To win Ununhexium Legend of LeMons status, some teams showed incredible driving skills, others raced Fiat 128s or Cadillac Coupe Devilles, and still others ran their engines on one cylinder. Then there’s Sensory Assault, an Index of Effluency-winning bunch of Texans who rig a new assemblage of Hoopty Grade™ machinery on their RX-7 for each race. At last weekend’s Garrapatas Peligrosas race, the Sensory Assaulters decided to honor Southern racin’ tradition by building a whiskey still… on the car.
When you’re making whiskey, the first step is to make some mash (corn, sugar, and yeast) and let it ferment in a sterile container. Sensory Assault figured they could go ahead and dispense with the sterilization step, so as to add more natural flavoring to the resulting mash. Ideally, this stuff should be at least 5% alcohol.
When you distill mash into whiskey, you want the temperature to be above the boiling temperature of alcohol (172 degrees) but below the boiling temperature of water (212 degrees). The Sensory Assault RX-7 usually maintains a coolant temperature of about 185 degrees while racing— just right for making some moonshine!
They’ve already got a heater core and coolant plumbing on the car’s roof (a fairly common LeMons feature), so it was a simple matter to add a thrift-store pressure cooker with the coolant circulating through copper tubing inside. Don’t skimp on the silicone sealant!
They fill the cooker with mash, and the engine coolant at operating temperature should vaporize the alcohol and send it to condense in these copper coils.
The end result is captured in this plastic jug.
Part of the condenser coil is taped to the line that feeds this high-quality homemade cool shirt. Because the still has higher priority than driver comfort, the cool-shirt ice water goes to the still before it reaches the driver.
Temperatures are monitored in the Sensory Assault Control Center, which looks much like the Space Shuttle’s dashboard… if the Space Shuttle had been built on a budget of $11.98, in a jail cell.
So, the RX-7 hit the track. Ambient temperatures on Saturday were hovering around 100 degrees F, which provoked some debate about whether you do or don’t want high outside temperatures for your race-car-based moonshine still.
The Sensory Assaulters were optimistic about their still, so much so that they went ahead and built this margarita machine in the car. That’s a used garbage disposal at the bottom of the device, but the Assaulters say they washed it real good, plus alcohol kills germs. The whole rig is powered by a gasoline-powered generator mounted in the car, the same one that once ran the car’s window-mount household air conditioner.
At the end of the day’s race session, there was just a drop of liquid in the moonshine jug. It was definitely alcohol, or at least a closely related chemical, because it burned and didn’t make anyone go blind after a pinky test, but the small quantity was disappointing. The team messed with the still all night and finally got it to produce a few ounces of a liquid that burned readily and tasted like a mixture of nail-polish remover and rancid butter. Accordingly, the team named their “whiskey” Buttered Roll.
For Sunday’s race session, they decided that the temperature inside the pressure cooker needed to be higher, so they went with a high-tech insulation approach: a towel masking-taped around the still. They also removed one of the radiator’s electric cooling fans, to make the engine run 10 degrees hotter. Because of all this work, they missed the green flag and had to start late. Totally worth it, though!
The temperature climbed to 105 degrees on Sunday afternoon, which helped the still’s operation. When the team ran out of their homemade mash, they dumped some bribe wine in the still. Ideally, this would result in some “brandy” to drink.
The “brandy” also tasted, well, funny. Nobody in the paddock was willing to risk a full-blown case of Jake Leg by sipping enough to catch a buzz, but the stuff definitely had booze-grade alcohol levels. For all this work in getting their still functioning, Sensory Assault took home the Heroic Fix trophy. Well done, Sensory Assault!