Gas-sipping vehicle gets 1,900 mpg

Times Staff Writer

With Earth Day less than 24 hours away, we couldn’t pass up mention of the winner of last week’s Eco-marathon Americas, a fuel-economy challenge sponsored by Shell Oil Co.

A team from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo won the $10,000 grand prize by achieving the equivalent of 1,902.7 miles per gallon on regular gasoline in a student-built vehicle.

Granted, the students didn’t win in someone’s mom’s Dodge minivan. Their “car” is a one-occupant streamliner built of carbon fiber composite.


At a measly 98 pounds, it weighed less than the driver. And that was 98 pounds including the car’s 50-cubic-centimeter Honda engine -- the kind that powers small emergency generators -- and a filled 100-milliliter fuel tank (that’s just 3.38 ounces of gas).

“The main reason we do this is because it’s a way to encourage students to focus on technical innovation for potential future careers,” said David Sexton, president of Shell Oil Products U.S.

But there is a practical side to the competition, said Cal Poly team manager Tom Heckel, a junior mechanical engineering major.

“Any publicity we can get makes people aware that the 20 mpg or so they’re averaging in their cars can be improved on -- a lot.”

The event, held April 14 at the California Speedway in Fontana, was the first time that Shell had brought its 25-year-old Eco-marathon competition to the U.S.

The Cal Poly team, which last year participated in the Society of Automotive Engineers International’s Supermileage contest in Michigan, more than doubled its 2005 performance of 861 mpg by switching to a lighter motor and by stripping weight from the already Spartan interior, Heckel said.


The event drew 20 university, college and high school teams from around the U.S. and Canada.

Rules called for each vehicle to complete seven 1.45-mile laps around the speedway’s inner track, averaging at least 15 mph. Fuel consumption was measured after each attempt and adjusted for ambient temperature and other factors in a complex formula that ends up giving an extrapolation of miles per gallon.

Heckel said the Cal Poly team’s prize money would go into development of next year’s vehicle.


Deuces will be

wild at Ford show

Ford fans can get their fix -- maybe even over-deuce a bit this year -- as the annual “Fabulous Fords Forever” car show opens its gates Sunday in Buena Park. The featured marque at the show is the 1932 Ford, the original “little deuce coupe” that has launched a few thousand hot rods.

“Fabulous Fords” is a collaboration of the Western region Ford car clubs and provides a mind-bending array of 1,500 to 2,000 stock and customized Ford vehicles, from the earliest model A’s to the most recent exotics and performance cars.


The event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Knott’s Berry Farm picnic grounds, east of Independence Hall. Admission is free, but attendance typically exceeds 15,000, so traffic and parking (usually in a Knott’s pay lot) can be a mess.

Highway One

Coming Wednesday to The Times’ weekly auto section:

Rumble Seat: Dan Neil drives the Porsche 911 GT3 and the Lotus Exige S.

Throttle Jockey: Susan Carpenter rides the Kawasaki KLR650.



‘What Detroit needs to do is to continue to have faith in itself. It isn’t reinvention that is necessary. It’s to go through the process of entering a global age.’

-- Jim Press

President of Toyota North America, accepting an industry-sponsored award as automotive executive of the year on Tuesday in Detroit