Massive Speed

Concluding on Five this week is the series that sees Chris Barrie examine a range of machines designed for speed. In the last episode, he charts the development of attack helicopters from the experimental autogyro of the 1920s to heavily armed military models of the 1970s and 80s.

This week Chris traces the history of one of modern warfare’s most potent weapons: the attack helicopter. But to get under the skin of these fast and stealthy flying devils, Chris first takes a look at the humble autogyro, predecessor of all modern helicopters. He takes a ride in this “little mouse of a machine” to find out how such a ground-breaking design was made possible.

The tiny, lightweight autogyro was created by the Spanish engineer Juan de la Cierva in the 1920s as a low-speed craft intended for precision bombing. While it bears a close resemblance to a helicopter, the autogyro differs in that its blades are not powered once it takes flight; instead, they are driven by wind and momentum. The autogyro is able to coast at very slow speeds without falling out of the sky.

However, early versions of the machine were hampered by drag on the blades that caused it to roll on one side. “It was de la Cierva’s solution to the problem that secured the future for all helicopters,” Chris explains. That solution consisted of blades with hinges, allowing them to flap during flight and balance the craft. It was a design that has been employed in helicopters ever since.

Helicopters for commercial use were developed in the 1950s, including the impressive Fairey Rotodyne, a gigantic aircraft capable of carrying 75 passengers at speeds of up to 307kph, but a lack of interest saw the cancellation of the project. It was the involvement of the military, and the switch to jet engines, which ushered in the golden era of helicopter development.

In 1962, the US army debuted the classic Bell Huey UH-1 in Vietnam. This powerful craft could carry 14 troops and mounted machine guns at speeds of 240kph. The Huey, an icon of the Vietnam War, was a breakthrough design, yet its foes soon hit back with effective anti-aircraft weapons. “Attack helicopters would need to get faster and much tougher to survive,” Chris says.

The next generation of helicopter was the Mil Mi-24 or Hind model, which the Soviet army began using in 1973 and remains in service to this day. The fearsome Hind bristles with firepower, including rockets, machine guns and bombs. Measuring over 20m long and weighing up to 12 tons fully loaded, this highly manoeuvrable craft also boasts a 30mm-thick armoured cockpit. It set a world record speed of 368kph in the 1970s. “You could call it a helicopter,” Chris concedes, “but I think ‘flying tank’ would be more appropriate.”

The dominance of the Hind was only challenged by the British outfit Westland in the 1980s. In a bid to reverse their company’s fortunes, a group of engineers decided to push the limits of design by modifying a 1971-era Lynx helicopter into the ultimate speed machine. Using computer models and advanced formulae, they created new rotor blades with revolutionary tips. In 1986, the modified G-Lynx set a world record speed of 400kph, which has yet to be broken.

Chris brings his tour of attack helicopters up to date with a look at one of the best-known modern vehicles. “Combining the heavy armour and mighty firepower of the Hind with the speed and manoeuvrability of the Lynx, you will struggle to beat the truly evil-looking Apache AH-64,” he says. This stealthy craft can hover for hours without overheating, fly just metres from the ground, and slip beneath radar. Its sophisticated controls include an optical eyepiece which relays flight details to the pilot without having to look at the instruments – a useful trick when travelling at speeds of up to 365kph. Chris rounds off the show in style when he gets to take a ride in an Apache belonging to the Dutch Air Force.

Friday 14th March at 7:30pm on five

Continuing on Five this week is the series that sees Chris Barrie examine a range of machines designed for speed. In this instalment, Chris takes to the water to trace the evolution of the warship, from the cannon-firing galleons of the mid-17th century to modern, stealthy lightweight vessels, packed with firepower and gadgets.

