The inside scoop on building the hottest of the hot rods.
Andy Bolig - August 12, 2014 04:16 PM
All makes and models of cars are candidates for throwing flame
Pretty much everything you need is shown here, except for the expertise to ensure the utmost of safety
The business end features a nozzle and spark plug for the small fire, coupled with a large nozzle for the big shot of heat
This K-D Tools ignition test kit serves as the basis for the spark that starts the small fire
The group modifies the spark plugs used in the tailpipes to ensure a larger spark
Two plugs per pipe ensure that the fuel for the small fire lights quickly and burns clean
Each member inspects the cars before the show. If anything is not right, any member can pull the car from performing until it is fixed.
Special heat shields are used to keep the intense heat from marring the paint and melting the tail lights
A special mix of Kerosene and Coleman fuel is used.
The team fills the tanks before each run and the tanks must be run dry each time out on the track
As the group readies to perform, the tanks are pressurized
Then the additional protective blankets are secured over the trunklids of the vehicles
Then it's time to shoot fire!
The Wall Of Fire is an intense, heat-generating exhibition. In the grandstands, the heat feels like you opened the door of a furnace!
As the crowd’s pupils regain composure and their skin temperature subsides, the fire and safety crews check over the area for any straggling wisps of fire
Within the automotive realm, there have always been sub-sets of enthusiasts who congeal into small cliques of people with similar interests. It’s fair to say that those who seek out ways to spray fire from their tailpipes are possibly the hottest group at any car show.
We recently visited the Bloomsburg Nationals Powered by Carlisle Events and had the opportunity to hang out with a group from the club called Flames-R-Us. This tight-knit group of enthusiasts consists of the Founding Father of Flamethrowing, “Wild Bill” Kollmar, along with Charlie Van Horn, Bea Wilson, Alan Bittenbender, Melissa Wilson, Jim Vrooman and Bob Smith. This industrious group of enthusiasts formed around the idea that hot rods should be HOT! And with temperatures by their rear bumpers hovering at 3,000 degrees, there’s no doubt they’ve taken the thought quite literally.
Just like in many forms of automotive expression, the flames of innovation have been fanned by a desire for bigger and better. Rather than rely on merely hot licks of paint or imitation flames on the front of their cars, this group of HOT-rodders prefers to literally play with fire. The first forms of “throwing flame” was done by an overly-rich exhaust (by means of pulling the choke closed on the carburetor) and activating a spark plug that had been inserted into the modified tailpipe. The short bursts of flames, along with the raspy sound of the car’s exhaust served to satiate self-expressive motorheads for decades. But Wild Bill wanted more.
Those whisps of fire would simply be the flint that would fire up much bigger and better things once Wild Bill ran various hoses and tanks that would supply pressurized propellant to fuel the fire. He admits that when he first started in the 80s, propane was the preferred means to get a stream of fire, but now, chooses to use a much safer means of fuel. These are cars, and as such, they were driven to and from exhibitions. That meant that everything needed to put on a show was required to travel in the same vehicle- propane included. Bill shudders to think if anything bad would have happened while he was hauling that high-pressured propellant. Nowadays, the group uses a much more amenable mixture of Kerosene and Coleman fuel.
Unlike the closed-choke version of throwing flames, these far-reaching heat generators are comprised of two different fire systems. The first one is the “small fire”, which serves as the ignition for the larger, directed flame. A pump takes fuel from a separate tank and forces it into a small nozzle in the tailpipe where a pair of specially-modified spark plugs stand ready to ignite it as it. This small fire is actually the most dangerous one for the performers. Because it is not directed under pressure, the licks of fire are free to flow around the rear of the car and if an unexpected wind blows the wrong way, can cause these smaller flames to blow under the car. Not good.
Once the small fires have been stoked, the mixture of fuel is sent through a pair of larger nozzles by opening a valve either manually or electronically. The valve simply allows the pressurized Nitrogen to flow from the regulated tanks, into a separate tank to push the big-fire fuel out to the tailpipes at around 200 psi, where it is then lit by the smaller fire. The pressure allows for plumes of flames to reach over 80 feet into the air.
As you can imagine, safety is always a consideration when playing with fire. Each member of the group is responsible for constructing and testing their systems, while other members provide the helping hands when needed. Each member has the authority to “shut down” a car’s system if it is deemed unsafe or call off a “shoot” if the situation is considered unsafe to proceed. Each member is in constant communication with each other and all personnel must be accounted for before shooting flames to make sure that no one is in a dangerous location.
It takes more than hardware store parts to build a system capable of throwing flames three stories into the air— it takes cash. Members report that it requires about $8,000 to properly assemble a system and modify the host vehicle to carry it. Even before the system is installed in the vehicle, it is first tested standing alone, just in case something unforeseen happens. Other financial considerations are to have the necessary insurances in place to appease show-promoters concerns.
Once all of the safety requirements have been met, the wind charts read exhaustively and all team members are convinced it is safe to do so, the show is then allowed to go on. The audience anticipates a show of apocalyptic proportions but the gasps from the crowd reveal that the flame throwers delivered even more than they bargained for. During the show, timing is essential, as each car participates, taking their turn to heat up the night. Each “shoot” requires that the “big-fire” tanks be emptied completely in preparation for the next round. As the next round of throwers pull the crowd’s attention, the rest of the group are re-fueling in preparation for the continuation of the show, which culminates in a “wall of fire” exhibition that would easily fry an unfortunate flock of birds in seconds.
As the crowd’s pupils regain composure and their skin temperature subsides, the fire and safety crews check over the area for any straggling wisps of fire that linger on the track. Viewers slowly clamor their way down off of the grandstands, clenching cameras full of evidence to confirm their stories that most would not believe without seeing. The group of ultra-hot hot-rodders work their way back to their cooling cars, anticipating the drive through the gates and into the booth of a nearby Denny’s for a well-deserved late-night dinner.
Check out our YouTube video of the show!