Magazine article The Spectator

Fuel's Paradise

Magazine article The Spectator

Fuel's Paradise

Article excerpt

One of the few downsides of the recent fuel shortage was that it delayed the planned conversion of my Range-Rover to liquid petroleum gas (LPG). Had this taken place I'd have been largely unaffected by shortage of petrol. As it was, the conversion kit remained in a warehouse because the hauliers didn't have the diesel to deliver it.

Fortunately, I had an abundance of red diesel and so was able to console myself by winding up the old Nuffield to sow a field with grass before the rains came. (Red diesel is the same as ordinary diesel but is available to farmers, fishermen and others for use in tractors and so on at a greatly reduced tax rate. It is dyed red so that HM Customs & Excise can easily test for illicit use in cars and lorries.) Even then, however, I was not immune: the faithful Nuffield, as if in sympathy with the protesters, developed a fuel blockage. It was probably sludge in the tank, dislodged by harrowing and rolling over rough ground, and the noble beast had to be towed ignominiously back to dock by my equally venerable International. It was clear that the tank and fuel system would have to be flushed out and the filters replaced.

This drove me back indoors to more theoretical contemplation of the pleasures of the internal combustion engine. Has it a future? A nanosecond's deep thought revealed that it has. In more than a century of development it has changed a great deal but the most significant changes have occurred in the last decade or two, under the twin pressures of using less fuel and burning it more cleanly. Until even the 1980s there were new cars whose engines would not have baffled a fitter resurrected from 1912, but now it would be another matter. Much of the most recent development has been in combustion ignition (diesel) engines, since diesels had been less developed than spark ignition (petrol) engines, but in both forms it looks set to go on improving for at least the next couple of decades. It's like the novel, whose imminent death we have been reading of for so long that it has become a conversational convention. Ditto the decline of the Times.

We shall see further developments of direct-injection petrol engines and variable valve drive technology which, along with light alloy crankcases, will make engines lighter, cleaner and more economical. …

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