Round-the-world challenge showcases a century of automotive technology

Ricardo100 Global Challenge launches from company's research and development facility in England | Ricardo PLCC photo
Ricardo100 Global Challenge launched Thursday from company’s R&D facility in England | Ricardo PLCC photo

In 1915, the British military needed help. The Great War had broken out and the engines that powered British tanks produced so much smoke that enemy troops could see them from quite a distance. The military turned to Harry Ricardo for a solution.

In 1915, the British military needed help. The Great War had broken out and the engines that powered British tanks produced so much smoke that enemy troops could see them from quite a distance. The military turned to Harry Ricardo for a solution.

Born in 1885, Ricardo was building steam engines as a youngster and used one of them to turn his bicycle into an early motorcycle. At 17 he had designed his first internal combustion engine, and used it to pump water from the family well. In 1904, he won the Cambridge University fuel-efficiency competition even though his was the largest of all the student-built engines.

For the British army, Ricardo created a new Mark V tank engine, which not only had greatly reduced visible exhaust but was much more powerful than its predecessor. Some 8,000 were built, making it Britain’s first mass-produced vehicle engine.

Ricardo — the man and later his company — also devised the Turbulent Cylinder Head that improved the efficiency of side-valve engines, the E35 variable compression rating engine, the Comet compression system for diesel engines, the viscous coupling system that enabled the spectacular Group B rally cars and then made all-wheel drive popular in passenger cars.

Ricardo PLC took a pair of back-hoe engines, boosted them to 1,500 horsepower and helped set a land speed record — 350.092 mph — for diesel-powered vehicles. It worked with Bugatti to make the Veryon both fast and sure-footed and it supplies the 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 engines used in McLaren’s supercars.

And now, to celebrate its corporate centennial, the company has launched the Ricardo100 Global Challenge, a round-the-world drive in vintage and modern vehicles to showcase its corporate achievements and to raise money for a variety of charities around the globe.

Vehicles being used for the drive range from the Ricardo-designed 1923 Le Zebre to a McLaren 12C sports car.

The two-month trip will include stops at places significant to the company’s history, including the Bonneville Salt Flats, where in 1936 the Flying Spray –equipped with a Rolls-Royce Kestrel aero engine with Ricardo sleeve-valve technology – set a diesel-powered speed record, a mark Ricardo helped reclaim 70 years later with the back-hoe powered JCB Diesel Max.

The U.S. portion of the drive starts June 17 in Santa Clara, California, and runs through the first week of July to Washington, D.C.

For details on the Ricardo100 Global Challenge, visit the charity fund-raising website. You also can follow the progress of the challenge cars on a separate site.

 

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