SYRACUSE — Wawasee High School engineering students, led by teacher Allen Coblentz, are preparing two super mileage cars for the annual Shell Eco-marathon April 26-30 on the streets of downtown Detroit. One of the cars, diesel powered, will have four wheels, is larger and will actually look a little closer to a real life car.
It will be entered in a new category of urban concept cars and has been dubbed “The Transformer” and for good reason. “We took many components off the previous diesel car, such as the engine, front steering and the rear,” Coblentz said. “We want to reuse as much as possible.”
Since new ground is being broken for the urban concept car, a two-year goal has been set. The first year, the mechanics are being focused on such as rolling, moving, the drive train and steering. “Next year, we will work on the body more and make it look nicer,” he said. “I told the students we will be going from ‘guts to glory.’ We are just using simple materials this year since we are focused on the inside of the car.”
Ultimately the goal of building super mileage cars is to maximize miles per gallon as much as possible. With the urban concept category, though, miles per gallon will plummet. “There is more weight on the car and it takes more energy to drive it,” Coblentz said. He added the goal is to get around 300 miles per gallon the first year knowing 500 to 600 will be a typical range to aim for next year.
There are more size stipulations to follow for the urban concept category, such as the width between the wheels and more.
Wawasee will also enter an ethanol powered car, “Ethel,” in the Shell competition as it has in the past. Last year’s ethanol car was at under 900 miles per gallon and the goal is to break 1,000 this year.
The ethanol car will also be entered as an experimental vehicle in a competition Monday, April 10, at Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Indianapolis. “We will be competing against ourselves because there are not similar cars to compete against,” Coblentz said. “It will be more of a practice run for us.”
Eighteen years ago, in 1999, Wawasee entered its first ever super mileage car, one powered by a gas engine, in a competition in Indianapolis. “That car made about half a lap before breaking down,” he said.
Ironically, Allen’s son, Rhett, was born four days before that competition. Rhett is now a student in his father’s class and has helped build this year’s cars.
Each year since 1999, the program has grown even though most of the students are only building the cars for one year because they are seniors. “We rebuild each year and start fresh with new kids,” Allen said, but the ones who graduate will sometimes leave their plans and ideas to help the following classes.