Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The SU float-chamber.

The following is a short blog relating to that most humble of instruments, the SU float chamber.

Without wishing to state the obvious, a float chamber’s primary purpose is to provide a constant head of fuel to the carburettor under all circumstances. Clearly there will be a difference in the head of a gravity fed fuel system, between the tank full and the tank empty. Less clear are the effects due to an ever changing demand for fuel under engine running conditions and the gravitational forces generated under heavy acceleration, braking and cornering. Quite simply, it is impossible to calibrate a carburettor unless you can ensure a constant fuel supply.

The SU did this very well.
The design was simple, it was easy to manufacture and was robust in use. All the above guaranteed it had a long life, both in terms of production and under normal working use. It was available in many different sizes and forms, but the design was always basically the same. As such it was fitted to a large proportion of UK car production, from when it was initially conceived in 1910, up until its demise due to the coming of fuel injection in the 1980s.

The SU float chamber was designed to be pressure fed, either from a mechanical fuel pump driven off an eccentric lobe on the camshaft, or from an electrical pump wired to the vehicle power supply. For this purpose SU manufactured a range of constant pressure electric pumps with differing flow rates to suit all applications. The fuel is ‘top-fed’ via a gauze filter into the lid of the float chamber. Here a pivoted fork controls the opening and closing of a needle valve, which allows the fuel to enter and fill the float chamber. This causes the hollow brass float to rise, closing the valve and halting the fuel supply when the correct level is attained. The fuel is ‘bottom-fed’ to the carburettor and as the supply within the chamber is used, the level drops opening the needle valve once again. The design of the later series of SU float chambers was amended to incorporate a pivoted a plastic float within the chamber lid, but the operating principle remained the same.

Due to simple functionality, the SU float chamber was also used for a great number of applications for which it was never intended. It was a very popular choice in motorcycle racing, both solos and sidecars. On a solo it would normally be gravity fed from the fuel tank above, but on a sidecar two float chambers would be employed, one either side of the carburettor. This would ensure the carburettor could never be deprived of fuel due to the corning forces generated on a three-wheeled machine. The fuel was normally supplied to these chambers via a fuel pump of the type described previously. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Monza: The high speed banked circuit

This is a short blog on the opening of a new track at the Autodromo di Monza in 1955.

Present day north banking

Italy’s new high-speed circuit at Monza was designed not only for future Italian Grand Prix, but for testing, record-breaking and endurance running. With this in mind the circuit was little more than an oval speed bowl, with two equal length straights at either side and two equal radii banked curves at either end. It was intended that the new high-speed track could be combined with the old ‘road course’ to create a circuit with a lap distance of 6.24 miles.

Connection between old and new tracks was to be through a tunnel under the banking adjacent to the Serraglio Curve. The main straight in front of the grandstands was divided down the middle, so that competitors would race parallel to each other and in the same direction, but be on two different tracks.

Exit of 'road course' from tunnel beneath banking

The combination of the banked high-speed track and the corners of the ‘road course’ was a searching test of cars and drivers. Mercedes took the opportunity of experimenting with hydraulically operated air-brakes on their aerodynamic GP cars. The brake was similar to that used on the 300SLR at Le Mans, but it does not blend into the rear of the body as on the sports car. When out of use it rested on top of the rear wings and stream-lined head-rest, offering minimal wind-resistance.

GP Mercedes with 'air-brake' deployed

The plan to run the Italian Grand Prix in September 1955 came under urgent discussion the week before the event, as there had been numerous complaints from drivers over the safety of the proposed track. There were also concerns over the dazzling effect on drivers of the low sunshine reflected off the concrete banked track. 

The leading four Mercedes early in the race

The race however did go ahead, with Mercedes finishing in a safe first and second position. The race was not without controversy, Taruffi getting the ‘naughty-naughty’ sign from team manager Neubauer as he attempted to pass Fangio in front of the pits on the final lap. The retirement of both Vanwalls was a disappointment, as they had earlier posted good practice times. They had suffered from the bumpy concrete surface of the banking, which along with the higher rate springs that had been fitted, caused the De Dion tube to break on both cars. Farina was very lucky indeed when a tyre burst on his Lancia during practice, as the car turned over twice. Following this incident the Lancia’s were withdrawn from the race.