General Motors Bison – a vision of trucks of the future from 1964. Why didn’t it stick?

General Motors Bison – a vision of trucks of the future from 1964. Why didn’t it stick?

It is always interesting to see how people from the past imagined the future. We are living in the future, but not all of these predictions came out to be accurate. For example, just look at the General Motors Bison semi-truck – it still looks like something from the future, despite being created back in 1964.

Of course, just by looking at the Bison you can tell that it simply could not drive on today‘s roads. Truck design is limited by a lot of rules and regulations, regarding safety, and industry has its own standards. However, Bison did feature some pretty cool design details.



General Motors created the Bison for the 1964 World Fair. Since it had to be representation of the future, GM took inspiration from planes and spaceships. Therefore, it featured a low and sleek profile.

To get into the Bison you had to open the canopy – there were no conventional doors. (Cardesignnews.com)

There were no doors. To get into the Bison you had to open the canopy, which included the entire windscreen. When seated, you would pull a futuristic steering wheel towards yourself. It is much like a yoke of an airplane. In between two vertical handles there was a number of switches. More various controls were located in the central console, where drivers would have found a phone. While General Motors said that the Bison is meant for long-distance hauling, it didn’t seem like it is the case, because the cabin had no sleeping room or compartments for personal belongings.

A phone in the central console was a nice touch, but the steering wheel was very cool too.

The entire cabin of the Bison was in front of the wheels. It was very low and, seemingly, very aerodynamic. Visibility must have been great too, because glass canopy was pretty big. GM Bison had a four-wheel steering system – wheels of both axis were turning the same or opposite directions, depending on the steering angle.

GM Bison had a four-wheel steering and the entire cabin was situated in front of the wheels.

Of course, when you make a truck looking like that you cannot fit a conventional engine. And so the GM Bison was powered by a couple of turbines, making 280 and 720 hp. General Motors have experimented with turbines since 1953. Although the Bison was just a design concept and could not be driven, GM did make a real driving prototype truck with turbine engines later. Bison’s turbines were mounted behind the cabin – over the wheels.

The trailer was also made specifically for the Bison.

The trailer hitch was also not a traditional design, like the trailer itself. General Motors at that time predicted that in the future loading and unloading of trailers will be automatic in the future – cargo modules will simply move in the docks by themselves. And so the trailer, which also had a low profile to match the truck, had hard shell and modular structure. The entire combination did look pretty impressive, but there were never plans for the Bison to reach production.

A pod above the axles was housing two turbine engines.

To work, Bison would need to change the entire trucking industry. Spare parts for the turbines, new loading docks, trailer parks and so on. General Motors created the Bison as a vision about what the future should look like. And although our current trucks are not like this, it is still a pretty cool design. We just wish we would see it on the road.



Image from blog.hemmings.com; www.overdriveretro.com; www.thepetrolstop.com

Freedom and Lenin up close: highlights of Kaunas Biennial (Video)

Freedom and Lenin up close: highlights of Kaunas Biennial (Video)

Kauno Bianalė (Kaunas Biennial) is a very interesting event that takes places in Kaunas, Lithuania, every two years. It is very interesting in a way that you don’t have to notice it, even if you live in Kaunas, but the entire city centre becomes an art gallery of sorts. All the pieces were very interesting this year, but two of them were met with so many surprised faces we had to write about them.

Kaunas has its own Statue of Liberty – it is our “Laisvė” (“Freedom”), standing proudly on a tall pedestal in the very heart of Kaunas. It was created by a famous artist Juozas Zikaras back in 1921, but was demolished in 1950 by soviets, who did not want any symbols of freedom in Lithuanian eyes.



This is quite important piece of the story, because for 39 years Kaunas’ “Laisvė” was gone from the square, but not from the memory. In 1989 it was rebuilt as Lithuanian hopes for independence were growing stronger. Now it is one of the most important symbols of Kaunas, which is here to stay forever.

