Apr 2, 2009

$7,000 builds you a 70 mpg 0-60 in 7 sec...

What seats 5 gets 70mpg has a top speed of 140mph and does 0-60 in 7 sec?
Apparently my first car (tweaked out by top gear ;-)
Top Gear has declared war on oil, poverty and slow cars, all at the same time.
We naively proposed that we could build the car that no car company could manage to build themselves. Specifically, we proposed to marry timeless Italian style with thoroughly adequate performance (0-60 in 7 seconds), shocking fuel economy (70 mpg) and humble frugality (you can duplicate it for $7,000). And we decided to build it in 55 days. In retrospect, both symmetry and our own sanity would have been better served if we gave ourselves 77 days to pull this off, but no matter.
Maybe you have to own wrenches to grasp just how ridiculous is the idea of putting a modern (2002) engine in an old (1981) car. Putting a Jetta TDI engine in a Rabbit is an egregious abuse of the word "put." You can put your hat on a rack, and you can put a head of lettuce in your grocery bag, but try putting an elephant in your trunk. Easy to say, far more complicated to do, and odds are good something will go wrong when you try.
Each of these problems took hours — sometimes days — to figure out, and by the time we nailed our 0-60 in 7 seconds goal (that's faster than some 1980s Corvettes) and were ready to tackle the 70 mpg part, we had less than a week left and a lot fewer brain cells to work with.
There are two sides to improving fuel economy. You make the engine more efficient, so it takes less fuel to make power, and you make the car itself more efficient, so it takes less horsepower to move it in the first place. We've already done everything we can to make our horses more efficient — our new TDI engine is incredibly frugal, with tuning modifications that made it more so — now it's time to tune the car.
Our mileage test, then, becomes pass/fail. We'll fill the tank, drive 70 miles and fill it again. If it takes less than one gallon, we've broken the 70 mpg barrier.
It's ironic how squeezing the most out of every last drop of fuel — a selfless bit of environmentalism, if there ever was one — means driving like an erratic, self-important douchebag: Accelerating like a grandma, coasting up hills, etc. Our apologies to anyone within a mile of the Sipster who actually has somewhere to be. This said, we're complete novices at this hypermiling thing, so we're sure an actual hypermiler nerd could have infuriated drivers with better results.
Exactly 70 miles after we started, we clatter back to the same diesel pump, swipe the card and, with held breath, start pumping. The pump shuts off almost immediately. 0.14 gallons! No, that's not right. That would be 500 mpg.
Sometime next week we'll explain the financial realities of building a clattery, unreliable, silly-looking, fast, nimble and incredibly fuel-efficient Sipster of your own for only $7,000. And after that? You decide. Aside from replacing the fuel tank, what should the Sipster do next? Should we try to set a land speed record? Do the 12 Hours of Sebring without refueling?