How to save gas - Hypermiling 50 years ago!

Discussion in 'Articles' started by xcel, Jun 20, 2006.

  1. xcel

    xcel PZEV, there's nothing like it :) Staff Member

    Wayne Gerdes - - June 20, 2006

    Thanks go out to a friend, Brian Hardegen (some might know him from IC as Nemystic) for finding this wonderfully written and informative piece of hypermiling nostalgia. After reading the article, I bet most here will come to the conclusion that what some of our fathers and grandfathers performed and achieved differs little from what some of us try to achieve today! I added additional commentary in Blue. The more things change, the more they stay the same …

    Motor Trend - June 1956

    Image by George Fukuda

    Motor Trend Research Report by Pete Molson and John Booth​

    There is more then one way to get an A, as any school boy can tell you. So it is with saving on your gas bill. You can drive with an egg under your throttle foot, taking off like a tortoise, coasting downhill. Or you can go to the head of the class with driving tricks that up your mileage to 42 mpg! But don’t flunk by putting all your faith in the 101 gas saving gimmicks that claim to double your mileage.

    When the Ready-and-Waiting newspaper ads burst upon us after the finish of the 56’ Mobilgas Economy Run, they succeeded in confusing the public still further a mixed up motoring public.

    What actually happened? To General Petroleum’s credit, this years run was closer then ever to ordinary driving. Actual miles-per-gallon figures were not only believable; in some cases, stout owners announced with scorn that even old Betsy could do then that, and had. Nonetheless, it is extremely doubtful whether Betsy could have done nearly as well over the same distance and the dizzy heights.

    There were some strange-seeming upsets on the final score card but the startling record of the Imperial is firmly based on engineering theory, as well as agile footwork of its driver, Mel Alsbury, Jr.

    1956’s Mobilgas Fuel Economy Champion
    61.38 ton mpg - 1956 Chrysler Imperial​

    What winning combination did the Imperial have? Its weight played no small part in an astonishing lead of almost 10 ton miles per gallon over the second place Pontiac. (Ton miles equal pounds weight times miles traveled, the whole divided by gallons of gasoline consumed). It also had an engine plenty big for all the trips contingencies, yet not so big as to demand another drink at every opportunity. It had an efficient and quick shifting new transmission (TorqueFlite previewed in April MT) and a 2.92 to 1 rear axle; enabling it to take off with little wing-beating, to float along level, and to coast down the other side of the mountain with the torque converter spinning free. All this resulted in 21.042 mpg, an especially tidy figure when compared to the actual mpg of the other entries. Only the Rambler did substantially better; the Pontiac and Chevrolet 6, only other cars to better the Imperial’s mpg figure, did so by 0.068 and 0.130 mpg respectively! The Studebaker Champion, a car never intended to have an automatic transmission, was particularly hard pressed on mountain grades. This pulled its mileage down considerably.

    1956’s Mobilgas actual Fuel Economy Champion
    24.35 mpg - 1956 Nash Rambler

    Final Results 1956 Mobilgas Economy Run

    Special Limited Displacement ClassPlacempgton mpg
    Studebaker Champion220.0539.74

    Low Price Class
    Ford 8 (Customline)120.5247.76
    Plymouth 8220.6847.74
    Chevrolet 6321.1747.21
    Chevrolet 8420.7046.38
    Ford 8 (Fairlane)518.7544.25

    Low Medium Price Class
    Pontiac Chieftan121.1151.73
    Dodge 500220.9050.14
    Mercury Montclair319.1647.70

    Medium Price Class
    Oldsmobile 88119.7050.81
    Nash Ambassador Special V8220.7147.99
    Hudson Hornet Special V8320.4947.49

    Upper Medium Price Class
    Oldsmobile 98118.6750.95
    Buick Super217.7848.96
    DeSoto Fireflite317.8347.35

    High Price Class
    Buick Roadmaster317.4248.25

    Average mpg, all cars: 19.95Average ton mpg, 48.65Average speed, 40.99 mph

    Can you duplicate Economy Run driving on your vacation trip? Sure, if you want to, but you won’t have much of a holiday. You’ll never open a window, never turn on the radio or ventilating fan (it takes HP to run the generator), and you won’t drink any liquids because if you do you’ll have to stop occasionally, and stops waste gas!

