehicle high enough to get into easily and high enough to provide excellent viewing when on the road.
Radiators have been a weak point in modern cars. It may be that there are makers who build properly heavy and durable radiators even today and certainly such a radiator should be installed. I see good radiators on Caterpillar tractors and some heavy trucks. I remember the radiator in the Rolls Royce with its heavy cast brass top and bottom tanks. It took two people to lift it.
All materials on the vehicle should be able to stand years of the fiercest sun and heat. This would eliminate all plastics as so commonly used on most modern vehicles. Many people do not realize the health dangers of breathing the out-gassing products of all the various vinyl's etc. inside their cars. There are clearly some places where plastics would be needed: door and window seals, boots, gaskets : and these materials should be selected for maximum durability.
Wiring should be as simple as possible. All connectors should be soldered. Wire insulation should be of a type able to stand heat, oils, fuels, sun, etc. I have used Teflon insulated wire with good results. Keeping it simple should be the guiding principle. Gas tanks should be HUGE. Non magnetic stainless steel should be used for making the tank and all fuel lines. Access to the fuel sender units should be simple and from the top so draining the tank is unnecessary for servicing.
Ground clearance should be high. Large diameter tires are a help in this area. If tires that will not puncture, yet are able to run very fast and grip well are available, they should be installed. Modern developments in threaded fasteners, particularly in the aerospace industry have greatly improved strength and reliability. The “J” thread form with increased root radius should be used whenever possible and certainly on all critical components like suspension and steering. The engine and gearing systems of course would use the very finest threaded fasteners on all components. All fasteners exposed to corrosive elements should be made from corrosion proof materials. Even slight corrosion can cause failure in highly stressed fasteners. Aerospace grade fasteners of high strength and corrosion proof type are now being made.
Simply replacing old fasteners with the best new types on older vehicles can provide increased reliability and safety.
Body parts should be bolted on and easily removed. Obviously the body parts should be thick and very strong, and stress points should be reinforced to stop cracking. The Rolls Royce had both battery ignition and a separate magneto for use if the battery failed. It might be desirable to have a magneto back up system.
Some simple type of easily removed plastic rock shielding might be considered to prevent stone damage when driving on unpaved roads.
Water has ruined many vehicles because the water was able to get into engines and gearboxes. If possible, all vehicles should be able to stand lengthy submersion in muddy water with no damage at all. Simply placing vent openings on engines, transmissions and rear axles very high in the body of the car would prevent water getting into the components. Floor pans should have large easily removable drain holes so the interior of the vehicle could be washed out with a hose. All carpeting and upholstery materials should be rot proof and quick drying, easily removed, and should be grounded in such a way as to prevent static shocks.
Color can be a wonderful addition to a vehicle and the most durable and tough coatings should be used over completely corrosion proof panels. Tough and durable synthetic sacrificial rub and bump rails at vulnerable points should be considered. These rails should be very easily replaced and designed so that new ones could be shaped from basic flat stock in the future.
These are some of my thoughts on the “perfect” vehicle.