Russia is one of those places on Planet Piston where things are done… with originality. If one experiment happens to work, the triumph is complete. And if it happens to fail, well, it’s like that old joke about the two Russian bomb squad techs. One day they decided to cut open an unexploded aviation ordnance with the blowtorch. “What if it explodes?” asks the junior. “So what?" says the senior. "We'll just get a new one.”
That pretty much sums up the Russian approach to engineering. The guys on the Garage 54 YouTube channel are unafraid to live by a similar creed. They have a joyously non-mainstream imagination that enables us to ponder and wonder how, where, why, and what they do in, with, and for their experiments.
The idea is to see how many AAs it takes to start a cold car engine. A measly 1.2-liter four-cylinder gasoline-powered 1970s Lada plant. Without further ado, the Siberian mechanics proceed to take out the original battery from the engine bay and cut it open.
Because why shouldn’t they? It would have been far too un-Russian of them to buy a bunch of AA batteries and retort to fundamental physics to rigorously calculate the minimum required number. They use the plastic casing to install their make-shift AA solution.
Those calculations are simple once the variables are determined. A standard AA battery has 1.5 volts. To get 12 volts – the Lada electrical system runs on 12V – eight AAs in series are needed. The Garage 54 MacGyvers have done just that – stacked up eight of them and ended up with the 12 volts required. Job done; crank up the engine. No. Voltage alone doesn’t do the trick.
Higher current values are needed to reach the required power to overwhelm the inertial and friction forces of the engine – not to mention the air compression. Again, calculating it from the start would have been the methodical approach.
To keep things straightforward – and, crucially for video platforms – visible to the camera – the starter is removed from the car and bench-tested. And guess what? Physics works – perhaps not in the most efficient way ever devised (when did it ever do so in Russia?) – and the rotor rotates.
This, of course, occurs after several stacks of eight-battery arrays are added. Even though the current is flowing – the sparks are the undeniable sign of success – it’s not (yet) powerful enough to kick the starter into life. 24 seems to be the magic number of AA batteries for that first step.
By the time the improvised car battery reached the headcount of 120 AAs, the repeated (unsuccessful) attempts to make the old Soviet-built pistons move had taken their toll. Then again, how often does a scientific experiment succeed without flaw on the first try? The remedy is to put in fresh AAs – 120 and continue until the crank spins.
It turns out (pun intended, yes) that the minimum number of standard AA batteries needed to turn the crank is 160. Not enough to start the engine, but at least the pistons move up and down. From this point on, it’s just a matter of sheer numbers.