“It takes a lot of power and good design to get something this massive moving at all,” says Chris of the modern warship. “But going that little bit faster than the enemy can be the difference between life and death.” From the mid-1600s to Lord Nelson’s Victory in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, all battles at sea were waged between wooden cannon-firing sailing boats, known as ‘ships of the line’ owing to their formation during manoeuvres. Despite being made of wood, these ships still weighed thousands of tonnes and needed to employ enormous sails to harness the power of the wind to travel at speed.
In the 1840s, the introduction of steam power brought about a revolution in ship propulsion that would result in a new breed of warship. Born of a naval arms race between Britain and France, HMS Warrior became the fastest and most powerful ship in the world when it was launched in 1860. Though Warriorlooked similar to its predecessors –it was still equipped with sails and cannons –the main difference lay below the water line where a huge steam engine sat in the vessel’s bowels. Ten boilers, each heated by four furnaces, produced the steam to power a huge trunk engine, which in turn generated 1,200hp at the propeller. Although the ship weighed some 9,000 tonnes because of its huge cannons and heavy armour, it could speed through the water at an impressive 14 knots, bringing an end to close-quarters ship-to-ship warfare.

At around the same time as Warrior was launched, a weapon was being perfected that would revolutionise naval warfare once more –the self-propelling torpedo. “The destructive power of the torpedo made cannonballs look like conkers,” says Chris. With torpedoes came a new breed of small, fast, lethal boats, designed to face the giant warships in what Chris calls “the naval version of David and Goliath”. Built by British Powerboats in 1942, Motor Torpedo Boat 416 could reach 40 knots and proved a very hard target for the warships. The 416 had three Packard petrol engines that put out 4,500hp, along with a flat bottom which allowed the vessel to ride on top of the water.

In response to the prevalence of motor torpedo boats, the British navy designed a new breed of mid-size ships called destroyers. Launched in 1944, HMS Cavalier was 110 metres long and weighed 2,500 tonnes, but could slice through the ocean at 32 knots –a speed once thought impossible by ship designers. Cavalier’s speed came from 40,000hp generated by a huge steam turbine power unit buried deep in the ship’s hull and measuring half its length. “Time to get my hands on some big machinery,” enthuses Chris as he climbs aboard.

As weapons used in naval warfare became ever more deadly, it was vital that warships also evolved to combine speed, firepower and stealth. At Upinniemi naval base in Finland, the fast attack craft FNS Hamina is quick, high-tech, armed to the teeth and almost undetectable by radar. “[It is] a true 21st-century warship,” says Chris. Built to evade modern heat-seeking missiles, Hamina employs large flat surfaces, sharp angles and special composite materials to absorb or reflect radar. But it also packs a punch, with eight surface-to-air missiles and four surface-to surface missiles with a range of over 100km. An aluminium hull and a carbon-fibre frame, along with two V16 marine diesel engines power this small boat to a speed of 32 knots. “Haminais fast and lethal,” says Chris. “She’s a real force to be reckoned with.”

Friday 7th March at 7:30pm on five

Continuing on Five this week is the series that sees Chris Barrie examine a range of machines designed for speed. This week, Chris turns his attention to motorcycles, tracing their evolution from the classic Rudge Multi of 1914 to the modern-day superbike, capable of speeds approaching 200mph.

Chris’s quest this week takes him to the Isle of Man, where a racing circuit made of closed public roads has been the home of motorcycle racing for more than a century. The Tourist Trophy, better known as the Manx TT, has been taking place on the island since 1907, but the machines involved have undergone a great deal of change in that time. In 1914, a small bicycle company operating from the upstairs of a pub made a machine that paved the way for the modern superbike. The Rudge Multi, designed by pub landlord Dan Rudge, was in many ways typical of its era: it had a bicycle frame, a lamp at the front and a 500cc, single-cylinder engine that produced 3.5bhp –“which is about a tenfold improvement on a pair of very fit legs,” says Chris. But what was unique about the Multi was the fact that it could change gear while on the move.

