Before this post, I didn’t know much about engineer John DeLorean, other than that he developed a number of cars, including one featured in one of the best movies of all time. He also had a colored history that included a trial for trafficking cocaine, which he managed to overcome by proving entrapment. But what do you expect, the guy was born in Detroit. (Kidding! I grew up in Michigan and would never speak ill of the mitten!) Anyway, his engineering prowess extends past the Pontiac series and his iconic winged car. Turns out that Mr. DeLorean had some pretty crazy ideas — namely, a design for a cutting-edge engine with a laser ignition.
It seems that DeLorean started dreaming up design ideas for the engine when he was employed by Packard back in 1954, even though he didn’t start working on the project in earnest until 1979. You can see sketches and notes made by DeLorean himself detailing the engine and its functioning over at Jalopnik. And while it’s a little challenging to piece together exactly how DeLorean’s engine would have worked or how he planned to use it, it’s clear that this was no ordinary engine.
DeLorean’s engine is an axial engine, or a barrel engine, which uses a swashplate instead of a crankshaft to translate pistons’ reciprocating motion into rotating motion. The engine would have had three cylinders and six double-ended pistons. Each cylinder contains two combustion chambers and the cylinders are arranged triangularly. The swashplate would facilitate the dynamic adjustment of the combustion chamber. The engine’s turbocharger — did you think it wouldn’t have one? — is situated between the cylinders.
Another innovation in DeLorean’s engine is its cooling system. The ceramic engine block (DeLorean made notes about first trying iron blocks, but ultimately wanted go to ceramic) would be made with cooling channels, but instead of being water-cooled, the engine would be air-cooled via pressurized air bearings, as well as air-lubricated. Some of DeLorean’s notes indicate that he was also thinking about using coolant as lubrication, yet another unorthodox detail.
The engine could run on pretty much anything (whether he ever intended to use plutonium as a fuel source is unknown, though unlikely), including diesel, gas, or powdered coal. If the fuel was either gas or coal, instead of using a spark plug, the design calls for combustion by laser. Surprised? I didn’t think so.
While DeLorean’s engine is still a combustion engine, it supports regenerative braking, detailing ways to recycle the energy lost when slowing and stopping, much like current kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS). DeLorean planned on doing this via a flywheel — the braking energy would be stored in a flywheel, which would then trigger a compressor (much like a supercharger), thus delivering energy back to the engine.
I’ll admit that I’m more of a bike person than a car person, but DeLorean clearly knew what was up. If you’re interested in car stuff or want more details, there’s plenty of DeLorean talk going on online. I wonder if anyone will actually try to build this engine. That’s right, Lenny Hochteil — I’m looking at you.