‘THE QUIET ACHIEVER’
BP SOLAR CAR CROSSING OF AUSTRALIA
Perth to Sydney
Sunday 19 December 1982 to Friday 7 January 1983
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‘THE LITTLE CAR THAT COULD’
Tom Snooks was the Project Coordinator and he has compiled a record of the BP Solar Trek,
using press clippings from the day, a video made on the project, monitoring records, and memories.
An endurance test, the first of its kind ever held anywhere in the world, occurred in Australia in late 1982/early 1983. It was conducted under the auspices of the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS).
This test was the first trans-continental crossing by a solar-powered car, when Hans Tholstrup and Larry Perkins successfully completed the historic BP Solar Trek across Australia, when they brought ‘The Quiet Achiever’ from Perth to Sydney.
They had no overseas technology to draw on, no plans to follow, no previous mistakes to look at or learn from, yet in eight months they designed and built a whole new machine that ran for over 4000 kilometres with only some broken wheel spokes and a number of punctures. They took 20 days to make the crossing, but had all the roads been as smooth after Wilcannia when they covered 307 and 287 kilometres, they could have run the vehicle in high gear and completed the trip in around 14 days.
Hans got the idea for the trek in 1980 when the combined pedal and solar powered ‘Gossamer’ plane flew across the 35 kilometre English Channel. However, this distance was not enough for the adventure-hardened Hans, who wanted a purely solar powered vehicle to cross the sun-soaked Australian continent – a more respectable 4000 kilometres!!
There was a fair amount of strain on the drivers. Taking a turn at the wheel they endured temperatures reaching up to 50 degrees Celsius with the only fresh air being that which was admitted through small holes around the axles and the wheel openings in the fibreglass body. They ate oranges and drank fluids to prevent dehydration. They had the constant noise of the electric motor just centimetres from their heads. They camped out overnight, for they could not plan to pull up at motels, and therefore did not have the comforts of home. Although the conditions may have made many people give up these two fellows were, because of their backgrounds, used to the worst.
The journey of The Solar Trek would coincide with the 70th anniversary of the first crossing of Australia by a motor car – when in 1912 Francis Birtles drove a Brush car from Fremantle to Sydney, in 28 days. Thus, this period gave Hans and Larry a target to aim at, and to achieve this they would need to cover, on average, 150 kilometres (90 miles) per day.
The Quiet Achiever was not a conventional car!
It was engineered in Melbourne by brothers Larry and Garry Perkins, and was designed as a space-framed lightweight tubular steel chassis surrounded by fibreglass flaring to give ultimate aerodynamic efficiency. It was powered by energy generated from the sun’s rays and no other form of energy, such as a bank of batteries, which are recharged from electrical mains (as in an ‘electric’ car) were used.
Larry and Garry ascertained what power could be obtained from a practical size solar module and were able to determine the aerodynamic resistance, the rolling resistance, the approximate weight of the vehicle and driver, and designed the vehicle specifically for the Perth to Sydney trip.
It was 4 metres long, 2.1 metres wide and 1 metre high (13′ x 6’11” x 3’3″), and ran on four wheels, and was specially designed to provide minimum rolling resistance, and also to absorb energy if the vehicle was jarred severely, This was to prevent damage to the solar modules through flexing or twisting of the chassis.
The wheels were 70cm (27″) diameter, constructed with an aluminium rim and hub, with stainless steel spokes. They ran on low rolling resistance Michelin bicycle tyres. The braking mechanism was standard bicycle brakes mounted on the four wheels. The broken spokes experienced were a result of the torque produced by the electric motor, which drove one of the wheels. This torque, the low gearing and rough roads were too much for the spokes and the best solution was to keep the speed down to an average of around 25km/h.
The Quiet Achiever was constructed to carry one person, the driver, who was in a reclining position and who controlled the vehicle by tiller steering. Total weight of the vehicle was approximately 150 kilograms (330 pounds).
