Doctor Diesel


Web_soapLike many things invented and developed by humans, forms of powered transport have generally gone down technological routes that have seemed utterly logical and progressive at the time. It was logical that things should move away from coal-powered steam engines, as used by early cars and trains for many decades, for they were staggeringly inefficient in terms of converting fuel into motive power, bulky, and also appallingly dirty. Magnificent machines like the streamlined 126mph Class A4 Mallard, designed in 1935 and in service for over 30 years, arguably arrived at the very end of such a technological journey, and found it to be a cul-de-sac. Far more efficient and cleaner diesel and diesel-electric power followed on from steam, and still play a major part in rail power today.

But now it seems very likely that the car’s internal combustion engine has been heading down something of a cul-de-sac for some decades and that it will ultimately be displaced by power units of radically different design. That’s the nature of human technological progress. We are now beginning to see the arrival of new technology that will employ sustainable energy sources to power clean transport for future generations. It’s almost inescapable that electricity will, in one way or another, be the prime mover of the cars of the future, and I suspect that one of the sad outcomes of it all will be that much of the glamour and enthusiasm for driving and cars will inevitably disappear. We can see it happening in today’s conventional cars, as human involvement in the driving process is progressively reduced by safety technology and increasing numbers of driving aids and safety systems, and it seems that we may quite soon even be threatened with the driverless car for some transport situations. As the nature of the seemingly inevitable electrical drive units employed is little more than purely functional, albeit highly efficient, we think that we stand to lose all the character that enthusiasts have so loved in a car’s internal combustion engine, and probably also in its chassis and running gear. Does that mean we are inevitably nearing the end of the glory days of motoring, as those of us who are old enough to have seen the last three decades of progressive regulation and state nannying may already be feeling? Will the Range Rover SDV8, BMW 535d, Golf GTD, and their petrol counterparts of today, be replaced by machinery with any such comparable personality and individuality? We can foresee a very bland future world of gearless cars powered by ranges of electric motors of near-identical specification, utterly uniform in terms of power delivery characteristics, running on ranges of similarly designed modular chassis to suit each size range. They will deliver a driving experience that’s inevitably highly efficient and very green, but one that will be devoid of any entertainment value and real driving involvement. Gone, except at Goodwood Revivals, will be the sound of double overhead camshafts, screaming V8 engines, the smell of burning oil, and the squeal of hot rubber on tarmac. These new machines are also going to be mechanically quite boring, annoyingly reliable, and virtually devoid of any scope for DIY, or calls for advice from Doctor Diesel – but then hopefully he will be taking his pension long before this nightmare world arrives!

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