Juozas Zikaras “Laisvė”. (Algirdas, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

However, being 12 meters from the ground “Laisvė” doesn’t have a chance to meet people of Kaunas. And that is where Kaunas Biennial comes along. Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi created and installation, which basically puts “Laisvė” in a soviet-design kitchen. A mock-up of a room was built on some construction-grade scaffolding and it was decorated with furniture, wallpaper and utilities from the period, when “Laisvė” was taken away from Kaunas and Lithuania.

Tatzu Nishi managed to put “Laisvė” on the kitchen table without even moving the statue.

This very special art piece represents the time shockingly well and the symbolism is both deep and understandable. During that period when the subject of freedom was taken away from the public, people could only speak about it in their own privacy in their own kitchens. “Laisvė” lived on the tables of every Lithuanian house. Until it accumulated, grew stronger and emerged with such power no one could stop it. Not even Lenin’s in our squares and in our eyes. So they fell.

Huge part of the art piece is accurately recreated soviet style kitchen.

There is another piece of Tatzu Nishi in Kaunas. This one, called “Flat for rent”, is even more surprising. It is a small room for rent, typically used by tourists. But not for now. Now there is a Lenin sculpture, a copy of one that used to stand nearby “Laisvė’s” spot, lying on the floor.

Lenin occupied the room typically rented for tourists and other visitors of the city.

The appartment is completely contemporary, but the sculpture is not. The contrast is almost eye-openning. It was explained to us that it can be interpreted as remains of soviet mentality that are living within us despite our modernized exterior. Hopefully, they Lithuanian will get rid of those too.

Here is a little video we shot to remember these two impressive pieces of art

It is interesting that it took a Japanese artist to introduce us to our “Freedom” eye to eye. That’s the result of Lithuania breaking free and a good remainder of the times, when people were just dreaming of “Laisvės” return to the city of Kaunas. Seeing it up close was simply astonishing, but it is time to let it come out again and look upon us from up high – both installations will be removed this Thursday already.



I made a pencil – simple and rather boring woodturning project had unexpected challenges

I made a pencil – simple and rather boring woodturning project had unexpected challenges

There are woodturners, who make nothing else, but pens. I am very new to woodworking in general – I’ve completed only a handful of projects – and I don’t want to invest into proper equipment to make pens. However, that doesn’t mean I cannot have some fun and make, let’s say, a pencil. So that is what I did and here is how.

Since I knew I am just going to have some fun without some specific goals, I did not pay much attention to the materials. I went to the office supplies store and purchased a box of leads for mechanical pencils. I asked for the thickest ones they had, but it still turned out to be pretty thin. Especially having in mind I wanted to make a fat pencil.



I cut a couple of pieces of black alder and sanded them on their flattest side. This gave me two flat surfaces for a good glue joint. Then I took a straight edge and made a faint line down the middle of one piece. I had to carve out a groove for the lead to sit in.

Wood is black alder

My method was less than perfect. The groove as not very consistent at all, but again – I was just having some fun without any specific goals. When both grooves were completed and I made sure pieces mate well enough, I glued in the lead with CA glue.

I glued in the lead using CA glue.

Since lead was floating around, I immediately glued both wood pieces together as well. This gave me a nice blank for my pencil. A couple of days later I mounted it on my tiny baby lathe and started thinking about the shape I should go for.

Ready for turning.

Of course, at first the blank became round. At this point I could leave it as is – it would be a very thick pencil.

Making it round produced a lot of shavings.

Then I started looking for a shape. I didn’t really know what I wanted, but I wanted an outside and inside curves and a small bead. At least, that is what I eventually decided. I used a single fingernail gauge for the entire project.

 




I sanded it to 600 grit, took it off the lathe and cut of that little piece from the end. Then I was able to mount it back to the lathe and carefully sand that little bead at the end.