Twenty solar modules, each 100cm by 40cm (39″ x 16″) in two rows of ten (holding a total of 720 cells), covered an area of 8.5 square metres (90 square feet), and were supported on an aluminium rib-sparred lid, forming the flat top of the vehicle. The sun’s rays striking the top were converted to electrical power which was then fed into two conventional automotive 12 volt batteries coupled to provide 24 volts, were located in the front of the vehicle. The stored energy provided the driving force for the vehicle. The modules were some 11 per cent efficient, that is, 11% of the total energy striking the solar panels was collected.
The solar panels were ‘off the shelf’ and were not specially constructed for the project.
Some 70 percent of the power delivered from the batteries transferred to the driving wheel, with the remaining power lost in cabling.
The vehicle had four gears, with a high ratio of 13:1, and a low of 33:1.
A 24 volt, 1 horsepower Bosch DC electric motor, producing 4300 revolutions, drove the rear left wheel through a variable transmission, and the speed, dictated by an ammeter, was regulated by the use of a transmission lever. Total power developed from a solar module was about 600 watts (0.8hp) and of this power, 70% was used to drive the vehicle. Top speed was around 65km/h (40mph) and the average speed across Australia over the 20 days was 24km/h (15mph). The throttle was simply to turn a switch from ‘off’, to ’12v’ or to ’24v’ to turn on the power current.
When stationary the vehicle could be positioned such that its top, hinged to the chassis, could be located at any angle to absorb the sun’s rays. Each morning and afternoon, before and after travelling, the vehicle was positioned to fully charge the batteries.
The driver reclined in a thinly padded lightweight racing-style seat, and steer either with their feet – like in a child’s billycart – or with the hand tiller.
The Quiet Achiever was registered as a road-going vehicle, and had a stoplight, turning indicators but ……. no headlights! In all it cost some $15000 (1983 values) to construct, without taking into account the countless hours contributed by its constructors.
Larry claimed that the principles for operating the Quiet Achiever were so basic that only one thing could go wrong – no sun!
The BP Solar Trek started at Scarborough Beach, on the Indian Ocean, and finished at the Sydney Opera House, close to the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
From Scarborough the course passed along the main transcontinental highways, through Southern Cross, Coolgardie, Norseman, Cocklebiddy, Eucla (all in Western Australia); Ceduna, Port Augusta, Peterborough (South Australia); Broken Hill, Wilcannia, Narromine, Dubbo, Orange, Bathurst and Katoomba (New South Wales).
The entire run was monitored by the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS), to ensure the authenticity of the use of the sun’s rays to power the vehicle.
In summary, the course was 4130 kilometres (2560 miles) and was covered in 173 hours and 15 minutes at an average speed of 23.8km/h (15mph).
The Quiet Achiever silently slipped along the highways and stirred up incredible interest as the journey progressed. Even across the Nullarbor people came from all around the countryside, traveling hundreds of kilometres just to see it pass, and take photographs. Coaches full of tourists passed and then pulled up to wave, and also take photographs. On the passage through major towns it was literally mobbed by hundreds of people, and on the approaches to the Opera House on the last day tens of thousands came to the roadside to greet Hans, Larry and The Quiet Achiever.
The finish at the Opera House was timed for the Friday lunch period, and resulted in huge crowds greeting the arrival of The Quiet Achiever.
Sunday 19 December 1982
The big journey started at 11am from Scarborough Beach, with the Premier of Western Australia, The Hon. Ray O’Connor, handing over a bottle of water taken from the Indian Ocean to be carried across the nation to Sydney, where it was to be ceremoniously poured into the Pacific Ocean. It was a symbolic gesture of joining two great oceans by solar power.
Ahead lay a life of basic living without many home comforts for it would be a matter of stopping whenever the sun stopped providing power. Basically, Hans and Larry thought they might only be able to run between 1000 and 1600, but some early morning starts were possible when the batteries were charged from the sun’s rays in the last hour or so of each afternoon. Usually by about 0900 power was being developed from the sun.
A few punctures and broken spokes of the driving wheel were the main problems that were incurred, but other than these occurrences very little else went wrong mechanically.
Hans and Larry quickly found out that the speed was limited due to the lack of a suspension, and the road surface was generally rougher than expected and care had to be taken with the rigid frame.
The ‘bathtub on wheels’, as the Quiet Achiever quickly became known, left Scarborough Beach at 1103, with Larry driving. A police escort accompanied the entourage, which included several support vehicles and a film unit, as well as a horde of Perth media vehicles accompanying the Trek through Perth suburbs.
