Nice Work If You Can Get It: Blowing Up the Auto Industry?

nicework_icnAn occasional survey of jobs both unusual and extraordinary, and the people who make them happen.

It’s an exciting time at Ridley Motors, headquartered in the Howard Street Anchor Architecture and Engineering Building just south of 63rd Ave. And no one knows it better than Departmental Head of Engineering (and great-grandson of Ridley Motors founder Thurgood Ridley) Dan Ridley.

“Everyone’s talking about finding ways to cut down on fuel consumption, to cut back on emissions,” he says cheerily from his fifth floor office, which is littered with drafts, blueprints and documents at every level, “And that means all eyes are on Ridley Motors … and the Ridley Motors Montgolfier!”

What Dan Ridley is so excited about is Ridley Motors’ first entry into the field of automotive technology, and its attempt to grasp a corner of the green vehicle market – the world’s first inflatable car.

Weighing in at a modest 224 pounds – including its low-horsepower but otherwise traditional gas-burning internal combustion engine – the two-seat Ridley Montgolfier’s lightweight build allows it to garner a fuel economy in the 50-60 mile per gallon range. Built of 90% recycled material, the space-age rubber chassis of the air-filled compact can be deflated to fit into a standard footlocker, and be reinflated with an included electric pump within ten minutes.

The engineering of the alternative vehicle has occupied Dan Ridley and his team for the last eight years, although he says there are still hurdles to overcome.

“Well, obviously, you have to remove the fuel bladder before deflating the vehicle, and there’s a problem with sudden crosswinds at high speeds rolling the car over,” he chuckles, a rueful and frustrated hint edging his voice, “And once she starts rolling, she doesn’t really want to stop.”

What does Dan Ridley make of Ridley Motors chances in the automotive market? “We’ve been the top name in hand-held vacuum cleaner motors for the last thirty years, but before that? Nothing. We built our reputation one Handy-Vac at a time, which is just how we’ll succeed with the Montgolfier.”
- Jonathan Morris

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