MAX Wins 800-Mile Road Rally, Without Gas

Using straight vegetable oil for fuel, Jack McCornack and MAX took first prize in the Escape from Berkeley alternative fuels road rally.

  • road rally
    Sharon Wescott and Jack McCornack with MAX at the finish line of the road rally, victorious.

  • road rally

Woohoo! MAX won Escape from Berkeley! Perhaps now you have some questions ....

What’s MAX? It’s a superefficient DIY car we’re developing for the $10 million Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize competition. (See Here Comes the 100-mpg Car.)

What’s Escape from Berkeley? It was an alternative fuels road rally that went from Berkeley, CA, to Las Vegas. The theme was a half-in-jest look at a future without gas or money. The rules were you could start with 1 gallon of petroleum-based fuel; the rest of whatever propelled your passage could not be petroleum-based, and had to be acquired by bartering, begging or any other non-monetary means. The three-day route was planned for a 600-mile course that went over the Sierra Mountains at the 9,943-foot Tioga Pass, and then down across Death Valley to Sin City. It sounded like a good time to me and Sharon Westcott, one of my cohorts at Kinetic Vehicles.

For MAX’s fuel, we chose straight vegetable oil. We got a conversion kit from PlantDrive and installed it to work with MAX’s diesel engine. Thanks to MAX’s great fuel economy, we only needed a dozen 40-ounce bottles of cooking oil a day, which we begged from customers at grocery stores, showing our appreciation with commemorative T-shirts and copies of MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

Our main competition was the “Green Team,” led by Wayne Keith, which had a truck that runs on wood chips. (To learn more about Wayne Keith and wood gasification, read I Went 84 MPH in a Wood Gas Truck.) They were the pre-race favorites, but they had to pull a trailer to carry their wood, and MAX is certainly faster than a truck pulling half a ton of lumber. When Tioga Pass was closed due to a snowstorm, we all had to backtrack and the 600-mile race became an 800-mile race. By the second night, MAX held a healthy lead. On day three, we reached the finish line, winning $5,000.

From home (Oregon) to Las Vegas and back, we put 2,400 miles on MAX and averaged 55 mpg, which is great considering the mpg-unfriendly conditions we encountered. Now we’re looking forward to MAX being the favorite in next year’s race!

Wayne Whbite
2/23/2009 5:06:01 PM

Hi... Your website ( doesn't load. I get the following: "Network Timeout "The server at is taking too long to respond. "The requested site did not respond to a connection request and the browser has stopped waiting for a reply. " * Could the server be experiencing high demand or a temporary outage? Try again later. " * Are you unable to browse other sites? Check the computer's network connection. " * Is your computer or network protected by a firewall or proxy? Incorrect settings can interfere with Web browsing. " * Still having trouble? Consult your network administrator or Internet provider for assistance." Options 2, 3 and 4 have been checked as best as able. I've been attempting to re-connect as suggested by the first option with no success (several hours now). Are you having problems on your end? Inquiring minds want to know... Now on to another subject... What do you believe to be the minimum horsepower requirements for, say, a Ford Escort or, ideally a Metro conversion (or other similar small, lightweight vehicle)? Is there a thumb-width rule concerning weight-horsepower ratio that would apply? I'm asking because I'm in need of a small around-town beater. While I would go silly for an electric, the range/cost ratio of an electric conversion is impractical for my pocketbook. Used veggie oil appeals to me (I'm a proto-cheapskate). On the "net," I've found several used (and refurbished) Kubota diesel engines ranging from $1200 to slightly more than $3500. I'd like to be shopping for the "right" engine rather than hitting with a shotgun. WW

Jack McCornack
2/5/2009 12:31:43 AM

Elwain, if my 'in brief' was too brief for you, put "Kubota D1105-T" in your google window and click Search. You'll learn more than you ever wanted to know about that engine.

Elwain McKeen
2/4/2009 2:09:02 PM

Iasked for updates on diesel but left out the word engine oops. What kind of diesel engine or specs on engine used in MAX? Thanks sorry for the confusion.

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