The first hurdle was to get over the Darling Ranges at Greenmount, but the little vehicle had no problems getting up the grade.
A second hurdle was to see what would happen to The Quiet Achiever when a large truck passed at speed. So, it was with breath held that the first truck approached, and then passed ………and The Quiet Achiever remained totally stable.
The day started out quite hot (38 degrees Celsius), with a thunderstorm rolling in late afternoon, forcing the Trek to stop due to high gusty winds and rain.
Larry drove all day and the overnight stop was at the Northam Army Barracks, arriving there at 1715.
Elapsed time was 6hr 12min with a stoppage of 53min, giving a run time of 5hr 19min at an average speed of 20.9km/h for the 111 kilometres covered.
Monday 20 December
Another suitable day with a top temperature of 38 degrees. The Trek got underway at 0806 and during the day covered 235 kilometres to the village of Bodallin. Hans drove until 1356 when he handed over to Larry.
Around mid-morning the right hand front tyre was giving problems, having had to be pumped up and then finally changed. Otherwise it was an uneventful day mechanically. Arrival at Bodallin was at 1806.
Elapsed time was 10hr, with stoppages totaling 42min to give a running time of 9hr 18min at an average speed of 25.3km/h.
Tuesday 21 December
Another hot day with ideal temperatures. A start was made at 0647, with Larry driving until 1216, when Hans took over for the rest of the day, pulling up 38 kilometres west of Coolgardie at 1646, an earlier than expected stop due to rain and heavy cloud cover.
An uneventful day mechanically, and the distance covered was 201 kilometres, in a total time of 9hr 59min, with stoppages coming to 1hr 19min to give a running time of 8hr 40min at an average speed of 23.2km/h.
Wednesday 22 December
Although the day started ideally with high temperatures, the last two hours run into the Norseman overnight stop was in heavy overcast conditions, with periods of thunder. Larry drove from 0724 until 1100.
Tyres required to be pumped up during the day to see if a better ride could be obtained.
214 kilometres were covered in an elapsed time of 10hr 11min, of which 9hr 31min was the running time at an average speed of 22.4km/h.
Thursday 23 December
Larry started driving at 0735 and handed over to Hans at 1350, who drove to the overnight stop 28 kilometres east of Balladonia. This gave a total time of 11hr 1min, of which 10hr 24min was run at an average speed of 21.8km/h for the 226 kilometre journey.
A couple of minor problems turned up during the day. One was a broken chain link, and the other was an earthing problem caused by wiring that became loose.
Temperatures were quite cool, in the mid-20s.
Friday 24 December
An early morning blanket cloud delayed the start until 0800, with Hans driving until 1248. Then it was sunny all day, with a 15km/h headwind experienced for most of the day.
Mid-afternoon a Perth bound coach blocked the roadway forcing The Quiet Achiever to stop whilst passengers looked and photographed the vehicle. Otherwise an uneventful Christmas Eve run to Cocklebiddy, covering 225 kilometres at an average speed of 24.3km/h in 9hr 17min with an additional 25min spent in stopping.
The Nullarbor crossing was a challenge on its own. Tail winds were expected but in the main quite strong head winds were encountered, costing several kilometres per hour. So the expected distances were covered, as overcast weather was experienced on most days since the start in Perth.
With the solar cells only 11 percent efficient, it needed a solid ‘soaking’ from the sun to keep the power flowing to the batteries. Hans and Larry found that even when there was not direct sunlight, the solar cells absorbed more than enough solar radiation to keep the batteries fully charged.
Saturday 25 December
Christmas Day saw a 0810 start, with Larry driving until 1052, when Hans took over to drive to the overnight stop 40 kilometres west of Mundrabilla, arriving there at 1640. Temperatures hovered in the mid-30s, and there were constant winds all day (15km/h), with the vehicle frequently struck by strong gusts of up to 25km/h. By late afternoon there was an overcast blanket of cloud, forcing an early stop.