    But how much would you actually save in gas bills? To give you a definite answer, we did comparative runs on a 56’ Studebaker Golden Hawk, equipped (unlike most of its fellows) with overdrive. Our mileage ranged from 17.25 mpg to 19.67 mpg to 41.59 mpg (that’s correct); all these are figures averaged over our entire course, which contained no steep grades and no heavy traffic. It wouldn’t be fair to compare them with actual mileages on the Mobilgas Run, but it’s intriguing to note that our average when driving as the Run drivers did was less then 0.3 mpg from that of all this years official Run cars.

    1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk
    Fuel Economy Test Vehicle​

    How We Did It

    17.25 mpg: It was no chore at all to get this healthy figure from the Golden Hawk. We drove as we thought most drivers would under ordinary conditions (not as they would 1st experiencing the Hawk’s incredible urge to go). We used Overdrive on the highway, but not in town; took off and stopped smoothly but without undue caution, and did not coast. Our windows were open because it was warm, and we played the radio when we felt like it.

    19.67 mpg: For the small margin, we had to sweat this one out. Up went all the windows (Lowers aero drag of course!), the Overdrive button was firmly pushed in and remained there, making possible some coasting below cut-in speeds (Sounds very much like our HSD and eCVT - 41 mph limit today in fact ;)). The Radio stayed off. As soon as the engine caught, we took off (this is of little import when the oil has been circulating, of course; but as practiced in the Run, it means more cylinder wear than makes sense). We drove far ahead of ourselves (Anticipatory 3 lights out - Hypermiling), making use of the brake or other sudden moves of any kind unnecessary. (Anyone here know anything about DWB :D). We cultivated a feather-light foot on the gas. In short, Economy Run driving takes all your attention, stern self discipline, and is no-fun. (No fun? Are they crazy :)). What price a 2-1/2 mpg saving? Yet there is one Economy Run tip on which you can’t lose, whether your interest is in economy, safety, or just being as skillful a driver as possible: that’s watching the road ahead, terrain, and other cars included. Not only will your mileage improve; as your new technique becomes habit, you will find you enjoy driving more. So will your newly relaxed passengers!

    41.59 mpg: This was easier to achieve than the 19 mpg. Here’s how to do it. With the transmission in high gear, accelerate with the throttle floorboarded to 25 mph. Then simultaneously turn off the ignition and push in the clutch. When the car’s speed has dropped to 5 mph again, turn on the ignition and start the engine by popping the clutch. Down to the floor goes the accelerator, and you’re off again! (I’ll be, extremely LS P&G from the 50’s!).

    An important part of this strange procedure, understandably enough, is to have the tires inflated to high pressures. Although we used a mere 45 psi, the originators of the method went as high as 110. (Sounds like the hot setup :D) The tricks we used might be of help if you found that you were running out of gas far from civilization. The antics of the men that who ran the original Shell Wood River Mileage Marathon were weird and wonderful, and netted them as high as 158.36 actual mpg. (So much for the Marathon Attempt being hot stuff :rolleyes:). They have, however, no practical value. (I don’t quite see it that way?)

    Some engine tuning was done, naturally, but it pales in significance before the other harsh measures. Here are some of the gimmicks used: Oversized tires with the treads filed off; extra high rear axle ratios; +SAE 10 lubricant in transmission, differential and front wheel bearings, (Mobil1 0W-20 anyone :D), planed cylinder heads to raise ratios very high; and disconnected fan belts. Combined with the very curious method of driving, they did the trick.

    What about bolt on gimmicks?

    Over 50 years of automotive manufacturing have produced a multitude of stock phrases designed to sell cars or accessories directly or indirectly. Most of these phrases pass with years, to be remembered only by a few automotive historians. Yet there is one that seems destined to be with us as long as man desires to go from one place to another. That phrase is “increased mileage”! Strangely enough it draws as much attention today as it did during the Depression or as far back as 1908. (Almost 100 years later and the same phrase is the norm once again!). This in spite of the proven fact that most new-car purchases pass up the admittedly more economical 6-cylinder engines in favor of today’s high output V8’s. (Where have we all heard this before? I must have the V8 or V6 vs. the I4? :(). Having purchased a new car, its owner is immediately on the lookout for some kind of device to cut down the lusty appetite for gasoline, that is inherent in his new engine. The only reservation is that he wants to keep the flashing performance he bought in the 1st place. A neat trick if it can be done but unfortunately you cannot get something for nothing.

