In my last post I mentioned our commitment to maintaining the authenticity of the Challenger II
during the update. My least favorite part of that decision has been the cockpit, which started out small and has been steadily shrinking. Given the difference in girth between Mickey Thompson and myself (sorry Dad) I assumed I wouldn't run into any trouble, but preserving the driver's area has become a tricky problem.
The streamliner's original roll cage was probably adequate, but rule changes concerning minimum tubing size meant that the whole unit had to be cut out of the substructure and refabricated out of thicker material. The pivoting canopy that covers the driver's area has a maximum aerodynamic height, so the changes to the cage had to be absorbed internally. By the time I added a HANS device, I found that my head could no longer comfortably fit inside, mostly because modern helmets are about 25% larger than they were 50 years ago.
I've modified the aluminum driver's seat with specific indentations for the rear fuel pump, and sacrificed part of the footwell to house the larger dual magnetos demanded by the new engines. This problem is exacerbated by the Challenger II's unique four-wheel-drive system, which requires the front engine to sit backward in the streamliner. By the time I added two fuel shutoff valves, two parachute buttons, two air shifters, three fire bottles and, oh yeah, the steering wheel, I started to feel all kinds of sympathy for watchmakers and the guys that design the iPhone.
The key to the whole thing is that I have to be able to exit the streamliner by myself in under 20 seconds, preferably faster, in case of a fire. My obstacles are two canopy latches, a 7-point harness, arm restraints, a HANS device, and the tight cockpit. People laugh when they see me practicing, but I do it for the same reason I work out everyday and eat unpleasant salads. Space is tight, and I need all the room I can get.
Thanks for following along. You can always find more at thompsonlsr.com. Next week, engines.