In all, 176 kilometres were covered in the running time of 8hr 06min, with a stop time of 24 min; the average speed was 21.6km/h
At 1052 an Ansett transport truck caught up with the entourage, delivering parcels of Christmas cheer from Melbourne, in time for dinner that night. The Christmas tree was lit up by the use of The Quiet Achievers batteries – perhaps this was the first time that a Christmas tree was powered by solar energy!
Sunday 26 December
Hans and Larry were keen to make up for lost time on Christmas Day and The Quiet Achiever left at 0702, Larry driving the vehicle until 1418, and Hans until 1813, and they covered 234 kilometres in a running time of 10hr 31min, with 40min for stops. Average speed was 22.2km/h.
This was good going as there was a blanket cover of cloud for most of the day, with only some 3 hours of direct, hazy sunshine. Temperatures were in the low 20s, with head winds from the south east, occasionally gusting to 25km/h.
This distance took them into South Australia, to stop overnight 75 kilometres west of Nullarbor Station.
During the day the rear tyre punctured. 26 minutes was lost carrying out repairs. However, Hans and Larry were quite pleased with the progress – they were five days ahead of their schedule when compared to Francis Birtles.
Monday 27 December
A very heavy blanket of cloud, with occasional glimpses of the sun, prevailed. The air was misty, with light rain for a few minutes at 0930, and a 10km/h head wind prevailed all day. This meant a very late start for Larry at 1225, and he handed over to Hans at 1528. The day temperature hovered around the mid-20s.
The day saw only 172 kilometres covered in 8hr 38 min with only an additional 3min for the driver changeover. The average speed was 20.0km/h, and the day ended at Yalata.
Tuesday 28 December
A storm passed through the area at 0615, but most of the day was fine, with direct sunshine for most of it, until late afternoon when heavy and dark clouds rolled in, cutting out the sun altogether. Temperature for most of the day was in the high 20s.
Larry got the vehicle away at 0935 and handed to Hans at 1518, who managed to keep it going to Ceduna, arriving there after a total time of 10hr 36min, with 1hr 22min for stops. Average speed was 22.8km/h over 211 kilometres.
A couple of times during the day Larry made gear ratio changes to see if the vehicle could travel faster as he and Hans now had full confidence in the handling of the vehicle.
Wednesday 29 December
The camp was struck by a storm passing through Ceduna around 0500, but no damage was sustained. However, an early morning inspection found a flat tyre.
Hans got off to a 0910 start and handed over to Larry at 1354. Throughout the day headwinds were a sedate 7-8 km/h, and the day was fine and sunny with temperatures in the high 20s.
A loose electrical connection, another change of gear ratios and a flat tyre resulted in stoppages totalling 40min, in a total run of 10hr 26min at an average speed of 26.3km/h, covering 257 kilometres, the best day to date
They overnighted 25 kilometres east of Kyancutta.
Thursday 30 December
Larry had two stints at the tiller today – starting at 0905, handing over to Hans at 1342, and having another go from 1759 until the overnight stop at the top of Horrocks Pass (east of Port Augusta), arriving there at 1955.
The late stint saw a total of 263 kilometres covered in 10hr 25min, plus stoppages of 25min for a number of gear changes, made to suit the varying terrain. Average speed was 24.3km/h.
The weather was cool with the maximum temperate in the low 20s. There was a thick cloud cover in the morning, but by 1115 this had cleared away to provide maximum sunlight. Head winds prevailed throughout the day, with gusts up to 20km/h. A low was developing off the Great Australian Bight.
Many people gathered on the outskirts of Port Augusta and followed The Quiet Achiever to the BP station in town, where a large crowd of spectators had gathered.
Friday 31 December
230 kilometres were covered on New Years Eve day, with New Year’s Eve celebrated at the small railway town of Mannahill. ….. what a night that was!!!
24.9km/h was achieved in 9hr 13min, with 14min for stops. Temperatures were in the mid-20s, and usual winds prevailed. It was sunny and fine for most of the day.
Hans took off at 0754 and handed to Larry at 0948; Hans took over again at 1239, giving the tiller back to Larry at 1532 for the rest of the day which finished at 1721. More quick gear changes were made during the day.
Saturday 1 January 1983
The low off the Bight was now starting to create strong winds and 49min were lost at 1557 when cross winds hovered around 30km/h. A loose chain also resulted in some 10min being lost.
