The Shuttlebug Uses Economical Methane Fuel

The Shuttlebug, the MOTHER EARTH NEWS low-cost car, tests out using methane fuel as its source of power, making Shuttlebug even more economical than before.

| September/October 1975

  • Shuttlebug1
    It seemed only natural then—back in the fall of 1973, once the staff of THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS ® had [1] successfully produced methane from organic waste, [2] used that methane to fuel an automobile engine, and [3] begun to think about building an ultralight vehicle specifically designed to operate on this "homemade gasoline".

  • Shuttlebug1

The original inspiration for THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS® SHUTTLEBUG goes back at least to the very late 1940's . . . when Editor-Publisher John Shuttleworth — then a student at a small country grade school in Indiana — used to watch a King Midget automobile occasionally buzz past the playground during recess.

The King Midget, in case you've never heard of it before, was an ultra-small and ultra-light vehicle manufactured by Claud Dry and Dale Orcutt in Athens, Ohio from 1947 to 1969. The little car weighed just 690 pounds, was powered by a single cylinder, 12-brake-horsepower Kohler industrial engine, and averaged between 50 and 70 miles per gallon of regular gasoline. It was also a tough little machine that performed well on everything from rough trails north of the Arctic Circle to potholed tropical sections of the Pan-American Highway on both sides of the Equator.

That was the good part. The bad part was that the King Midget's right rear wheel — and right rear wheel only — transferred power to the road . . . which made the tiny car veer in one direction as it accelerated and in the other whenever it was slowed down. The miniature automobile also tended to float around a lot at anything over 40 miles per hour and, according to a test report in the January-February 1974 issue of Special-Interest Autos, the old KM was guilty of both understeer and oversteer — simultaneously! — as it was herded around a corner.

Be that as it may, Dry and Orcutt delivered a quality crafted product for the money (the price of the vehicle hovered around $550 during most of its manufacturing history and barely topped $1,000 at the time the car went out of production). And the two men are certainly to be commended for marketing a real alternative to bloated, costly, wasteful "regular" American automobiles for as long as they did.

It seemed only natural then — back in the fall of 1973, once the staff of THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS had:

[1] Successfully produced methane from organic waste

Heidi Hunt_2
7/24/2007 9:16:45 AM

Unfortunately, we have never seen the prototypes. The magazine was sold for the first time in 1986. Where those cars went we are not aware of.

7/24/2007 9:10:43 AM

I'd like to know what happened to the Shuttlebug prototypes. According to the article from 1975, three were built. Do any of them survive?

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