Whereas with other bikes it was necessary to stop and change the drive belt before taking on a steep hill, the Multi employed adjustable pulleys that allowed a gear change at the pull of a lever. On 21 May 1914, the Multi won the Manx TT, reaching an average speed of 49mph. A gearless bike would never win the race again. Rudge continued to design motorcycles and successfully made the first machine capable of topping 100mph. However, British roads could not cope with such a vehicle at the time, and Rudge’s company closed down just a few years later. Most of the people to have experienced what Chris calls the “magic ton” in the early days of motorcyles would have done so on a machine produced by British company BSA. In June 1937, BSA persuaded racing legend Walter Handley to come out of retirement to test a prototype. At Brooklands in the south of England, Handley averaged 107.57mph, leading BSA to produce the Gold Star. With a great power-to-weight ratio, the Gold Star could reach high speeds very quickly – with the first gear allowing it to top 60mph.

The next step in the evolution of motorbikes was taken by Norton –another British company that started life as a manufacturer of bicycles. While machines like the Gold Star were quick, they were uncomfortable to ride and suffered from bad handling. Irishman Rex McCandless invented a groundbreaking new frame that would be light enough to travel at high speeds, while providing the rigidity necessary for good handling. When his double-chassis design, christened the ‘featherbed’, was first used in the Manx TT in 1950, Norton bikes took nine of the top 11 places.

It was not long before the rest of the racing community wanted a piece of the Norton action, with many riders taking matters into their own hands. In garages across the UK, a revolution took place that would produce one of the greatest custom bikes ever made. The Triton combined the featherbed frame with a new two-cylinder engine made by Triumph called the 650cc Bonneville. “That is music to my ears,” says Chris as he mounts a Triton and starts up the engine. “Who needs a stereo system when you’ve got that?”

In 1968, based on the success of the Triton, Japanese company Honda came up with the CB750 –a machine which employed a 750cc, four-cylinder engine to reach speeds of up to 120mph. Thanks to the CB750, the modern rider can buy bikes like the Honda Fireblade –a reliable, easy-to-ride superbike with a top speed of 186mph –all for under £10,000.

While the Japanese manufacturers made speed accessible to all, motorcyclists who could afford more turned to the Italians for, as Chris puts it, “the champagne and caviar of the two-wheel riding experience”. Launched in 1997, the MV Augusta F4 costs some €25,000, but produces 135bhp and tops 190mph. “It is truly the Ferrari of motorcycles,” enthuses Chris.

Friday 29th February at 7:30pm on five

Continuing on Five this week is the series that sees Chris Barrie examine a range of machines designed for speed. Tonight, he turns his attention to armoured vehicles, tracing their evolution from the early Rolls-Royce models of World War I, through the high-speed tanks of World War II, up to the modern-day bomb-proof presidential limousine capable of speeds of over 200kph.

Weighing over 20 tonnes and with a top speed of around 3mph, the early tanks of World War I could hardly be described as speed machines. “Speed and heavy vehicles generally don’t go together,” explains Chris. But for British Navy captain Murray Sueter, this problem had to be addressed. Sueter wanted high-speed armoured vehicles capable of reconnaissance missions and raids, so he came up with a simple solution –to get the biggest, most high-powered and over-engineered vehicles available and simply bolt armour to them. The result of his endeavours was the armoured Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. The 6 cylinder, 7.2 litre engine allowed these cars to rocket to 60mph, but they were incredibly expensive –costing the equivalent of £832,205 in today’s money.

The Silver Ghosts were used widely in the flat deserts of Jordan and Syria, where Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence – better known as Lawrence of Arabia –launched lightning raids against Turkish outposts, causing utter chaos. But these vehicles could only cope with roads and other flat surfaces –for high speeds off-road, something completely different was needed.