The day started at 0636 (despite the effects of the New Year’s Eve party!!) with Hans driving; Larry took over at 1113, and pulled up in Broken Hill at a publicity stop to the applause of a large crowd of people. Hans then had another stint from 1408 until the overnight stop at Little Topar, arriving there at 1810. Temperatures reached the mid-20s. However dust clouds were created by the winds in the drought stricken countryside.
In all 241 kilometres were covered at an average speed of 24.2km/h, in an elapsed time of 11hr 34min, with 1hr 38min for stoppages for various reasons.
At the time of the Trek the most intense period of drought in European settlement in Australia was in 1982-1983, with very large areas of central and eastern Australia having record low rainfall. This was part of the long 1979-1985 drought, by when even some of the larger rivers stopped flowing.
Sunday 2 January
On the flat running between Broken Hill and Wilcannia the average speed on this day was 27.2km/h. However, only 123 kilometres were covered. Larry started at 0700, but the winds started to gust up to 35km/h, creating enormous dust storms, that forced a stoppage after 34 kilometres were covered, at 0830. It was too dangerous to keep travelling along the highway at 27km/h with huge road trains emerging out of the dust travelling in excess of 100km/h.
Additionally, the strong wind gusts were coming from the south west and this made the vehicle vulnerable to being tipped over.
Wilcannia was reached at 1906, with Hans starting after the forced stop at 1552 – after a frustrating 7hr 22min delay. In all the running time was 4hr 31min in an elapsed time of 12hr 06min. 13 minutes was also lost due to a flat tyre (at 1806).
Monday 3 January
This days 307 kilometre run at an average speed of 27.9km/h was the best of the journey. It ended at Florida, 50 kilometres east of Cobar.
Larry fitted a high gear and took off at 0652 and handed to Hans at 1245, who went through until 1833. Total time was 11hr 19min, with only 19min of stoppages.
Winds gusted at 20km/h in the early afternoon, but otherwise it was fine and the sun shone all day.
Tuesday 4 January
The weather was perfect for the day’s journey, with very light clouds and plenty of sun, and only light breezes. Hans got off at 0729, handing to Larry at 1217 and took over again at 1620 and drove to the overnight stop at Wellington, arriving at 1825.
The course passed through Dubbo and a big crowd was on hand at the publicity stop. Media coverage was extensive, with Hans driving ahead of The Quiet Achiever to carry out media interviews. The interest in the project was now mounting.
In all 297 kilometres were covered, in a running time of 10hr 39min (with 15min for stoppages), at an average speed of 27.8km/h, the second best day. However, the Trek was now coming to the Great Australian Divide and the mountains would mean slower speeds, if indeed The Quite Achiever could get up Victoria Pass, the longest and steepest hill on the journey.
Wednesday 5 January
A big day for Larry! The course passed through Orange and then Bathurst, and being at the latter city meant Larry could drive The Quiet Achiever around the famed Bathurst race circuit.
The day started at 0749 with Larry driving and Hans took over at 1205 so Larry could meet the media contingency at Orange and then at Bathurst.
Larry took over again at 1505 and he lapped the Bathurst circuit in 18min 45sec, averaging 19.7km/h. The Quiet Achiever reached the dizzying speed of just over 60km/h down Conrad Straight. The run up Mount Panorama, part of the circuit, gave Larry and Hans confidence that they would get up Victoria Pass okay the next day.
In all 215 kilometres were covered by the time the overnight stop was reached at Meadows Flat, in 10hr 15min, including 42min stoppages, including 13min for a flat tyre at 1635. The average speed for the day was 22.6km/h. Hans took over from Larry at 1532 so Larry could discuss the circuit run with the media.
The day was clear, with temperatures up to 35 degrees, and a breeze of around 10km/h.
Thursday 6 January
The penultimate day, which saw 105 kilometres covered to Springwood, arriving there at 1552, at an average speed of 22.2km/h. Hans wanted to continue but commitments had been made for a lunchtime finish at the Opera House in Sydney the next day. After much debate he relented.
Hans started at 0858 in clear skies, but temperatures throughout the day stayed around 20 degrees, and a light breeze blew.
