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MAX Update No. 14: Victory in Vegas!

10/15/2008 4:20:40 PM

Tags: MAX, Escape from Berkeley, veggie oil, biofuels, 100 mpg, Auto X Prize

Woohoo! We won Escape from Berkeley! What a great competition debut for MAX. 

This was a challenging race, and I'm not going to beat around the bush, this event turned out to be a race, not a “competition event,” as I had earlier described it. I doubt anybody on the road could tell, but because all the competitors had problems along the way, nobody had to slow down so they wouldn't get to the checkpoint too early. It was solve the problem and hurry to the next checkpoint — or the next problem, whichever came first. You'll read all the thrilling details in an early 2009 issue of Mother Earth News

I think we've proven the MAX concept with this run. Disguising MAX to look like the Prisoner car sure paid off — to anybody who stopped and said, "Oooh, The Prisoner, that was a great show," we'd counter with "Yes it was, but do you have any vegetable oil?" 

The concept of having to scrounge fuel made for an exciting race (I mean competition event, Officer), but it would have been exciting if we'd been allowed to dash into grocery stores and buy it ourselves. 

I have praises to sing, and first on the list is Plant Drive. A couple months back, I got a message from the company. They had read the MAX article in Mother Earth News and wondered if we'd like to try converting to veggie oil. I said I'd think about it. Well, I thought about it until the last minute (yes, Dad, I do my best work under pressure), and while Plant Drive doesn't make a conversion kit for a MAX, we exchanged e-mails and figured out what would go in one if they did. In Berkeley the day before the race, I primed the lines with canola oil and started MAX. Then Sharon flipped the switch on the dash from D (diesel) to SVO (straight vegetable oil), and we stood around until we felt the urge to order French fries. 

MAX mount whitneyOther than the improved exhaust scent, there was no difference. Then we went out driving, and no difference. It just worked. 

I am sure there are other good conversion kit manufacturers out there, but we've been raving about Plant Drive for three days now. I'm really glad I didn't follow my original plan and get bits and pieces from various sources and concoct my own system. It would have made a better story, maybe, but it would have been a long story. We were racing, after all, and it was nice to be able to answer "How did you get it to run on vegetable oil?" with "We got a Plant Drive conversion kit, we followed the instructions, and we flipped that switch there. Gotta go."

We had some problems, but they were all of our own making. (They mostly related to how we fit our fuel lines — we had an air leak at the fuel tank fitting, and when bubbles got in the line the motor conked out and we had to purge it and prime it.) But the short form of the story is we were victorious, because we had one fewer fuel problem than anybody else.

By the last day, it was just us and the Green Team (a biomass-driven Dodge Dakota) at the start line. Our only problem the last day was getting fuel. Good thing MAX gets such great mileage, because we were literally in sight of Vegas when we couldn't go any farther. We pulled into a convenience store on figurative fumes and mooched their last three pints of cooking oil off the rack. It’s kind of a long story — I'll tell you later — but those 3 pints got us down the Strip and into the Sahara Casino parking lot. That was enough to win.

Photo by Jack McCornack

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