Clean-Air Car

Posted by - - 1970s, Visionaries

In August 1970, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology sponsored the Great Clean-Air Car Race, in which 41 colleges and universities retrofitted automobiles with low-emission systems and then raced the autos across the country.

The project was intended to generate interest in low-pollution vehicles, in anticipation of new federal exhaust emission-level regulations set for 1975. Whitworth, the only school in the Pacific Northwest to enter the race, was given a 1970 Ford Maverick with which to study internal-combustion engine pollution and to retrofit.

Whitworth students assembled a Campus Clean-Air Car Committee to convert the Maverick to burn propane fuel, in partnership with Solar Gas, a local company. The actual race involved driving the converted car 3,000 miles, from the MIT campus, in Cambridge, Mass., to Cal Tech, in Pasadena, Calif. Students George Borhauer and Robert Axell, both ’70, drove the car. In addition to time driven and exhaust emissions, the cars were judged on performance and fuel economy.

Five days into the race, at the start of the next-to-last leg, the Whitworth drivers learned that they were among the top three scorers in their division (out of 32 internal-combustion-engine entries). In the end, Wayne State, in Detroit, Mich., won first place and Whitworth ranked 8th. But for the Whitworth students who followed the Maverick’s journey, the race was quite a ride.