The 1070 metre Victoria Pass road was a masterpiece of engineering; it winds up the western slopes of the Blue Mountains, crossing a narrow ridge at Mount Blaxland. The pass was completed in 1832 using convicts to construct the passage. The famous ‘Convicts Bridge’, an outstanding engineering achievement in 1832, is still used by traffic.
Larry took over at 1021 and the run up Victoria Pass was literally a breeze, covering the steep climb in 12 minutes. The main reason why Larry drove up the Pass was he was 50 kilograms lighter than Hans!! The air was crowded with helicopters as the various television stations sent out cameras to record the epic climb up and over the Pass. Dick Smith’s helicopter added the scene.
Passing through major centres such as Lithgow and Katoomba, where many people turned out to see The Quite Achiever, as well as those standing by the roadside as the vehicle passed, indicated that a big finish was in store in Sydney.
Friday 7 January
The run to the Opera House finish started at 0802, with Hans driving. It has long been agreed that Hans would drive to the finish and Larry would start in Scarborough, now all those weeks ago.
The run covered 87 kilometres at an average speed of 22.2km/h, in an elapsed time of 4hr 28min with 33min for stoppages. A police escort allowed the vehicle to pass through red lights (to the delight of Hans!) and The Quiet Achiever had to stop on the approaches to the Harbour Bridge for 14 minutes to ensure at 1230 arrival at the Opera House.
In those days the toll on the Sydney Harbour Bridge was 20 cents and Hans taped a 20 cent piece under the solar panels, to be collected by the toll attendant.
A large number of people lined the Sydney streets to wave as The Quiet Achiever glided by, and a big crowd greeted The Quiet Achiever, Hans and Larry at the Opera House, where Senator Sir John Carrick (Minister for National Development and Energy) welcomed them, and carried out the ceremony of pouring the bottle of Indian Ocean water into the Sydney Harbour (symbolising the Pacific Ocean).
The spectators on the steps of the Opera House laughed when the little solar car scuttled into view, and then they almost broke the fragile vehicle as they converged on it and the two co-drivers.
The team involved with the BP Solar Trek included:
Hans Tholstrup Promoter and Adventurer
Larry and Garry Perkins Engineers who constructed the Quiet Achiever
Tom Snooks Project Coordinator
Roger Goudy Manager, Government & Public Affairs Manager, BP Australia
Stephen Symes CAMS Monitor from Perth to Cocklebiddy
Steuart Snooks CAMS Monitor from Cocklebiddy to Little Topar
Mary Mullins CAMS Monitor from Little Topar to Sydney
David Flatman & Crew Filming
THE CHIEF PARTICIPANTS
Pioneering was nothing new to Hans when he took on the BP Solar Trek. Aged 36 at the time he had already made his mark with his exploits, having arrived in Australia in 1965 from Denmark on a round the world trip, but he never got any further than Australia:
- in 1970 he made an epic voyage circumnavigating Australia in a tiny open fibreglass speedboat (called the ‘Tom Thumb’), and captured the imagination of the media and public by shattering world distance and endurance record;
- he flew a single-engine aircraft solo around the world;
- crossed Australia west to east (there were and still are very few ‘roads’ crossing the nation) in a diminutive four wheel drive Daihatsu;
- crossed the treacherous Bass Strait in a Mini-Moke strapped to a rubber craft;
- rode a motorcycle around the world in 27 days;
- drove Dick Smith’s Flying Bus over the top of 16 motor cycles;
- rode a motor cycle from Rockhampton to Perth over deserts;
- crossed the North Atlantic in a speedboat, knowing that the survival time in water with icebergs was one to four minutes;
- drove from the northern-most point of Europe to the southern tip of Africa, experiencing minus 20 degrees centigrade temperatures above the Polar Circle to 50 degrees in the Sahara Desert;
- drove in the 1979 Repco Reliability Trial in a Chevrolet Pickup and finished 67th – a fine feat after a disastrous start when he crashed into a stump on the very first stage at Tooberac (north of Melbourne) and then the differential broke. Like so many others in that gruelling event, his determination got him through it to the finish line two weeks later;
- raced at Bathurst in the 70s;
- drove in the Total Oil Economy Runs in the 70s;
- he regularly drove vehicles to achieve the best possible consumption figures to prove just what could be achieved;
- developed the concept for the 1981 BP Commercial Vehicles Economy Run, conducted after the second fuel crisis between Melbourne and Sydney to test the consumption of the latest trucks and buses.