    Most gasoline savers operate on the principle of a higher air-to-fuel ratio. In essence, this is equivalent to an abnormally lean fuel mixture. Under extreme conditions, it can cause burned plugs and valves. At best, mileage will improve to some extent, especially in traffic, but the torque output designed into the engine will be lessened in proportion to the fuel displaced by the increased air drawn into the cylinder. This type of gas saver is usually designed to replace the standard idle adjustment needle valve or is mounted in an adapter plate that installs between the carburetor and intake manifold.

    Still another type combines the increased air/fuel ratio with a vacuum-activated rotor which is supposed to “super mix” the gasoline and air for more complete combustion. (Sounds like an antique version of the gimmick called Turbonator today?). In addition, one manufacturer of this rotor-type gas saver claims it operates on the same principle as a supercharger, which is not actually true. Unlike a supercharger, this unit has no compressing characteristics. In theory, there is some merit in mixing the fuel and air with a mechanical device such as a rotor, but this unit is still essentially a method of introducing an abnormal amount of air to a given portion of fuel. As to the advertised horsepower this unit will produce, that is an exceedingly remote possibility on any properly tuned engine regardless of its basic condition.

    Another approach to the problem of increased mileage utilizes the same principle of increased air but it is variable in direct proportion to the engine vacuum and hooked up in precisely the same way as a vacuum controlled spark advance. The unit mounts between the carburetor and fuel line. Its advantage is a variable air intake which should reduce the probability of burned valves by its continued use, but the performance, ratio offers little advantage over air introducing types.

    It is a recognized fact that under certain conditions of acceleration, deceleration, rough roads, and long sweeping curves, the carburetor fuel bowl can over flow, producing a flooded condition that wastes a certain amount of gasoline. To overcome this problem, several fuel-regulator-type gas savers are on the market. Essentially their function is to meter gasoline to the carburetor under a maximum allowable pressure, which is variable or proportionate to engine speed. They have a tendency to prevent this over-flow condition, especially when driving over rough roads where pump pressure can force an excess amount of gasoline past the carburetor float valve while the float is being jiggled up ad down the uneven road surface. The regulator also eliminates the pulsating action created by the fuel pump.

    One maker includes a vapor lock dome to reduce the tendency toward this common problem, even though it’s rapidly being whipped with today’s fuels and engines. This type of gas saver will increase fuel flow efficiency to the carburetor and if working properly, cannot create any tendency toward burned valves or plugs with to lean a mixture.

    Other gas savers such as special spark-plugs, dual point ignition and dual exhausts, will contribute better mileage to some extent. They’ll do this without an inherent loss in overall performance, but by far the best gas-saving device is the driver himself. (How can it be said any better? Congratulations go to these two MT writers for being so visionary from the very distant past!)

    1956 Hudson Hornet V8 Special
    1956 Mobilgas Fuel Economy Competitor​
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2006
  2. philmcneal

    philmcneal Has it been 10 years? Wow

    hypermiling... its in our blood!!! I wonder if their bump start was as smooth as ours ;)
  3. HyChi

    HyChi Well-Known Member

    Great article! It's amazing to read how the quest for higher mpg has been around since the early days of the mass-market automobile. More amazing is that the contest was sponsored by an oil company! Was gasoline in tight supply at the time due to a sudden increase of the number of cars on the road? I also wonder how much gasoline these engines would use if the cars were as lightweight as those today.
  4. phoebeisis

    phoebeisis Well-Known Member

    Cheapskate dad bought 1961 Rambler 6 cyl-Aluminum heads!!

    I must have caught the FE bug from my cheapskate dad; he always had a little notebook in the glove compartment to record his mpg.He really disappointed my brother and me. He just refused to buy"a Big V-8" despite the common wisdom of the time " a 6cyl is too small if you want to use the AC". We lived in the deep south-near New Orleans-,so an AC was an absolute necessity.
    Well, in 1961 (maybe 1960) he bought his usual cheapskate, oddball car.It was a Rambler straight 6 with really high tech aluminum heads!! In later days he insisted he bought it for the flop back seats(they were pretty comfortable) that allowed you to catch a nap. Well, that aluminum head 6 cyl was absolutely one of the LEAST RELIABLE ENGINES EVER PRODUCED-ANYWHERE. It was Lucas Electric Prince of Darkness bad. It was 60's French car unreliable(he bought a 70's Peugeot later-another story).
    The headgaskets had to be replaced and the heads/block replaced-milled just about every oil change. It would be "fixed", and then maybe 500-1000 miles into the "fix" it would start spitting steam,coolant,oil out the exhaust,and from under the hood.The 1st hint was usually the water temp gauge pinning itself again.
    Of well, the Rambler that won this brought that 1961 engine to mind!! Luck,Charlie
    PS Dad bought a huge 1965 Plymouth Fury lll stationwagon to replace the Rambler stationwagen. It has a V-8; just a 318, but it lasted 150,000 extremely hard (2 teenage sons)miles before he sold it still running.
  5. tbaleno