In 1939, the first high-speed tanks to be used in war raced across the German border to Poland. Part of the Blitzkrieg offensive spearheaded by Heinz Guderian, these tanks combined heavy armour with high speeds off-road and served to change the face of war forever. Accompanying these tanks during raids was a new type of armoured personnel carrier –the SDKFZ 251 Half Track. This vehicle combined the tracks of tanks, which allowed the weight to be distributed evenly across its length, with wheels – meaning that it could travel quickly on- and off-road. “Ingenious,” enthuses Chris. By the end of World War II, the German army had produced over 1,500 SDKFZ 251 machines, many of which came equipped with rockets, flamethrowers and infra-red searchlights. In the 1960s, the British army began looking for a new vehicle –one which was capable of high speeds on- and off-road, had armour heavy enough to take on tanks, and could be transported by air and dropped directly into action. For this, the experts turned to the Jaguar E-type. Combining the lightweight, powerful Jaguar engine with aluminium armour, the army developed the Scorpion – the fastest tank in the world at the time.

“It is seriously fast!” says Chris as he gets behind the wheel. The Scorpion had a huge 75mm cannon and could cover 444 miles on one tank of fuel. However, its many moving parts meant that the Scorpion created a lot of friction, ultimately limiting its speed.

For seriously high speeds, Chris turns to the modern-day presidential limousine. This machine is based around a Jaguar XK, but features tonnes of high-tech armour –including steel sides, a titanium roof and a Kevlar floor. It also includes bullet-proof windows and its own oxygen supply, making it capable of withstanding a close-range bomb blast and even a gas attack. The 8 cylinder, 4.2 litre engine, meanwhile, provides 300bhp, allowing the car to travel at over 200kph. However, with so much extra weight, only specially trained chauffeurs can drive these cars. “I’m doing 200 kilometres an hour in perfect luxury,” says Chris as he enjoys a ride in a presidential limo. “This is ultimate armoured speed!”

Friday 22nd February at 7:30pm pm on five

Continuing on Five this week is the series that sees Chris Barrie examine the evolution of machines designed for speed. Tonight, he focuses on sports cars, tracing their history from the Bugatti Type 23 of the early 20th century, to its modern-day equivalent, capable of reaching 254mph.

“Sports cars –they’re fast, they’re agile and most of all, they’re fun,” says Chris Barrie. “But where did sports cars come from?” In tonight’s programme, Chris explores how these highly desirable machines have developed from their origins in motor racing at the beginning of the 20th century, to the supercars of today. His first stop is the Prescott Speed Hill Climb in England –a racing course dedicated to the work of the man who created sports cars as they are known today.

Born in Italy in 1881, Ettore Bugatti set up a car factory in France when he was 28 with the intention of producing the greatest cars ever made. In 1908, the Panhard Grand Prix car, with its huge 13-litre engine, set the standard for motor sport. But Bugatti spotted a weakness in the car’s design –since it was so large and heavy, the Panhard was terrible at cornering. Bugatti began work on a design that would revolutionise motor sport, scrapping the heavy engine and investing in more engineering to achieve better handling. The result was the Type 23 –a machine dwarfed in size, power and weight by the Panhard, but with better grip, acceleration, cornering and braking. Built in 1926, Bugatti’sType 35 became the most successful racing car of all time, winning an incredible 501 races in one year. The Italian had shown that smaller, lightweight cars were key to success in motor sport, but his greatest legacy was in proving that success on the track meant big profit in the showroom.

Capitalising on his growing fame in Europe, Bugatti started to make street – legal versions of his racing cars to be sold to people wealthy enough to afford them –he had created the sports car. “It’s difficult to believe in this day and age,” says Chris as he climbs behind the wheel of the Type 37A –the street-legal version of the Type 35, “but buying one of these cars in the 1920s was the equivalent of buying a Formula 1 car today.”

By the 1950s, sports-car racing was big business. The ultimate prize in the sport was the 24 Hours of Le Mans –a gruelling test of speed and endurance, victory at which brought huge financial reward. In 1952, German car manufacturer Mercedes wanted a slice of the Le Mans pie so gave Alfred Neubauer, the head of racing at the time, a big budget and 12 months to design a vehicle that would compete with the Jaguar XK120. Neubauer created the 300SL – or Gullwing –the fastest car of its era. The Gullwing had less power than the Jaguar, but had a clever engine design which allowed it a low centre of gravity and great control. In 1952, the Gullwing took first place at Le Mans. The road version of the Gullwing cost some $10,000 in 1954, but is now worth half a million. “It’s one of the most desirable sports cars of all time,” enthuses Chris. “The whole car just smacks of absolute quality.”

