I’ve had a long abiding interest in the effects of Nitrous Oxide. In college, I convinced a seller of nitrous tanks that I was an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania and that I teach a class where we build high altitude miniature rockets using the stuff.
I had seen a feature of nitrous propelled rockets the night previous on the Discovery channel.
“Now, I know this may sound bizarre dear, but my students and I build these miniature rockets, and we use the nitrous oxide as a oxidizer, we have all sorts of expensive equipment. It’s a hell of a set up, you should really check it out. These little bastards get up to the freaking stratosphere, it’s really amazing!”
So I walked out of there with a brand new large-sized nitrous oxide tank and information on where to get it filled. The fillers strangely didn’t care if I was a professor or a creepy weirdo ready to expose this strange dissociative drug gas to schoolchildren, they just filled me up and took my money.
Those were good times.
My Interest Shifts
After being interested in N2O for a year or so, a friend of mine who owns a detail shop decided to start installing nitrous oxide systems in cars for the purposes of crazy speed, and started on his very own 1996 Ford Taurus. So at the Atco Raceway in beautiful Atco New Jersey, he unloaded the nitrous Taurus, and in all the days of my life I swear I had never seen a production vehicle go so fast. This poor Ford Taurus, The King of the American Roads, after apparently breaking the speed of light and bending physics around it, was utterly destroyed by the effects of the nitrous oxide. The engine had exploded, the pistons cracked, one of the axles was broken.
From that day forward, I was more interested in the automotive benefits of nitrous than any fleeting pleasures of the flesh it may offer.
Now, I have to add that despite what many people would have you believe, the nitrous in cars is the same stuff that people at concert parking lots inhale, which is the same stuff they give you at the dentist, and the same stuff they use in whip cream canisters. It has many uses.
There is one thing to consider though, often times auto racing nitrous has a bad bad chemical called sulfur dioxide in it, put in there for the sole purpose of trying to stop people from inhaling it. If you inhale sulfur dioxide, you’ll probably just gag and immediately get sick and never try that again; but there is the off chance that you may die, so you know, don’t do that.
How it works
The thing about nitrous is that it’s not flammable, it’s not like shoving butane or propane in your engine (although racers do that sometimes too). Nitrous is an oxidizer; that means the only thing that nitrous does is provide your engine with more oxygen. It actually also lowers the temperature in the intake manifold, which lets more air/fuel into the engine, but thats just a secondary benefit. The main thing is more oxygen, that’s it. That’s the whole purpose of NOS systems.
Don’t let it fool you though, nitrous oxide is more than just a chemical turbocharger, it’s powerful medicine. At the most basic level, combustion is just fuel plus oxygen. Increase either one drastically, and you’re upping the power drastically. With nitrous, you can increase your engine power literally up to thousands of horsepower, that’s enough to do very permanent damage.
You can destroy your engine with it, blow out your seals, crack your pistons, break apart the inner workings, even make it explode in a fireball of hilarious gas. The last of which I have seen firsthand. Also, it can make you go very very fast.
This stuff is no joke. Be careful with it.
Keep your eyes peeled because in a future article I’ll go over some of the different types of nitrous systems (dry or wet or single port or direct port, 2 or 3 or 4 stage, etc).