    tbaleno Well-Known Member

    Great reading. It is kind of nice to look in to the past and see like minded people.
  6. tigerhonaker

    tigerhonaker Platinum Contributor

    I really liked the Article and I think we owe Wayne a Big Two-Thumbs Up for adding the parts in the Article that pulled {Yesterday And Today} together. :) That really to me helped show that Yesterday and Today are not that far apart.

    Thanks for the additional input and Comparison's Wayne. ;)

  7. phoebeisis

    phoebeisis Well-Known Member

    In the 1950's-1960's - 20 MPG was a brag!

    Thanks to Wayne for hunting up that article; it certainly shows the interest in FE isn't new.
    I must be getting old, because almost everything I read sends me down memory lane, and I drag bored folks along with me. When I was a kid-50's-60's, if you bragged about your FE( and folks did), your brag was "My car gets 20 mpg!". It was meant as a general statement of fillup mpg-no one bothered to say highway or city; many of us probably weren't aware of the huge difference between hy and city(and maybe the differences weren't as great since the CD's were much higher, and the weights were much lower).
    An honest 20 mpg was possible with some of the USA 6 cyl cars, and the VW got mid 20's-stunning mpg for the day. We also had some 4 cyl imports-MG,Renault, Triumph,Fiat etc that would get 20 easily enough.The early Datsuns got 20+, of course(they showed up mid 60's) In general, an honest 20 mpg was very good for a USA 60's car.
    20 mpg was roughly like claiming 40 mpg now from a current midsized car-Camry,Accord,Malibu-possible, but very,very uncommon day in and day out(Ignoring XCEL of course). Luck,Charlie
  8. tigerhonaker

    tigerhonaker Platinum Contributor

    Re: In the 1950's-1960's - 20 MPG was a brag!

    Hi phoebeisis,

    Well here is another Older Fellow that drove those cars in the 60's and 70's. Including the imports like the Triumph TR4-A IRS. Bright-Red of course.

    Enjoyed your Post and the trip back in time. :D

  9. phoebeisis

    phoebeisis Well-Known Member

    Cheapskate Dad also bought MG1100-fun little cars

    tiger/Terry, yeah, my old man was kinda frugal when it came to cars. I had forgotten he also bought -over a period of 3 years- 2 MG1100's. I gotta admit those little Brit cars were fun.He bought one from his cheapskate brother(for $500) and I don't know where he found the other.
    They weren't cool looking like your TR4-they were boxy looking little front drive cars. However, they were fun. Front drive was a novelity then, and my brother and I somehow got the idea that front drive gave cars some sort of magical handling properties. We would display this marvelous handling by driving it onto the levee(Mississippi river 50 miles upriver from NO) and slinging them up and down the sides. This was a real thrill ride since the slope was about 25-30%, and it felt like 60%! There were plenty of piles of manure and it had tiny 13" wheels, so we were really lucky it didn't roll.Of course, at the time we ascribed that to the magical powers of FWD!
    It was ~1964 or so and had typical Prince of Darkness electrics. It would literally break its points-it never seem to wear them away-they just broke!! It almost made up for this by having genuine toggle switches on the dash (like a James Bond car) , and the dash was real wood- it was a weirdly cool car..
    I blew the motor on one of them-literally blasted something(maybe a rod)- through the oil pan. It happened while a WOT-84 mpg indicated.We got it fixed(that might have been the origin of the 2nd MG1100- a donor)
    Those Brit cars were POS, but they were fun POS. Thanks,Charlie
    Hell of a lot more fun than a Rambler stationwagon!!
  10. lyeinyoureye

    lyeinyoureye Diesel Owner

    I was illustrating the changes in energy required to move different vehicles at different speeds on another BB and happened on this. Pretty interesting stuff...
    And this from another page.
  11. Pravus Prime