Up until the 1960s, European cars were the undisputed kings of the track, but their reign came to a dramatic end in 1963. The grandson of Henry Ford, also called Henry, decided that it was time an American car won Le Mans so met with a small British car manufacturer called Lola. Together, they built the GT40, a 40-inch high machine whose seven-litre V8 engine allowed it to reach 200mph.

“It’s shorter than a Shetland pony, but a whole lot more fun to ride,” says Chris. In 1966, the Ford GT40 took first, second and third place at Le Mans, with the fourth-place car miles behind.

The last stop on Chris’s tour takes him full circle, back to the beginning of his quest. In 1998, VW boss Ferdinand Pïch bought the Bugatti brand and announced that he was going to build the world’s fastest car, with a 1,000bhp engine. It took many years and a huge investment, but in 2005, the Bugatti Veyron reached the production stage. Capable of accelerating from 0-100kph in just 2.5 seconds and with a top speed of 254mph, the Veyron became the fastest car in the world.

Friday 15 February / 7:30pm

massive speed
powerboats (5/10)

Continuing on Five this week is the series that sees Chris Barrie examine the evolution of machines designed for speed. Tonight, he turns his attention to the dangerous world of powerboats, focusing on early stepped-hull boats, record-breaking threepoint hydroplanes and modern racing catamarans.

Reaching high speeds on water is all about the balance between power and drag –how much power can be crammed into the vessel, and how can resistance be minimised. It is this problem that inspired the design of early racing boats, such as the Jazz. In 1912, the two-seater Jazz competed all over Europe and set the pace for racing powerboats. Its four-cylinder, 4.5-litre Vauxhall racing engine ensured the Jazzhad plenty of horse power, but it was its revolutionary ‘stepped hull’ which enabled such great speeds. Halfway along the bottom of the hull was a large step which allowed the boat to ride on top of the water rather that ploughing through it, meaning there was far less drag. “But to see exactly how it works,” says Chris as he climbs behind the steering wheel, “I’ve got to get her moving!”

Throughout the 1920s and most of the 30s, the water speed record was held by stepped-hull boats, the most famous of which was Gar Wood’s Miss America 10. With four 36-litre, 1600-hp aircraft engines, Wood’s machine was more powerful than a freight locomotive and set a record of 124.8mph in 1932. However, on 4th August 1939, Miss America 10’s record was smashed by a tiny blue boat with a third of its power.

The Bluebird K4was a three-point hydroplane – the first example of a brand new design inspired by Chinese suicide attack boats. On its first run in 1939, the K4, piloted by Englishman Sir Malcolm Campbell, reached 141.74mph. Drag was reduced to a minimum through the addition of two floats at the front of the boat, which, along with the propeller, were the only points in contact with the water. “Three-pointers don’t ride on water, they ride on air,” says Chris. While he is not experienced enough to pilot such a powerful machine, Chris is able to try a smaller vessel at a three-point hydroplane racing school. “In the right hands, this tiny training boat will do 70 miles an hour,” he says. “But what will it do in mine?”

After World War II, a new type of engine became available to the speed freaks –the jet was simpler, lighter and infinitely more powerful than a piston engine. In 1955, Donald Campbell followed in his father’s racing footsteps and launched the jetpowered Bluebird K7. Based on the same principle as its forerunner, the K7boasted a 7,500horse power engine and became the first boat to break the 200mph barrier. In 1964, the boat reached a massive 276.3mph, but Campbell wanted more. During an attempt to go past the 300mph barrier in 1967, the K7hit a small wave, flipped into the air, somersaulted then crashed back onto the water –killing Campbell instantly.

