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Perpetual Industries CEO Brent Bedford says the Bonneville test is ‘a great way for us to introduce the technology.’ (Chris Bolin For the Globe and Mail)
Perpetual Industries CEO Brent Bedford says the Bonneville test is ‘a great way for us to introduce the technology.’ (Chris Bolin For the Globe and Mail)

Calgary company races toward speed record at famed Bonneville Salt Flats Add to ...

There’s nothing quite like setting a land-speed record with technology that promises to make your washing machine run more efficiently.

At least that’s the thinking behind a shot at automotive glory on the storied Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah by a group of Calgarians now putting the finishing touches on a speedy car that will showcase their equipment.

Executives at Perpetual Industries Inc. have spent almost two decades perfecting a mechanical balancing device designed to eliminate vibration in just about anything that spins – in this case, the drive shaft on a replica 1950s-era Jaguar D-Type. The proprietary technology, called the XYO Balancer, is aimed at improving the performance of scads of rotating equipment – including wind turbines, fans, oil-well pumps and, yes, even washing machines – by removing almost all of the inherent shimmying.

A successful run of 200 miles an hour (322 kilometres an hour) – a record for that class of vehicle – next month at the annual Bonneville Speed Week would be not just a boost for the company’s equipment, it’s also a grease monkey’s dream. The Salt Flats, a playground for a cultish cadre of mechanics and daredevils, evokes grainy images from the 1950s and 60s of souped-up cars and motorcycles streaking across the landscape in time trials.

As part of a crowdfunding campaign to defray some of the costs of the car, a donor with automotive and serious driving skills could win the chance to be in the driver’s seat for the shot at the record.

“It’s a great way for us to introduce the technology and at the same time involve people who are gearheads,” said Brent Bedford, Perpetual’s chief executive.

The car design itself has a rich history. With its distinctive rear tail, the Jaguar D-Type was a curvy, streamlined design that the British car company debuted in 1954 to challenge the racing dominance of Mercedes and Ferrari. It won the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race from 1955 to 1957.

Jaguar offered a limited number for consumers, as well. One estimate pegs the total number built at 87. According to auction house Sotheby’s, an original 1955 model with a 300-horsepower, six-cylinder engine sold in the spring for $3.7-million (U.S.).

The replica, being assembled in Florida by Perpetual’s XYO Racing unit under the supervision of Bonneville veteran Carl Dilley, is more modest in price – about $50,000. But it’s still very much a car nut’s dream project.

It meets qualifications set by the Southern California Timing Association, the body that sets the rules and vehicle and fuel categories for the time trials at Bonneville. The car’s fibreglass body is affixed to a roadster chassis and fitted with a 1,100-cc engine, said Robert Stiven, Perpetual’s marketing and engineering liaison.

The speed record for that class, known as modified sport, is 165 mph (266 kph). The company’s crew is counting on the balancer, affixed to the driveshaft, to help set a new bar.

“Every little bit counts, so if you can remove the vibration, you can be more efficient. That can be a big problem out there,” Mr. Bedford said at the company’s Calgary office.

It will be closely monitored electronically to gauge its performance. Indeed, racing is traditionally the proving ground for technological advancements ahead of their adoption into mass-production automobiles.

It’s an unusual goal for a Canadian company looking to offer its technology to a host of industries – and initially the idea was not to build a car.

Two years ago, Perpetual had a chance to provide its balancing technology to Team Vesco, a family-run U.S. outfit that has raced at Bonneville for almost seven decades.

The team wanted $25,000 as well as the engineering services, and the relationship fizzled before it began.

Mr. Dilley suggested the company build its own racer for almost the same amount, which started the Albertans down the road toward the Salt Flats.

“It ended up costing twice that,” Mr. Stiven said.

He pointed out that some of the parts, such as the roll cage and the fire extinguishing system, have been donated in exchange for advertising space on the Jag.

But the decision to go it alone fits with the company’s strategy to build and commercialize products on its own, at least initially, rather than open its design books to a major corporation.

For example, Perpetual Industries’ engineers have designed a washing machine that includes the balancer, and the company is looking to manufacture the units, which resemble machines from the 1920s and 1930s.

Now, though, the company is focused on proving its technology in Utah at the time trials, scheduled for Aug. 8-14.

The Canadians face a potential snag, however, as the organizers have had difficulty finding a suitable stretch of salt because of muddy, rough conditions.

A final decision will be made next week, and it is possible that a shorter, four-mile stretch, which the Jaguar D-Type would use, could be ready for the event.

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