Motor MythBusters Series Premiere: The Flintstones Car and Turbochargers

The Motor MythBusters—Tory Belleci, Faye Hadley, and Bisi Ezerioha—are coming out of the blocks strong with two myths for the series premiere! First, can you increase turbocharger boost pressure with just the pop-tab from a soda can and a length of wire like Vin Diesel did in Fast and Furious 8? Second, could a normal human being actually propel the Flintstone’s car using just their leg power?

An original MythBuster (Tory Belleci), a certified automotive technician and Toyota expert (Faye Hadley), and a chemical engineer turned pro race car driver and custom car builder (Bisi Ezerioha) walk into a warehouse and open a can of soda…

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Forgetting about poorly constructed joke openings for the moment, these myths might come from two pop-culture powerhouses, but there are real scientific concepts involved. 

Leverage, kinetic and static friction, vacuum pressure, stoichiometric combustion, material strength—all of these physical concepts will go into testing these myths. Fear not, this isn’t going to be a high school physics lecture or a pile of explosions and fancy camera angles. Faye, Bisi, and Tory are going to show you exactly how they build and test these myths.

Pull the Vacuum Line, Increase Boost Pressure

Turbochargers are essentially air compressors that feed internal-combustion engines and are driven by the exhaust gases generated by said engine. The more exhaust gas an engine can pump out, the faster it can spin a turbo, the turbo pumps more air into the engine, and that means more exhaust gases proportional to the increase in air (and more power), and the cycle continues indefinitely. Or does it? No. Spin anything fast enough and it will, eventually, tear itself apart from the rotational forces. Turbocharged engines prevent this with a vacuum-actuated wastegate that vents excessive exhaust pressure.  

The myth about increasing turbocharger boost pressure comes from Vin Diesel’s character, Dominic Toretto, in the Fast and Furious franchise. The idea is by pulling the vacuum line that actuates the wastegate, the wastegate will remain closed and the turbocharger can spool higher, thus increasing boost pressure. 

In an effort to pilot a turbocharged clunker to victory against a much faster car in a Cuban street race in  Fate of the Furious, Dom jury-rigs a soda can pop-tab to the vacuum line on the wastegate with a piece of wire that he runs into the cab of the car. Just as things are getting exciting in the race, Dom hits the nitrous then pulls the wire on the vacuum line, spectacular special effects ensue, then (spoiler alert) Dom wins the race. 

But the Motor MythBusters can’t just take Bisi’s turbocharged Honda Odyssey down the dragstrip, unplug the wastegate vacuum lines, and call the myth tested. Due to decades of trade embargos, Cubans don’t have access to new cars or parts and have become very resourceful in cobbling together mismatched parts and materials into functional vehicles. To stay as true to the myth as possible, Tory, Bisi, and Faye are going to try to build a test vehicle that resembles the junker car from the movie as closely as they can manage.

Yabba Dabba Don’t Roll Over Your Foot with 1,000 Pounds of Concrete

The Flintstones car is made of huge stone rollers for wheels and solid tree trunks. If you’ve ever played office chair quidditch, you know scooting your body weight around in a seated position isn’t the easiest physical challenge; now imagine doing that with thousands of pounds of wood and stone. Could one human being actually accomplish that? Then what happens when you need to hit the brakes? Remember, Fred Flintstone didn’t wear shoes and (last time we checked) human skin never wins against asphalt in an abrasion contest.

Building a vehicle that resembles the Flintstones car isn’t going to be easy, either. First, how does the crew even find an analog for stone wheels at least four feet wide and two feet in diameter? Then they have to secure two of those Sisyphean chunks between frame rails made of wood, on axles made of wood, with seating for up to six as the classic cartoon demonstrates. 

Assuming a real-life Flintstones car could support its own weight and move, the Motor MythBysters estimate a vehicle like that would weigh close to 5,000 pounds! One human power to 5,000 pounds does not equal a good power-to-weight ratio. Fred Flintstone never missed leg day, that’s for sure. 

There’s only one way to find out if these automotive myths will hold up or get busted by the Motor MythBusters—watching all the action unfold, exclusively on the MotorTrend App. Your free trial is one click away!

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