Since that time, over half of the attempts to break the water speed record have resulted in fatal tragedies. The current record of 317mph was set in 1978 by Australian Ken Warby in his three-point hydroplane Spirit of Australia.

As Campbell’s tragic case illustrated, threepointers could reach incredible speeds on glassy lakes but could not cope with choppy waters. For massive speed at sea, something completely different was needed –the racing catamaran. These machines combine the speed technology of the hydroplanes with stability, but they are still capable of hitting 160mph over rough seas. The boats that compete in the Class 1 World Powerboat Championship –the biggest, most expensive water sport of all –employ two Lamborghini 8.5-litre V12 engines, making for a serious speed machine. “This is massive speed on an ever-changing surface achieved through maximum power, minimum drag and maximum brown trousers!” says Chris.

massive speed
4×4 (4/10)

Continuing on Five this week is the series that sees Chris Barrie examine the evolution of machines designed for speed. Tonight, Chris turns his attention to four-wheel-drive vehicles, focusing on off-road military machines, pioneering rally cars and modern-day super cars.

“This is how we imagine four-wheel drive: as a means of getting across the roughest terrain in any weather,” says Chris Barrie. “But four-wheel drive isn’t just about mud –it’s also about speed!” In tonight’s programme, Chris explores how fourwheel-drive technology has revolutionised the pursuit of speed on land.

Chris begins his journey with the world’s first 4WD car –the Spyker 60 HP. Built in 1903 by Dutch car manufacturers, the Spyker was designed to travel fast off-road by distributing power from the engine amongst all four wheels. In 1906, the vehicle was entered into the prestigious Birmingham Hill climb where its 8.5-litre, six-cylinder engine allowed it to reach speeds of over 68 mph and win the race.

As Chris takes the “feast of brass and iron” for a test drive, he is unable to benefit from its hillclimbing abilities owing to the lack of hills in Holland. However, he does experience the car’s one major drawback –its poor cornering. When taking corners, the front and back wheels of a vehicle need to turn at different speeds. For a twowheel-drive car, this is no problem –but for the Spyker, all four wheels are connected to the engine so taking a tight corner causes abrupt braking.

It was the military who would eventually surmount this problem. In 1940, when war was raging in Europe, the Americans realised that a new off-road reconnaissance vehicle was needed. A list of specifications was drawn up and sent to all major car manufacturers in the US, with a working prototype demanded within 49 days. The result was the Jeep –the fastest, most agile off-road machine the world had ever seen.

Today the Jeep is used in every theatre of war, from the Pacific to the Arctic, yet its inventor, engineer Karl Probst, designed it in just five days. The 1940 model could reach 60 mph off-road, handle a 40-degree slope, turn in a 30-foot circle and tilt at an angle of 50 degrees. Its engine had more power than the Spyker but was a quarter of the size, while a huge ground-clearance and bigtread tyres meant that this was a serious off-road car. But key to the Jeep’s success was the fact that it coped well on tarmac as well as off-road through use of a simple lever that disengaged the four-wheel drive at the driver’s discretion.

Over 600,000 Jeeps were produced during WWII and they were soon adopted by the SAS – who added aircraft machine guns to create lethal desert-raiding vehicles. Today, Chris drives an original Jeep from 1943 –the same model used by the SAS. “I’m going to see just how ‘goanywhere’ this vehicle really is,” he says.

Next up on Chris’s journey is the now legendary Audi Quattro. Based on another military vehicle, the Quattro turned the world of rally driving on its head –winning the first race in which it was entered in 1981, then going on to claim the next three rally championships in a row. The car’s 4WD technology gave it immense power in a straight line, but the Quattro could also take corners quickly owing to a differential –a clever set of gears that allowed the front and back wheels to spin at different speeds. The addition of a racing chassis and a powerful 2.1-litre, 350-bhp turbocharged engine made the Quattro a rallying rocket –something which Chris discovers firsthand as he is driven round a course by British rally champion David Llewellyn. “This is the best driving lesson imaginable,” he enthuses. “More please!”

