Alternative-Fuel Vehicles Cross the Country

During the 1981 Future Fuels Rally, competitors raced across the country in experimental vehicles with alternative fuels, such as ethanol, wood gas and more.

| January/February 1982

Regular readers of this publication are no doubt aware that members of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' research crew spent a great deal of time and effort preparing both our wood-burning truck and our ethanol-powered van for the Los Angeles to New York City "Future Fuels Rally" sponsored by Shepard Electronics, Inc. of Rochester, New York.

Well, the big event was held during the week of October 17-24 in 1981. Though there were — as could have been predicted in an undertaking of this magnitude — a few disappointments along the way, 20 vehicles rolled into the Big Apple powered by just about everything but petroleum!

Challenges With Homemade Fuel


As with any competitive affair preceded by ballyhoo and huzzahs, there were a lot more people who talked about participating than there were folks who actually paid their entrance fees. But, when the green flag dropped, 38 entrants pointed their vehicles east and bade farewell to the City of Angels en route, through nearly two dozen checkpoints, to New York City (via Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, Illinois and Ohio).

Unfortunately, a number of occurrences marred what could have been a fairly smoothly run event. To begin with, the size of the purse (at one point said to total $300,000) was held in question just days before the rally . . . putting a burden on many people who'd made financial sacrifices in the hopes of recouping their expenditures in the end. Then, in Los Angeles, it was indicated that the procedure by which the various wood fuels' BTU values were to be measured (there were four wood-powered entries) would be changed, which many felt, worked to the disadvantage of the liquid-fueled vehicles, whose rates of consumption were being measured very accurately. To make matters worse, a tragic accident just outside Phoenix left rally coordinator David Carmichael badly injured and very nearly shattered the contestants' hopes of continuing the rally according to plan.

Despite the setbacks, however, the show did go on. An impromptu "yea or nay" conference, held in Albuquerque by the drivers left in the group, settled any doubts as to the future of the race: "We're going to New York, rally or not!"

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