Rubber bands have long been known to be one of the cheapest, most accessible ways to transform potential energy into kinetic energy. You probably have some within two feet of you right now. Incredibly, a number of years ago, a fast loon named Ron Main built the biggest rubber band-powered car ever and took it to the Bonneville Salt Flats. And it needed a “fluffer.”
Yes, that kind of fluffer. Their words, not mine.
This happened back in 2008, and sadly, I can’t seem to find any video of the car actually running. There’s a number of pictures of the car, which was a dragster-like contraption bearing the number 876 and the name Twisted. That’s a good name.
The most information about the car and photos of the car are from JalopyJournal, where members of their HAMB forum got pictures of the car (some of which I’m using here) back in 2008. The body of the car looks fairly conventional, or at least as conventional as a streamlined fiberglass tub of a salt flat car is ever going to be.
It’s got small, thin, pizza-cutter wheels, and around back, just past a flared section of body, sits a large metal box, studded with round fittings in a grid. Actually, it looks like two boxes, both crammed full of stretched rubber bands.
From what I can tell by looking at it, each box has 75 huge rubber bands, held secure at one end in a little slot, and the other end has a little pivot, each of which seems to be part of a massive grid-like gear train.
The rubber band dear train connects to a large external gear, which then connects to a wheel, one per box (and on each side, of course). So, looking at all this, the car has about 150 rubber-band-power, with each rear wheel being driven by a set of 75.
There also appears to be some sort of disc brake mechanism at the rear, separate from the wheels.
The actual information about the car was a little thin, so, instead of guessing, I decided to call the man himself, Ron Main, the man who runs the Speed Demon, the world’s fastest piston-powered car (462 MPH!) and also the man behind the rubber-band-powered racer.
Ron is clearly a guy who loves what he does, and he was happy to talk about his bonkers creation with me for a bit. It seems the basic idea came from a ‘30s-era Popular Mechanics article, though the design was completely altered for the Twisted.
The rubber bands used are what’s known as pallet rubber bands, an industrial product used to secure shipping loads to pallets, and are about 4 feet long. A lot of testing of the rubber bands happened, to see how tight they could go before breaking.
Also, most importantly, here’s where the fluffer part comes in. They found that to get these bands to work, they needed someone on hand to put cream and lubricants on the bands as they were wound, to lessen the friction on the bands. The person in charge of sensually rubbing lube into the bands was, of course, referred to as the “fluffer.” Like in porn, yes.
There’s a lot of issues with a car powered by 150 rubber bands. You pretty much have to launch as soon as the bands are all wound up, because the rubber starts to relax almost immediately. Or, as Ron put it, keeping with the fluffer/porn theme,
“You only have so much time before you lose your erection.”
They rigged an old Datsun pickup truck, jacked up at the rear, to wind the bands, and in high gear, to see how long and how fast the bands could drive the truck’s wheels.
Ron said the original goal was to make “the ultimate green car,’ as in a car that produced zero pollution to run. He described the ideal scenario like this:
“Your old lady could be on a bike, winding up the car while you watch Gunsmoke. Then, when she’s done, you can get in the car and go to the liquor store!”
Wow. That’s a hell of an image.
When he took the car to Bonneville in 2008, it was as a side project with his actual land speed record piston car, but the rubber band car was getting so much attention, he could sense that his partners for the real speed record car weren’t happy, so he pulled it back into the trailer.
So, while it didn’t run at Bonneville, he did run it a number of times other places. Ron said the original concept could do two miles, and his goal was always one mile at 30 MPH.
For a speed record, which allows for a push start, the plan was to push it up to 70 MPH, then to turn on the first motor, which was good for about 184 revolutions, then use a mechanism to get that wheel to freewheel (so it wouldn’t pull energy re-winding the bands) and then go to the second motor for another 184 revs.
The car’s wheels were very heavy to give the car as much momentum as possible, too.
Eventually, they found a binding issue in one of the many gears in the huge geartrain, and Ron just has been too busy to take the time to get it to work. It’s still at the Camarillo airport, and he would like to revisit it someday.
I’m pretty sure he’s still taken by the idea. As he told me
“For it to run down the block was enough to make my nipples hard.”
If that isn’t a good enough reason to get a car running again, I don’t know what is.
(Photos courtesy Southern California Timing Association)