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MAX Update No. 5: Keeping the Faith

As I've been putting MAX through its Lincoln's Axe phase, I've been thinking that there's more than one way to skin this fuel economy cat. 

Back in the '70s, we experienced what I've been snidely calling the Energy Crisis Lite. A small group of oil suppliers stopped selling us their stuff, and we went into such a panic that we even started buying fuel-efficient cars. Then those suppliers decided our money was as green as anybody else's, so they resumed selling us all the oil we wanted. 

Did we learn our lesson? 

Heck no — we've spent the last quarter century buying as much car with as much horsepower as we could afford, and we're in worse trouble now than we were back then. 

By "we" I mean our culture in general, though there have been exceptions — exceptional people who have kept the faith for automotive efficiency — and the No. 1 faith-keeper has been Robert Riley. 

Robert designed a build-it-yourself 100+ mpg car in 1980 called the Centurion. It was well-publicized in magazines and film (it appeared in Total Recall, one of the Governator's perils-in-space action movies) and he sold about 30,000 sets of plans for it. So why don't you see one on every street corner? Hey, what can you say, gas got cheap. I think it's fair to say the Centurion was ahead of its time. In my opinion, it's still ahead of its time. Maybe when fuel costs $20 a gallon, people will be willing to drive 17 horsepower half-ton cars, but from a performance standpoint, the Centurion was awfully .. .stately.

But he's right on time with what he's doing now. 

X3 hybrid 

This is the XR3, a three-wheeled, high mileage diesel-electric plug-in hybrid. People ask me to compare the XR3 to MAX, and I say, "The biggest difference is ..." 

And they interrupt with, "Is it that the XR3 looks like it came from the future, and MAX looks like it came from the past? That the XR3 has three wheels? Front wheel drive? Electric drive in back?"

I wait for them to run out of steam, and then I answer, "No, the biggest difference is the XR3 is a finished product and you can buy plans for it right now, whereas MAX is still in development."  

I have a set of XR3 plans, and they're excellent. As you'd expect, since Riley has the experience of delivering half a million plans for his various creations.

Photo courtesy Robert Riley
jose amram
3/6/2012 1:42:13 AM

Personally I would buy plans and start a build if a body kit were available. I really do not like to work with foam, as in the Vector plans I bought years ago (plus plywood was used almost exclusively in the chassis, not my favorite material either). The idea of 125mpg and over is great, plus a diesel can be run as a grease car, so there are lots of possibilities here, as well as the modular aspect, being able to convert it to a hybrid as battery technology gets better...I am waiting.

jack mccornack
6/1/2010 10:47:10 AM

GreggE, one of the advantages of Robert Riley's body fabrication technique is the builder can shape the body to suit his own tastes. The XR3 has a front engine, and that black thing on the nose (your description is spot on, imo) is an engine cover. If I were making an XR3, I think I'd do that part a bit different than his...and that's what makes plans-built cars more fun than kit-built cars.

gregg e._3
5/28/2010 8:39:07 PM

The XR3 is a re-work of the Tri-Magnum design and suffers quite a bit for it. The 'greenhouse' is the same as the Ti-Magnum, made mostly of three pieces of plexiglass curved in one direction. That worked great with the rest of the body that was built up from foam panels, the corners sanded off then everything fiberglassed over. Now here's the XR3, attempting to marry the top of a Tri-Magnum to a lower body that's all compound curves. It's not really bad looking... but what's that thing on the nose that resembles an elephant seal snout? It looks worse than a huge zit on 's nose.

ron rancourt
1/28/2009 11:06:16 AM

Another great 3-wheel vehicle is the Solar Taxi: - you put the groceries in the passenger seat.

11/22/2008 5:54:15 PM

I made an overlay of the Urba Car from plans that I bought from rqriley, and the new Smart for Two Car. I was amazed at how close the size and proportions are of the two vehicles. I wonder if someone isn't going to knock off this vehicles design too.

jack mccornack
8/20/2008 7:21:47 PM

Sorry Brian, I should have started my comment with a "y'all" instead of a "you". You and I both think they're the cat's pajamas; I was addressing the people who might consider them less than cool. Lukewarm, perhaps. My first car was a '59 Rambler station wagon with a straight six. The hot rod guys at my high school sneered at it and called it a girls car. How right they were.

brian a. stewart
8/20/2008 5:21:22 PM

I never said *I* didn't think they were cool! The general perception seems to be otherwise. Right now, with my current car not running right (it wants to go 50+MPH unless I'm riding the brake-- getting caught in a flash flood seems to have hurt it), I am hoping to find an old diesel station wagon since grocery shopping on my bicycle, or on foot, is getting old fast. (My other option would be to find someone to help me design and build a velomobile for grocery shopping, and just skip fuel altogether. Something like the CabBike would be cool.)

jack mccornack
8/20/2008 2:00:57 PM

You don't think mini station wagons are cool? How about the Nomad? The Volvo P1800? Or the coolest sport wagon ever, the XKE hearse in Harold and Maude. Aerodynamically, dragging a big box around on the back is a challenge, but there sure are applications where the ability to lug a bigger load would be worth losing a bit of mileage. But yes, the XR3 and MAX both demand you choose--do you want to take your spouse, or your groceries.

brian a. stewart
8/19/2008 7:17:34 PM

Well, with the XR3 my biggest question is: Where do I put the groceries? For an inexpensive in town car, I would mostly want it for running to the grocery store and other light hauling. I am not at all sure I can use the XR3, or, for that matter, the MAX for that. I realize that people might not consider them "cool" enough, but I have always preferred mini-station wagons as my basic, motorized transportation.