I could have sharpened it on the lathe, but I decided not to try. It would be quite simple, but somehow my pencil ended up having its lead not in the very centre. That, of course, is a problem. So I sharpened it using just a pencil sharpener and a small chisel to bring tiny shy lead to the surface all around.

Weird shape fat pencil.
I had to sharpen it with a chisel too, since the lead was not in the centre at all.
Finished product does work.

This is nothing to be proud of, but it was a simple and fun project. Much simpler than that spoon I turned last time. Now, onto the next project – maybe it will be a pen this time?



Woodturning two spoons at once – good old paper trick worked

Woodturning two spoons at once – good old paper trick worked

Woodworkers know that at some point you have to start making spoons. It is a good way to experiment with different techniques and tools. Some people make nothing but spoons of different shapes and sizes. However, I don‘t have skills to do anything as impressive as these people do and so I decided to make a very simple pare of spoons using nothing, but a piece of paper, some tape, a tiny lathe and a couple of chisels. This is how they were made.

I know a couple of questions have to be answered at the very beginning. The lathe is called CNC007 Mini Lathe Beads Machine. There are several versions of the same thing in different Chinese online stores, snoop around and you will find something. It is a good toy for people, who want to woodturn in their living room (not even joking) or move a lot, or for children, or for model making. Not a substitute for a real lathe, I know. The gauge is made by Norex, wood is black alder.



So I got this idea I can woodturn a couple of spoons my tiny lathe with some wood that I had laying around. I saw somewhere online that glueing two pieces of wood together with paper in between allows for quick separation, but holds well enough while turning. So that’s what I did – I glued a couple of 14 cm long pieces of alder together with a piece of normal paper in between. I left it to dry for a couple of days (several hours would’ve been enough) and then put the blank on the lathe.

 

 

Now on a normal lathe you would likely have a proper 4-jaw chuck, which would hold a square-is blank very nicely. However, my lathe is so small I have to turn between centres. Live tailstock is also shaped like a cone. This combination got me a little worried that the piece will fall apart as both ends get wedges on a relatively weak glue-and-paper line. So I put some regular packing tape on both ends for my psychological comfort more than anything.

Lathe took asymmetrical piece rather well. There were some vibrations, but nothing dramatic and the tiny motor was spinning just fine. At first I rounded the centre between pieces of tape just to remove some mass. And then I got enough courage to make the entire piece round. It didn’t take too long and everything went very safely. At this point I had to start looking for the shape of my spoons. I knew from the very beginning it is going to be like turning a log to a toothpick, but that gave me a lot of room to see what I would like these spoons to be.

 

Of course, as I turned off most of the glue surface, pieces started coming apart – that was inevitable as the tailstock was wedging itself in.

However, I continued turning. Since pieces were small, I wasn’t so worried that they will fly apart and hit me to the face. I decided to go with a relatively deep, almost scoop-sized bowl, sweeping handle and a couple of decorative beads at the end.

 

However, I did manage to finish turning and do all the sanding on the lathe. Since pieces were small, I wasn’t so worried that they will fly apart and hit me to the face. Then I pulled it off the lathe, separated the pieces, cut off that little piece left on the drive end and sanded it to shape. By the way, paper trick worked magically, but you already know that since pieces were coming apart on the lathe already.

I sanded the paper off, but didn’t do anything else on that side. I decided to leave spoons on my desk until I have a carving chisel to hollow them out. But working get boring sometimes and I had this very sharp 2 mm straight chisel laying around so I started playing with it and in no time at all I hollowed out the spoons.

Obviously, that is not the way to do that and I didn’t plan this, but it just happened this way. If you are planning a similar project, I strongly advise you to buy proper tools, secure your work and not to get your hands in a way of a sharp edge.

Anyway, I sanded the inside surfaces to 600 grit sandpaper, because that is what I finished the outside with on the lathe. And this is the end product. Mind you, I could have sanded it better and using a proper carving gauge would’ve resulted in less deep grooves that did not want to sand away.