Whatever this Adventurer set out to achieve, it was no slap-dash, devil-may-care exercise. Every voyage and new adventure was carefully planned, meticulously prepared for, because he left nothing to chance. His determination to win through, to beat the odds was extreme, compared to most people.
A devout supporter of Australia and everything Australian Hans developed a passionate desire to help develop alternative energy sources in an effort to conserve oil supplies, particularly in light of the oil crisis’s of 1973 and 1980.
Over the years Hans became interested in solar power and its potential as an alternative energy source to oil.
His philosophy to the BP Solar Trek, stated at the time was:
“I agree with my critics that this journey has no more benefit than the flight of the Kittyhawk, but we all now know what the Kittyhawk led to. It may take a lot longer to see what the BP Solar Trek may lead to, but if it will motivate just one more idea and thought in the development of solar power, then the venture will have been well worthwhile.”
33 at the time of the Solar Trek, Larry had spent all of his adult life involved with developing motor cars. His father was an engine fitter in the Air Force during the war and there were plenty of opportunities on the family farm at Cowangie (near Mildura in Victoria – hence the name “Cowangie Kid” that Larry wore for many years) for Larry and his two brothers to learn all about mechanics from him.
- Starting circuit racing in 1970, Larry won a 1971 ‘Driver to Europe’ series award driving Formula Fords;
- In Europe in 1973 he first raced Formula Fords and then switched to Formula 3, and was ranked third by the end of the series;
- In 1975 he won the European Formula 3 Championship Series;
- In 1976 he turned to Formula 1 and contested a number of races throughout the year and finished eighth in the Belgium Grand Prix;
- In 1977/78, and again in 1978/79, he contested the Tasman Series in New Zealand and Australia, winning in the latter year;
- In 1978 he co-drove a Porsche Carrera at the Le Mans 24 hour Endurance Race and finished second in his class;
- For the 1979 Repco Reliability Trial he and brother Garry built a special Volkswagen and were running fifth after a few days. He rolled the car and this put them out of the event;
- In 1979 he was second at Bathurst and then, in 1982, after teaming with Peter Brock, won the coveted race.
Larry had not spent all his time in the motor racing scene. In 1980 he built a vehicle for the Shell Mileage Marathon, which was then conducted on an annual basis. The vehicle had a bulbous body, where everyone else had a cigar-shaped vehicle. It had more frontal area than the others, but far less drag though the air. He beat the then world record with a consumption of around 1700 miles per gallon, and then the following year, with some minor modifications he achieved 2300 miles per gallon.
This was the sort of engineering ability that Hans was looking for when he developed the concept of a solar power vehicle crossing of Australia.
“We knew what power would be available from a practical size solar module and we therefore designed the solar vehicle characteristics to suit”, Larry said at the time. “This meant a particular rolling resistance and a particular minimum aerodynamic resistance. When we did all the sums we reckoned we could design and build a vehicle which would do the journey in the time allotted.”
Roger Goudy – BP Australia
BP was a resources development company working on increasing the efficiency of solar cells so that the use of solar power, which is virtually inexhaustible, silent and environmentally clean and acceptable, could be of greater benefit to the community.
At the time of the Solar Trek solar cells were only 11 percent efficient – that is, only 11 percent of the power is collected from the total energy of the sun’s rays striking the cells. Laboratory samples were achieving almost 30 percent efficiency, and 50 percent was being aimed at in the foreseeable future. This meant greater power output, or smaller and more powerful cells could be utilised for a great range of products which used fossil fuels.
BP backed The Solar Trek concept because it could see it was a very practical demonstration of the use of solar power, although it did not envisage solar powered vehicles for many years to come, if indeed they did. The purpose of BP involvement was to stimulate research and accelerate the development of solar power.
Hans almost always had some ‘hero’ or ‘heroic feat’ to look to and inspire himself. For the Solar Trek journey it was Francis Birtles (1881 to 1941), born in Fitzroy, Victoria.
