â€œIt seems that the technology was truly forgotten and people still haven’t rediscovered it.â€
- Megan Sukys, host of KUOWâ€™s â€œSound Focusâ€
Hi, Aaron Henkin here, your host for the NPR Station Showcase with PRX. Each week on this podcast we shine a light on the excellent, original work thatâ€™s being produced locally at the hundreds of public radio stations across the country. This week, we tune in to KUOW in Seattle, Washington, for a conversation about a car that set a Guinness World Record back in 1973, a record thatâ€™s never been broken since. The car is called the Opel p1, itâ€™s got a stock engine, it runs on standard gasoline, and it gets 376 miles to the gallon. This car sat in a museum for decades, but it was recently bought by a car collector named Evan McMullen, who sat down to talk about his amazing discovery with KUOWâ€™s Megan Sukys. Hereâ€™s more from Meganâ€¦
What a wild discovery this car collector has made! How in the world did this technology get forgotten in the first place?
The car was created for a contest sponsored by Shell Oil Company. After the contest, it was inducted into the Talladega SuperSpeedwaysâ€™ Motorsports Hall of Fame. And, that’s where it stayed for years.
No one has yet found the story of why the Opel was sent to a museum, instead of an assembly line. I think it’s worth noting that the technology was not created by or for a car company that was looking to manufacture it.
(Evan’s story of the Opel reminds me of an episode from the first season of The Dukes of Hazzard, to be honest. 005. 02/23/1979 “High Octane” A contest for a workable fossil-fuel substitute offers the Dukes a big cash prize and an excuse to resurrect their old moonshine still. (It’s worth watching!)
And why aren’t engineers lining up around the block to get a look at the technology under the hood of this incredible vehicle?
Evan McMullen just bought the car at auction recently. He is now trying to get the word out about what he found. It seems that the technology was truly forgotten and people still haven’t rediscovered it.
Are there impediments in the way of pursuing this fuel efficiency system?
As Evan describes it, it sounds like the high-efficiency adjustments were relatively simple and straightforward. There was no complex technology. It used regular gas as well. So, there was not a special fuel.
Does it result in a car with a weak motor?
The car set the fuel efficiency world record by driving at a steady 30 mph. It was not a high-performance contest. But, the engine was stock, meaning it was not a modified engine.
Are the production costs prohibitively high?
Evan McMullen knows that the creators of the car were from North Carolina. But, he has not been able to track them down. So, he doesn’t know how much was spent to modify the Opel.
But, the changes were mostly limited to hard rubber tires, insulating the fuel line and reducing wind resistance to the body of the car.
Do you happen to know how much Mr. McMullen paid for the Opel p1?
He didn’t tell me the purchase price. But, he is planning to auction the car.
Tell us a bit about your radio background and the sort of work you do at KUOW…Â
I started working in public radio back in my home state of North Carolina: WRQM in Rocky Mount. There, I interviewed many of the artists and musician who live in the area. Before that, I worked in commercial pop radio, including a morning show in North Myrtle Beach, SC. Back in 1999, I came out to Seattle to try to break into rich radio scene in this area. I’ve worked at KUOW since 2000, developing my interview skills and collaborating with co-workers on the show we now host.
Tell us about the show you host out thereâ€¦
I’m the senior host of Sound Focus. There are four other interviewers on the show, all bringing in personal stories, like Evan McMullen’s. Sound Focus is an interview magazine that explores the character of the Northwest through personal stories. We ask people why they do what they do and how those actions shape their lives. Our guests range from political figures to bus riders, international rock stars to baristas.
So you’re on maternity leave now? Congratulations! How’s that treating you?
This is my second child. And, like with my first child, I am reminded that chaos is the start of creation. Caring for a newborn is confusing and crazy, but I know it’s the start of something wonderful. I just have to survive these first few months!
You can hear more from KUOW, Megan Sukys, and â€œSound Focusâ€ online at The Public Radio Exchange. Thatâ€™s where producers from around the world share their work. Log on, write your own reviews, and have a say in what ends up on the radio at www.prx.org.