    Pravus Prime Banned

    Amazing how little things change, isn't it?
  12. Rosendale Roc

    Rosendale Roc New Member

    Great article.
    I didn't realize that there was a term for what I was doing, until I listened this AM on Air America, and heard Rachel Maddow talking about it. She interviewed Wayne Gerdes, and I was in awe that I had been doing these things all along. It all started with my first car.
    I had a 1964 Chevy Nova that consistantly got better than 30 MPG. That was with the GM straight 6. It was a boxy little number. Sporty too. It had a big chrome plated valve cover, because it was the SS model. Bucket seats that were indestructible. A 2 speed "slushbox" automatic. It was my first car, and I loved it. It was so cheap to run back in '74, during the first fuel "crisis." I went everywhere with that car.
    To think, that car was made in the beginning of the "muscle car" era!
  13. xcel

    xcel PZEV, there's nothing like it :) Staff Member

    Hi Rosendale Roc:

    ___Let me be the first to welcome you to CleanMPG!

    ___I can only hope there are that many more who will begin to push tanks as you have been for over 30 + years! To think that most have just started to think about and then act in a positive manner with regards to our waste of fossil fuels the way we have all these years with techniques such as these … You my friend are what I will deem an old pro! Congratulations for doing what we all should have been doing over our driving career and I want to personally thank you for it.

    ___Good Luck and welcome.

  14. jcp123

    jcp123 Caliente!

    Doesn't surprise me one bit. I've come across many Mobilgas economy runs, even Lincolns won them a couple of times.

    I do wonder why overdrives, reasonably popular in the 50's, went the way of the dodo bird until the oil crisis and the 80's resurrected them again?

    And I'm happy to see classic cars being vindicated. They aren't necessarily the resource terrors everybody seems to think they are. I have several articles documenting Cadillacs getting 17-20+mpg in the early 50's, and Lincolns not far behind! Even my '68 Mustang was capable of well over 20mpg on the freeway.
  15. macword

    macword Hypermiler Since 1972

    It's fun to see that others were hypermiling that many years ago. I started in the early 70s, even though no one really cared about mpg. In everything I've owned since then, it has always been a pleasure to see what my max mpg could be.

    Back when, if I could squeeze 18 mpg out of a '65 Mustang, things were good. Many straight six cars could do better if coaxed.

    The oil embargo of 1973 suddenly brought a new reason...gas lines and higher prices.

    It will happen again, and those of us who have learned to squeeze a few extra miles out of a gallon can only benefit by the experience.
  16. tigerhonaker

    tigerhonaker Platinum Contributor

    Hi macword,

    :D Welcome to CleanMPG :D

    Nice Post you did here. I like the way you think and you are correct in that fuel cost is going to only go one way and it is NOT-DOWN !!!!!!!!!

    Thanks for dropping by here and sharing your thoughts. ;)

  17. laurieaw

    laurieaw Sorceress of the North

    i can remember some of those old cars. i started driving in 1964, and a couple of my first cars were early 50s vintage chevrolets, and most had a manual transmission.

    what shocks me about the article is that for some reason, for the most part, FE has not made any overall improvements since then. :(
  18. macword

    macword Hypermiler Since 1972

    The lack of significant improvement in FE since the 1970s surprises me somewhat as well. Hybrid technology aside, a basic econobox such as a Civic could easily attain 35 mpg on the highway back then. I had a 1981 Honda Accord that got upper 30s. A friend with a Datsun 1200 used to brag about 40+ mpg.

    Cars are likely a bit heavier now, have more features, and more power. But they've also had 25 years or more to improve significantly over carbureted engines with cumbersome smog equipment.

    An honest question...can we attain 50, 60, or even 70 mpg without hybrid technology?
  19. Right Lane Cruiser

    Right Lane Cruiser Penguin of Notagascar

    Absolutely you can! I'm able to hit over 50 in my car with the right commute, Wayne (xcel) regularly nips at 60 in his non-hybrid Accord AT, Larry (DiamondLarry) was regularly getting 60+ in his Saturn before getting a Prius, and basjoos pulls insane numbers in his aero-modded '92 Civic. Have a look at the non-hybrid section of the Mileage Logs (in the green bar to the left) for more examples. :)
  20. desdemona

    desdemona Well-Known Member

    Back when I was a kid (ok I was fighting off dinosaurs not really in a car. :)), my dad used to always say things like "gas is too cheap. It needs to be $5 a gal so people won't drive so much."

    My dad was aware, even though gas was less than $1 a gal. (You see this was a LONG time ago). I think he was ecodriving back then as well, at least to some extent. When the big SUVs came out, he said they were obscene.


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