Twenty years after the heyday of the Audi Quattro, its incredible combination of power, grip and cornering has been adopted in the tarmac world of the super car, in machines like the Lamborghini Gallardo. With a five-litre, tencylinder, 500-bhp engine and an intelligent differential that sends the most power to the wheel with the greatest grip, the Gallardo is capable of going from 0 to 60 in under four seconds.

massive speed
record-breaking trains (3/10)

Continuing on Five this week is the series that delves into the high-octane world of speed machines. Tonight, presenter Chris Barrie explores some of his favourite fast trains, starting with the elegant steam engine City of Truroand finishing with a breathtaking ride on a Maglev test train in Germany.

Following his series ‘Massive Engines’ and ‘Massive Machines’, actor Chris Barrie (‘Red Dwarf’) turns his attention to the evolution of machines designed for speed. Each week, he follows the evolution of a specific type of machine by explaining its design and test-driving the vehicle in question. He also salutes the men and women who created these mechanical marvels and unravels the myths that surround them.

Tonight, Chris learns about the constant quest for speed on rail by looking at four recordbreaking trains. He discovers that the secret of their speed lies in four very different kinds of engine, combined with state-of-the-art track.

Chris begins with the City of Truro steam engine, now an exhibit at the National Railway Museum in York. Built in 1903, this handsome locomotive is credited as the first engine to break the 100mph barrier, some 30 years before the more famous Flying Scotsman. Chris then takes a fresh look at two modern railway giants – the British Intercity 125 and the French TGV. Both engines held speed records for up to 25 years, but the technology behind their record-breaking could not be more different.

Finally, Chris gets a chance to ride a floating train at the Transrapid facility in Germany. The Maglev hovers 10mm above its ‘track’ and has no conventional engine; instead, it relies on incredibly powerful magnets in the track that are capable of pushing it at speeds of up to 280mph. This system has allowed the Shanghai Maglev to run at over 311mph and become the fastest train in the world. It is even hoped that the technology could be harnessed to launch the next generation of space shuttles.

massive speed
hot rods (2/10)

Continuing on Five this week is the series that delves into the high-octane world of speed machines. Tonight, presenter Chris Barrie takes a breathtaking ride through the history of hot rods, beginning with 1940s Californian street cars and climaxing with a terrifying ride in a modern dragster.

Following his series ‘Massive Engines’ and ‘Massive Machines’, actor Chris Barrie (‘Red Dwarf’) turns his attention to the evolution of machines designed for one purpose only. Whether it be on road or rails, through mud, water or air, Chris examines the achievements of designers and engineers who have worked tirelessly in pursuit of speed.

In each episode, Chris follows the evolution of a specific type of machine, by explaining its design and test-driving the vehicle in question. He also salutes the men and women who created these mechanical marvels, and unravels the myths and legends that surround them.

Tonight, Chris takes a crash course in hot rods – ordinary cars that have been customised into high-speed monsters. Chris looks at how these rebellious machines developed from a need for cheap speed and how their evolution has led to the fastest accelerating machines on the planet.

The story of the hot rod begins after the Second World War, with consumer demand failing to be met by boring second-hand cars like the Ford Model T. Chris shows how simple engineering changes doubled the power of these homely vehicles and led to an illicit culture of head-tohead racing on the streets of California.

The market for cheap speed soon led to motor manufacturers producing off-the-shelf hot rods. Chris takes a ride in some of the most famous examples from both sides of the Atlantic.

Finally, Chris visits Santa Pod Raceway in Bedfordshire, the home of European Drag Racing, where he gets to grips with some modern-day Top Fuel Dragsters. These astonishing machines produce 7,000-brake horsepower and can accelerate from nought to a 100mph in under a second. Chris experiences the thrills of racing first hand with a ride in a two-seater dragster.

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