Miracle Mileage Claims
The Pogue Carburetor (1930), the Dobbs Carburetor (1934), and the Schwartz Carburetor (1966) are a few of a long line of contraptions that were claimed to get amazing gas mileage; claims that never quite panned out.
This gives rise to a belief among some that dark forces, manipulated by the oil and auto industries, keep these devices from entering the marketplace. The theory is that the corporate world deliberately keeps cars inefficient in order to pad profits.
The Mechanics of Miracle Mileage
First, a bit of technical stuff from a non-technical writer (cue the comments from folks who know what they’re talking about). The purpose of a carburetor is to vapourize gasoline and mix it with air to make it combustible. When hit with a spark in the cylinder, the explosion pushes the piston down, and that turns the crankshaft. Then, through a tangle of other mechanical gubbins, the rotation of the shaft ends up turning the wheel of the car.
The premise of the miracle carburetor people is that too much of the gasoline goes into the cylinder in droplets that don’t ignite; this ends up flying out of the tailpipe as pollution. In other words, its propulsive power is wasted.
“Aha!” think the shade-tree mechanics and basement tinkerers if we heat the gasoline before it gets to the carburetor more will vaporize and “Shazam!” we have the 200-miles-per-gallon car.
But, Cecil Adams at The Straight Dope exposes the theory as false: “While I don’t want to belittle blue-collar ingenuity, the vapour carb’s inventors are trying to solve a nonexistent problem.” Almost all the gasoline that's fed into a cylinder does, in fact, ignite.
MIT mechanical engineering professor John Heywood points out that modern carburetors deliver a fuel-combustion rate of higher than 97 percent. The inefficiency of the internal combustion engine is because much of the energy created by the exploding gasoline is lost through heat.
The other snag is that carburetors are old technology. Modern cars use fuel injection systems, but that doesn’t stop conspiracy theorists from claiming purveyors of skulduggery lurk just out of sight.
Carburetor Claims Fail Close Inspection
Charles Nelson Pogue of Winnipeg, Canada, built a carburetor (U.S. Patent # 1,750,354) that he claimed would let a car travel 200 miles on a gallon of fuel. Mr. Pogue said his invention completely vapourized gasoline before it got to the cylinders of the engine. The vapour burned more efficiently and delivered incredible mileage.
Incredible is the correct word, because the Pogue Carburetor has been thoroughly debunked by Snopes.com and others. There were no verifiable tests demonstrating Pogue’s invention worked as claimed.
However, don’t tell this to the true believers. One of these is Simon de Bruxelles who writes on his website, “The carburetor was never produced and, mysteriously, Pogue went overnight from impoverished inventor to the manager of a successful factory making oil filters for the motor industry.”
He adds that when tests proved the Pogue Carburetor worked, a panic sell-off of oil company stocks “rocked the Toronto Stock Exchange.”
Mr. de Bruxelles is careful to avoid pesky details such as company names and dates that might be checked for veracity.
Others tell stories of thieves stealing Pogue’s wonder widget, of wolfhounds guarding his workshop, of mysterious men in business suits carrying briefcases stuffed with cash, and of the Ford Motor Company buying all the carburetors and then making them vanish.
This is the common theme among enthusiasts; that corporate conspirators want to keep world-changing inventions from getting to market.
The miracle of the mysterious black box takes us to El Paso, Texas.
Tom Ogle, an auto mechanic in that fair city, did away with the carburetor and fuel pump and replaced them with a secret black box he called a filter. The black box was claimed to deliver huge distances on a teaspoon of fuel.
The abstract to his patent (4,177,779, filed in 1979) reads, “A fuel economy system for an internal combustion engine which, when installed in a motor vehicle, obviates the need for a conventional carburetor, fuel pump, and gasoline tank.
“The system operates by using the engine vacuum to draw fuel vapours from a vapour tank through a vapour conduit to a vapour equalizer which is positioned directly over the intake manifold of the engine.”
The El Paso Times (May 1977) quotes Ogle as saying “I’ve had the oil companies try to buy my unit with the agreement that I’d never build another. I refused to sell, and the only thing they had left was to try and break me in court.”
As with Charles Nelson Pogue, Tom Ogle has his fans. One of them is Frank L. Reister who posted the following on a blog called Pickens Plan: “Overnight Tom became a millionaire, and the American people, and the world for that matter, became the big losers. Incidentally, Monica Ogle, Tom’s wife, and their two-year-old daughter became losers as Tom was mysteriously murdered less than six months later.”
There are more astounding claims for fuel efficiency than you can shake a dipstick at.
Schwartz, Dobbs, and Fish are just a few of the names associated with carburetors claiming to deliver 200 MPG.
Stanley Allen Meyer boasted he had created a device that allowed a car to run on water.
None of these devices ever get on the market and there are lots of people who think they know why. The urban mythology industry thrives on stories of corporate dirty work suppressing brilliant innovations.
Some go further, suggesting that folks skilled in black ops are hired to bump off the geniuses who create these gadgets. It’s true that some inventors do disappear. But, this is more likely because people who invested money in devices that don’t work come looking for a refund.
Here’s the final word from Cecil Adams at The Straight Dope: “My main energy-saving strategy is to go only [to] places downhill from me, so I can just put it in neutral and roll. Admittedly this system has its limitations, but it works better than ‘200 MPG carburetors,’ which at best are a fantasy and at worst a fraud.”
The Reliant Robin
The Reliant Robin got good gas mileage but it had the disadvantage of being a bit tippy.
In 2010, a team of racing engineers from Lynchburg, Virginia won $5 million in the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize. The Edison2 Very Light Car (below) carries four people, obviously small and very close friends, and gets 102 miles to the gallon.
The Sunraycer was built by General Motors in 1987; it won a 1,800-mile race without using any gasoline at all. As its name suggests, it was solar powered, but it had a few drawbacks; it only carried one person and had no trunk. History does not record whether or not there was room for a pair of fuzzy dice.
False high-mileage stories, such as the one about the research car given away in error, never die on the Internet. A faithful General Motors employee was told to pick any car he wanted off the lot as a retirement gift. He chose a Chevrolet Caprice. After driving it for some time, he noticed the gas gauge hardly moved. As a good company man, he took the Caprice back to the factory, where it was realized he had been given an experimental vehicle that got fantastic gas mileage. The boffins who created this wonder car took it back, and the whole thing was hushed up.
- “Nobody’s Fuel.” Snopes.com, March 12, 2011.
- “Oil Industry Suppressed Plans for 200-mpg Car.” Simon de Bruxelles, rexresearch.com, March 31, 2003.
- “Tom Ogle’s Invention Resulted in 1,000% Increase in MPG & His Death!” Frank L. Reister, Pickens Plan, October 4, 2008.
- “Ogle’s System Convinces Engineers.” Gregory Jones, El Paso Times, May 4, 1977.
- “Has a 200 mpg Carburetor Been Suppressed by the Oil Industry?” Cecil Adams, The Straight Dope, July 28, 1989.