Scott Skylar Leads the Charge for Alcohol Powered Cars

A former senatorial aide is promoting alcohol-powered cars by driving around Washington, DC in a vehicle he converted to alcohol fuel himself.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
March/April 1979
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Scott Skylar converted an old Rambler Classic to run on alcohol—what he hopes will be the first of many alcohol-powered cars.
ILLUSTRATION: BOJANOVIC78/FOTOLIA


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Mr. Scott Skylar (who served as an aide to Senator Jacob Javits for almost a decade and is now the Washington Director of the National Center for Appropriate Technology) owns the "hottest" automobile in the District of Columbia!

Which is not to say that Scott's 1964 Rambler Classic is a tire-squealin' speedster (although it is a bit quicker than other cars of its own year and make). You see, Skylar's old green four-door is one of the few alcohol-powered cars—probably the only one—that regularly commutes through the streets of the nation's capital.

"The car was given to me about 10 months ago for a token $1.00 payment," Scott explains, "by an interested party who wanted an ethanol-fueled auto operating where members of our government could see the vehicle."

And, since the idea of helping to awaken an official interest in alcohol power appealed to Skylar (who's an alternative energy proponent from "way back"), he accepted the vehicle and the challenge.

The "Classic" Conversion

Because alcohol doesn't vaporize as readily as gasoline—and thus isn't as easy to ignite—Scott's first job was to design what he called a "coldstart canister." "On chilly days, when battery efficiency is 60% or less," he explains, "pure ethanol just won't start a car without some help." Skylar solved this puzzle in a straightforward and inexpensive manner. He bought a used Ford electric window washer and pump (the unit with the white plastic fluid reservoir), then ran the "squirter" nozzle directly into the Rambler's carburetor venturi. "I filled the canister with gasoline," Scott says, "and—in cold weather—I just push the washer button on the dashboard to shoot a little petrol into the carb, and fire her up!" After the car has started, it draws alcohol through the normal fuel lines and will go on running without further need of the gasoline "boost." This portion of the conversion cost $5.00 (the parts were purchased at a junkyard) and consumed one hour of the amateur mechanic's time.

Of course, a few additional alterations were needed to make the vehicle into the kind of "foolproof" runner that would impress skeptical politicians. So, since alcohol has—in effect—twice the volume of gasoline, Scott drilled out the carburetor's main fuel jet with a jeweler's drill bit. This job took about two hours and could probably be performed by most service stations.

Finally, Skylar replaced the Classic's automatic choke with a manual unit (these items are available, for $6.95 in kit form, from most any auto parts store). This modification allowed the vehicle's operator [1] to be sure that the choke was open when the coldstart canister fired its burst of gasoline into the venturi, and [2] to "hand tune" the richness of the ethanol/air mixture as atmospheric conditions changed.

On the Road

And how does the alcohol-burning Rambler perform? "Beautifully," says its creator. "In fact, I've encountered a number of politicos who were skeptical about the value of 'farmer's fuel' until I took them for a ride!"

Although Scott's vehicle is now operating full time on 192-proof ethanol, the former senatorial aide has done a good bit of fuel experimentation along the way. "I've tried right-from-the-pumps no-lead fuel, a 50/50 mixture of lead-free gasoline and 200-proof anhydrous alcohol, 'straight' anhydrous ethanol, and—of course—the 192-proof 'shine that I use now. The anhydrous alcohol was necessary for the gasoline-alky mixture, as the water in lesser-proofed ethanols would cause the blend to separate."

Skylar has some interesting performance figures to relate, too. "The water in the 190-proof fuel isn't a handicap at all," he says. "In fact, I'm sure that I could run substantially more H2O in my 'mix' without any problems. Lance Crombie was absolutely right when he said that water in ethanol increases the burn and, because of this, actually provides more power per cylinder than pure alcohol!"

In order to prove this somewhat surprising statement, Scott quotes some acceleration statistics for the modified Rambler: "My best elapsed time, for acceleration from a dead stop to 60 MPH, was 18 seconds when I used gasoline. With the half-and-half gasoline/ethanol mix, the car handled my 0 to 60 test in 17 seconds, but the real surprise came when I used 192-proof alcohol. That old Classic perked up and hit 60 MPH in 15 seconds flat!"

Scott has been pleased with the ethanol-powered vehicle's reliability as well, although he'd be the first to admit that more road time (the car had over 8,000 "alcohol" miles on it when this article was written) will be needed to accurately assess engine wear and the like. "The auto still runs as well as—or better than—it did when I got it," he points out. "And I've checked the fuel filter regularly without finding any more particulates than are usual with plain old gasoline."

All in all, we'd have to rate Skylar's Washington, D.C. experiment as a "capital" success!


  EDITOR'S NOTE: Scott Skylar has agreed to provide MOTHER with a complete step-by-step article on how to convert most any car to alcohol fuels.  


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