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View Poll Results: The earliest era that could successfully reverse engineer a car would be ...
1850 - 1902 era 19 52.78%
1800 to 1849 6 16.67%
1750 to 1799 5 13.89%
1700 to 1749 0 0%
1650 to 1699 0 0%
1600 to 1649 0 0%
1550 to 1599 1 2.78%
1500 to 1549 0 0%
1450 to 1499 0 0%
472 ad to 1449 1 2.78%
1 ad to 471 ad 0 0%
500 bc to 1 bc 0 0%
2000 bc to 501 bc 0 0%
4000 bc to 2001 bc 0 0%
10,000 bc to 4001 bc 1 2.78%
Earlier than 10,000 bc but after homo sapiens emerged 0 0%
I think those earlier hominids were pretty ingenious. Mark me down for them. 0 0%
I don't think anyone could do reverse engineer a car. It had to be developed in a forward gear. 0 0%
I think dolphins could do it. 1 2.78%
I need to learn more about insurance rates in each era before I can answer. 2 5.56%
Voters: 36. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 07-25-2015, 07:48 PM  
Rain Man Rain Man is offline
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What's the earliest era in which people could reverse engineer a car?

The scenario:

It's a sunny Saturday afternoon, and you decide to go to a car show. There's a sweet 1977 Trans Am, black with gold trim, and you decide to sit in and pretend you're eastbound and down, loaded up and trucking.

In the next stall is a cherry 1988 DeLorean, but unbeknownst to everyone, the flux capacitor is on the the fritz. Some kids are messing with the car and turn it on, and it's accidentally set to transport 12 feet to the left.

Suddenly you and the Trans Am are transported back in time.

Now, we all know that there are three outcomes to this scenario.

1. You will live in the car in squalor until a dinosaur steps on it and crushes both of you to death.

2. You will be immediately burned as a witch or feted as a god by some culture that has little interest in internal combustion.

3. Your car will be seized by the most powerful person around, and they will attempt to reverse engineer it. They will either learn how to build automobiles before Henry Ford, or they'll end up pedaling around in bamboo and palm frond vehicles like Gilligan on the island.

My question to you involves Scenario 3a. What's the earliest culture/era that could successfully reverse engineer a car by studying Burt Reynolds' Trans Am?

The rules:

1. The car does not have to match the performance of the Trans Am. It just needs to run and be capable of achieving a top speed of at least 13 mile per hour.

2. At least half of the accessories must work - headlights, air conditioner, etc.

3. No need for a working radio, and any tape deck or 8-track may use your existing inventory. No need to create new tapes and 8-tracks.

4. All parts of the new vehicle must be manufactured. No scavenging of parts from the Trans Am.

5. Assume that the car is in the hands of the most powerful person in the world.

6. Assume that they are working without your help since they don't trust your accent, and that they have never seen Smokey and the Bandit.

Last edited by Rain Man; 07-25-2015 at 07:55 PM..
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Old 07-27-2015, 11:13 PM   #31
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The mechanical parts can actually be manufactured relatively early in Northern Europe. Probably the 1300s. Mechanical clocks were mentioned in writings as far back as 1280. The Northern Europeans had a very good grasp of mechanization based off of water mills, partly why they industrialized so quickly they had all the components figured out just need to hook up to a different power source.

The problem is something to power the engine. The earliest possible would be with steam and you would be looking at more locomotive than car at that point.
considering the task is to make something that can go 13 mph, I'm with you on figuring out the mechanics early. Again within the scope of the challenge, clearances and requiring all iron/steel shouldn't be too big a deal. Replace critical rubber with cork for gaskets, tires could be wood too like wagon wheels (mythbusters used log slices semi-successfully). Also does vulcanized rubber smell like rubber trees? maybe that would lead people to discover the process quicker.

Same thing for fuel, maybe the gas would clue people onto the untapped potential of crude oil earlier. Otherwise, nat gas was discovered in the 1600's in the US, there was a wood burning car prototyped at some point I heard about on Car Talk once.

I think once they got down the idea of compressed combustion they would be up and running pretty quick somewhere around 1750.

The fact that the most powerful person in the world is trying to figure it out would have something to do with it too. If they got to see the Bandit's TA in action they would figure it out, knowing it would be a key to military/
industrial dominance. I bet the english would get it first, but what the hell do I know. This was a fun question.
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Old 07-27-2015, 11:17 PM   #32
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WTF are they going to find blinker fluid in 1750?
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Old 07-27-2015, 11:21 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by Detoxing View Post
Is the car still running? Fresh gas and oil in it?

If people saw it in action, working, then i'd guess they'd figure it out mechanically kinda quick. If the car isn't operative, then i'd imagine it'd take much longer.

I have no idea what it takes to make Gas & oil, so i'd imagine that would be the biggest limiting factor. Mechanically, i doubt it would take long to figure out at all.
The car is definitely still running, though you only have one tank of gas and probably not much windshield washer fluid.
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Old 07-27-2015, 11:22 PM   #34
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Originally Posted by cdcox View Post
WTF are they going to find blinker fluid in 1750?
That's surprisingly hard to get even in the modern world. It seems like I'm always going to two or three auto parts stores before someone will sell it to me.
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Old 07-27-2015, 11:45 PM   #35
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Originally Posted by AustinChief View Post
Since we aren't worried about mass production or reliability, machining parts shouldn't be too difficult. Fuel is going to be the main issue along with the battery. The A/C could use a number of other gases instead of CFCs so that isn't a major problem.

I'd say anytime before the mid 1600s and they wouldn't even know where to begin on many of the materials. If you started in 1650 I would think the process would still take 50-100 years before they could complete a working car.
Your most likely refrigerant that they could synthesize during your time period would be ammonia, but it wouldn't be anywhere near refrigerant grade.
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Old 07-27-2015, 11:50 PM   #36
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Originally Posted by cdcox View Post

When the US developed the atomic bomb, I'm not sure the science of the device was even the rate limiting step. I'd lean more to figuring out how to separate Uranium 235, building the factories to do it, and then the inherent time it took to do the separations were rate limiting.
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This is true. It required the production of the largest industrial buildings ever known to man, using more power than the city of Los Angeles running for years, producing little more than a handful of U-235, for a crude gun device that slammed two subcritical masses together.

Reading your post in many ways undercuts the feasible importance of Cyberdyne in Terminator 2
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