Birtles spent some time in South Africa and on returned to Australia through Fremantle. Then on 26 December 1905 he left to cycle to Melbourne, an achievement which attracted widespread attention. In 1907-08 he cycled to Sydney and then continued via Brisbane, Normanton, Darwin, Alice Springs and Adelaide back to Sydney, where he was thereafter based. In 1909 he set a new cycling record for the Fremantle to Sydney continental crossing, then in 1910-11 rode around Australia and set a new record by riding from Fremantle to Sydney in thirty-one days. By 1912 he had cycled around Australia twice and had crossed the continent seven times.
Birtles next turned to the motor car and in 1912 completed the first west-to-east crossing of the continent with Syd Ferguson and a terrier, Rex, in a single-cylinder Brush car.
Following this transcontinental drive he drove from Sydney to Darwin, Darwin to Adelaide, and then perhaps his greatest achievement was pioneering an overland route from London to Melbourne.
In all Birtles completed some 90 extended trips in and around Australia.
The journey of The Solar Trek coincided with the 70th anniversary of the first crossing of Australia in Birtles first drive from Fremantle to Sydney, in 28 days. Thus, this period gave Hans and Larry a target to aim at, and to achieve this they would need to cover, on average, 150 kilometres (90 miles) per day.
The Brush had a hickory timber frame, which sounded fragile to the motorists of the day, and the car’s agents were keen to prove its stamina in the toughest possible way.
Most of the outback, of course, was virgin country and any tracks that did exist were mostly made by animals. Many clumps of grass disguised objects which battered their car such that Birtles often had to make improvised repairs. On one occasion the crankshaft snapped in two, leaving them stranded miles from anywhere. The bicycle proved its worth – Birtles cut it up and fashioned temporary repairs which got them going again.
A snapped axle and a broken timber chassis rail continued to keep the two men busy as they limped through South Australia and into New South Wales, via Broken Hill. After four weeks they arrived at Sydney.
Like Birtles and Ferguson in 1912, Hans and Larry, on the 70th anniversary of Birtles crossing, would begin the first ever solar crossing of a continent on December 19 and hoped to make it to Sydney within the 28 days it took their predecessors. Like the 1912 intrepid duo, the 1982 duo would be more concerned about blazing a trail, rather than with speed.
They did the journey in 20 days (153 hours 15 mins travelling time).
CONFEDERATION OF AUSTRALIAN MOTOR SPORT
The Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS) monitored the BP Solar Trek, with a monitor travelling with the entourage and recording start and stop times, weather conditions, and any incidents involving the Quiet Achiever. The monitoring was to ensure authenticity of the use of the sun’s rays to power the vehicle throughout the Trek.
SOME NEWSPAPER COMMENTS FROM THE PERIOD
– “Maybe one day we’ll all be driving around in solar-powered cars. And, if that happens, the names of Hans Tholstrup and Larry Perkins will have a place in history. Without men like these, this would be a duller place. The spirit of adventure is not yet dead.”
The Adelaide News
– “But even if The Quiet Achiever is destined to be no more than a historic footnote, its journey is still an epic in a nation of epic journeys. It is more than a considerable technological achievement. It is an example of human behaviour in one of the best facets, the combination of visionary, dotty and dogged.”
The Melbourne Age
– “The journey of Hans Tholstrup and Larry Perkins from Perth to Sydney in The Quiet Achiever will go down as one of the pioneering feats in history. Although solar power has been used in less spectacular ways, this was the first trans-continental crossing in a vehicle deriving its energy from the sun. It constitutes the latest chapter in man’s learning how to co-operate with powers beyond his own.”
– “Seventy years ago, the first journey by car, driven by Francis Birtles, from Perth to Sydney took 28 days. If all goes well today, the same trip will be completed by the first car powered by solar energy in 20 days, though the solar car had the advantage of laid roads, unlike its forebear. Of course, nowadays the trip can be made within hours by air, or only a few days by road or rail. Just as the first car trip was a march for science, in 70 years so will the trip by Hans Tholstrup and Larry Perkins probably be seen as the tentative beginning of a new technology.”