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MAX Update No. 79: Incredibly Good Mileage (127 MPG!)


The Vetter Fuel Economy Challenge competitors during a rare stationary moment, as shot from over MAX’s hood. The yellow and white bike on the right is event organizer Craig Vetter’s streamliner, which may be the future of motorcycling. 

So I made it to AMA Vintage Days at Lexington, Ohio, one hour late for the riders’ meeting (I goofed by a time zone) but timely enough to get signed up and join the pack at the race track bright and early the next morning, for the latest Vetter Fuel Economy Challenge.

These Challenges are a series of motorcycle fuel economy competitions, and for this one, Craig Vetter opened the field to a couple of high mileage automobiles—MAX and a plug in electric conversion of a Prius. It was an opportunity to demonstrate what MAX can do in normal driving, and have somebody besides me verify the results, so I jumped at the chance.

The closer we came to the start date, the more it looked like MAX would break the 100 mpg barrier in public, which was pretty exciting to me. The weather was predicted to be exceptionally hot and humid, which reduces air density, and thus reduces aerodynamic drag and improves mileage, and most of the ride was going to be on rural roads so we’d mostly be going slower than freeway speeds. Coupled with a lack of wind, and with the so-called “hills” of central Ohio being pretty tame compared with what I’m used to in western Oregon, and with MAX’s latest aerodynamic improvements, and lightening MAX of a hundred pounds of tools and camping gear and luggage the night before the event, I was feeling pretty cocky about my chances for a three-digit mileage score.

You know how you can psyche yourself into Great Expectations before a contest even begins? I guess this is why folks bet money on the Superbowl, but I was convinced, this was going to be a good one and MAX was going to shine.

We topped off our tanks in the morning and headed for the highways, a pack of motorcycles in front with the two cars tagging along behind. It was a lovely ride, I got lots of photos, and the only glitch was a brief one in the town of Mt. Vernon (I got caught behind a truck and missed a light that all the bikes got through, and by the time I got through downtown traffic I couldn’t even see them any more…I caught up with them too quick to sneak in a fuel stop but it was still embarrassing). A stop for snacks and 104 miles later, we pulled into a gas station for the Moment of Truth. We filled our tanks at the pumps, signed our receipts, and handed them over to Craig, who took them off to tabulate the results.

The guys got on their bikes and rode back to the track, while I stood there slack jawed, under a thought balloon full of question marks. I was willing to wait for the Official Results, but the rough-estimate math was dead easy: we went a trifle over 100 miles, so if MAX took less than a gallon, then we’d beaten 100 mpg. The surprise was, it wasn’t even close to a gallon, it was 0.818 gallon, $3.14, and when the official results were released, my score was 127.38 miles per gallon. Not good enough to win of course; two of the bikes had me beat by a bunch, but still...127 mpg? Really?

That’s incredibly good mileage, and I’m not using the word casually. MAX has done better than 100 mpg enough times that three digits don’t surprise me, and if I’d brought home a score of, say, 110 mpg, I’d have been skipping around and whooping “Yippee yahoo! I knew MAX could do it!” but 127? 127 mpg is not credible; in my opinion it’s too good to be true by about a pint.

I have some theories, but before I commit them to print, I’d like to hear yours. One theory (not mine) is I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth and I should accept that 127 mpg score with pleasure and pride. 127 mpg is not impossible, it’s less than half the mileage of the Volkswagen XL1 from MAX Update No. 67, but it’s still significantly better than expected, and it doesn’t flatter me as a designer to have my expectations off by 20%. Either there are other factors to consider here, or the expecter muscles in my brain have cramped up.

Photos by Jack McCornack 

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jack mccornack
8/25/2011 10:40:46 PM

Hi Mark, no driving style (hypermiling) mods for economy (e.g. pulse and glide, engine-off-in-neutral down hills etc) but plenty of aerodynamic mods that were inspired by folks on the site. I'm gradually working my way back along the car in this blog, nose to tail, about MAX's various enhancements. Since my focus (and skill set) is on the technical aspect of the vehicle, I'm trying to keep driving techniques out of the equation. I am tempted, though, to find some of those hypermiling experts on that site and give them a stint in MAX. The combination of those amazing drivers and this amazing car could be, well, for lack of a better adjective: amazing.

mark chapmon
8/19/2011 2:48:05 PM

Congratulations on the awe inspiring economy! I am kind of curious if you used fuel economy stretching techniques discussed on I know the driving tips I picked up their helped me squeeze more than 30% over EPA out of my stick shift Kia Rio and I've read the occasional post that you've made over there (but probably not all of them). Some day I plan to actually do some of the vehicle mods discussed over their, too.

8/19/2011 10:26:10 AM

No doubt there were (no matter how slight) more down hill runs than up hill runs going that way. Or you were headed due south and the rotation of the earth (centripetal force) helped push you south????LOL

jack mccornack
8/8/2011 6:46:37 PM

Hi Preston, I'm sorry you missed us. I've got a beater Miata donor stashed away to make a...a what? A MightyMAX? There's a part of me that's sorely tempted to make MAX's Evil Twin with Miata components (including engine) under the skin. I wonder what the mileage would be; it'd be nearly as light and nearly as streamlined as MAX, but with five times the horsepower it would suffer badly in the engine efficiency department, and having tasted 100 MPG I might be deeply dissatisfied by, say, 50 MPG.

preston moore
8/8/2011 2:16:04 PM

I live just outside of Mount Vernon. I wish I could have seen you and Max. I have been following for quite a while. I have my eyes on my sisters Miata for a donor car.Great job!Preston