 

Nothing to be proud of, but I am glad I did it. Except the paper trick, all the ideas and techniques I came up with by myself as I was working along. This was the third thing I’ve ever turned and it turned out quite well. I already know a couple of other projects I am going to turn on this lathe and one of them is going to involve hollowing out a form on a lathe. So look forward to that.



Adorable city car from the 1950’s – egg-shaped vehicle is turning more heads than a supercar (Video)

Adorable city car from the 1950’s – egg-shaped vehicle is turning more heads than a supercar (Video)

Egon Brütsch Fahrzeugbau, commonly known as just Brütsch, is just another historic German car manufacturer. However, it was special in its own way, because it only created designs of  fiberglass microcar roadsters, mostly to licence them to other manufacturers. In its short history Brütsch made several interesting tiny cars, but one stands out as the smallest. How does 2.5 litres of fuel for a 100 km sound for you?

Company’s first car was Brütsch 200. It was a tiny three wheeled roadster with a single cylinder 191 cc engine and could reach 90 km/h. Brütsch itself didn’t make too many of 200’s, but it was licenced to a Swiss company A. Grünhut & Co. Brütsch 200 was only manufactured in 1954-1955. After its production life was over, Brütsch introduced another 3-wheeler roadster Zwerg. It was only a two-seater and a little bit slower with a top speed of 85 km/h, but it was more popular. Brütsch made 12 Zwerg cars, several more were manufactured by  Air Tourist Sàrl in France.



In 1955 Brütsch made Zwerg – Einsitzer – a version of Zwerg with a 74 cc engine and a continuously variable transmission. It could only do 75 km/h. Production of Zwerg – Einsitzer stopped in 1956 and Brütsch stopped making Zwerg altogether in 1957. In 1956 the tiniest Brütsch came about – the Mopetta.

Brütsch Mopetta was only 1,765 mm long and 910 mm wide. (Martin V., Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 4.0)

It was another three-wheel automobile, but this one had a single seat. Its egg-shaped fiberglass body was extremely aerodynamically efficient, allowing the Mopetta to very little fuel – just 2.5 litres for a 100 km. Of course, this was also courtesy of 49 cc engine. Brütsch Mopetta was created to replace a moped and thus did not have much in a way of luxury or comfort. In fact, it even had moped handle bars instead of a normal automobile steering wheel. The engine had a pull start and an integral three-speed gearbox. Despite it’s extremely light 89 kg weight, Mopetta could only reach 35-45 km/h.

Only 5 examples are known to survive. (Michael Stern, Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Interestingly enough, Mopetta was not that cheap. It did cost only £200 in UK, but that is equivalent to about 2,200 Euros in today’s money. This, and, possibly, impractical design meant that Mopetta did not enjoy huge interest from buyers, although in various car shows it was always very popular. Its cute looks and character were admirable, but Mopetta was slow, difficult to get into and priced too close to a car. Brütsch made 14 Mopettas until 1958 when production was stopped.

Only a handful of Mopettas are still alive, one of them you can see in this video

Brütsch made cars alongside the Mopetta. It was another single seat 3-wheeled Rollera roadster, powered by a 98 cc, two seat 3-wheeled roadster Bussard with a 191 cc engine, 2-seater, 4-wheeled roadster Pfeil with a 386 cc and another 2-seater, 4-wheeled roadster V2, powered by either 98, 247 or a 479 cc engine. However, none of these cars were as popular as the Mopetta and Brütsch went out of production in 1958.

No gauges and handle bars for a steering wheel. (Alf van Beem, Wikimedia)

Brütsch Mopetta started gaining popularity only after its production life was over. Brütsch tried striking a deal with Opel to sell Mopettas in its dealer network, but it didn’t go anywhere. Now you can only buy replicas, which are pretty good, or some other vehicles that look a little bit like the Mopetta. For example, Randy Grubb  makes Decopods, but it is unknown if he would still make some for sale.



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