MAX Wins 800-Mile Road Rally, Without Gas

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

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!

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