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Quest for Perfection – We Chronicle One Man’s Mission To Build the Ultimate Dyno Cell

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As a young land and marine drag racer in the 1970s, Don London always looked for the best way he could to build extreme race engines for himself and his friends. As a 30-year veteran of the contracting business, he’s still doing everything he can to ensure that the engines he builds are the best they can be. And extreme extends right down to his dyno cell.

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London’s business, Summer Systems, is a commercial general and climate control contractor that works with some of the West Coast’s largest businesses. The skill and expertise he has used building air, water and electrical handling systems for clients such as Bank of America and Northrup Grumman has, naturally, carried into his own projects. He admits that his dyno cell has become an exercise in creativity.

“I do mostly airflow and water and piping,” London explains. “But I’ve built hundreds of engines over the years for myself and for friends and actually built a couple dyno cells for some machine shops that do my machine work. About 15 years ago I built a really nice cell for one of my machine guys. But having my own shop right here, I always wanted a dyno too. You know, I could only spend so much time on somebody else’s dyno, and that would cost a fortune.”

Turning to the modern classified ads, London found a Craigslist listing for an unused Stuska dyno in Millston, WI. The owner, drag racer John Pierce had bought the manual system 15 years previously but, due to a bout with cancer, had never installed it.

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“He was kind of excited it was going to somewhere that someone with the same interests could use it,” London recalls. “And I was excited that everything was still in the package! It was a brand new unit that was 15 years old.”

London says his purchase soon took on a life of its own.

“Because I have a complete fab shop here, I decided to start building my own frame around the top of it, and it kind of just took birth at that point. And, honestly, I didn’t have enough room. So I decided to put it on the second floor, which sounds kind of goofy, but it actually worked out very well,” he says.

London admits that his construction expertise has allowed him more than a little bit of design freedom.

“I made this a fun project at a low cost. As a mechanical contractor, I have access to air conditioning systems and pumps and other things around here, so it was kind of challenging to utilize material that I have around my business here,” he says. “I have a whole structural steel system in the building here and I ended up putting a lightweight concrete floor and pitching it in the room and, obviously, doing all the fancy flooring in there. I used all 2 by 10 plates with staggered 2 x 4s, so there’s about 9 inches of wall width with an inch of quilt soundproofing in them, faced by double 5/8˝ drywall. With weather strip seals around the door, the room is soundproof.”

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London says his sheet metal manager has built a nice hood system that comes over to the engine – but “nice” may be the understatement of the year. Custom made diamond plate, the unit slides on tracks and moves out of the way to get the engine on the absorption unit. With as much substance as style, London says he has installed a 15,000 CFM make-up air system Variable-speed Frequency Drives on the exhaust.  “It maintains just under a tenth of an inch of static pressure in the room all the time. So it actually chases the CFM in the room as the motor sucks it out and exhausts it outside. It’s always balancing itself to keep it right under a tenth of an inch of static in the room.”

In addition, the cell has a 10 ton direct expansion make-up air system typically used in high-end industrial cooling systems. Made to take 100% outside air with a 4-inch pleated filter system, London says he can recirculate the air to change the room’s environment. “If we have a hot day outside I can recirculate the room and get it cool and dry or I can warm it up if needed. And I could add humidity to the room if I need to as well.”

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London says the addition of the Power Pro Total Automation system to his manual dyno has really brought the unit to life. The system gives the operator the ability to fully automate their tests or take a hands-on approach and control everything manually. With automated break-in and warm-up cycle, live trace mapping on sweep test and precision control of load and throttle, London can ensure his dyno customers get the best results.

“It has all the bells and whistles we need to really check everything,” London says, which helpful for a growing number of diverse clients. “It’s only been up for running for about six months, so the word’s getting out there that we have it. We currently work with one of the top marine engine builders in the country, building 1,200, 1,300, even 1,500 hp motors. Plus we have other onesie-twosie guys.”

“I’ve got GoPro cameras set up inside the room as well as inside the panel room, so we can do video of the run on the screen as well as see the engine outside running,” London says. “And then we download that for the customer and send that file along with them, so he was able to give that to his customers.

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For London, what started as an exercise in “what can we do,” has turned into a more realistic “how far can we go? scenario.

“Really, this was just a hobby,” says London. “It’s definitely turning into more of a small business for sure.” n

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