Consider it a modern-day Cannonball Run with a green twist. More than 60 teams around the globe – three so far from Canada – have registered to participate in the Progressive Automotive X Prize, a $10 million contest that aims to break our addiction to oil and reduce the effects of climate change.
In other words, it's a quest to develop the cleanest-running car ever made without sacrificing driving range or affordability.
No concept cars are allowed. The X Prize Foundation, a non-profit group trying to do the same with cars as it did with an earlier contest devoted to private space flight, says it only wants super-efficient cars that have a strong chance of reaching commercial production.
The contest will involve a cross-country race, starting in New York city in September 2009. From there, contestants will showcase their vehicles by driving a variety of distances through a number of U.S. cities. The race, with cars that run on biofuels, hydrogen-powered fuel cells, batteries and even compressed air – or a combination – will conclude in 2010.
Did I mention Neil Young is a contestant? The Canadian rocker has decided that if music isn't going to save the world, a super-efficient car that can travel 100 kilometres on two litres or less might.
"I think that the time when music could change the world is past," he told reporters in February. He said it's up to science, physics and spirituality to save the planet, and figures breaking America's addiction to oil will help end war.
Young, 62, has partnered with a wizard of a mechanic named Johnathan Goodwin, the owner of Kansas-based H-Line Conversions. Goodwin has appeared on MTV's Pimp My Ride
and retrofitted California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Hummer so it can run on hydrogen.
Goodwin and his team of engineers and scientists will convert Young's beloved 1959 Lincoln Continental MK IV convertible into a car that produces zero emissions, doesn't need roadside refuelling and can also act as a generator for a home.
Not that the half-century-old Lincoln isn't a home unto itself. This isn't any car – it's a 2.3-tonne monster stretching six metres in length, the longest car of its era. It stands dramatically apart from the other X Prize entries, many of which look like vehicles out of Blade Runner
or Star Wars –
a range of aerodynamic two-, three- and four-wheelers. One uses "spheres" as wheels, while others could pass as rocketships.
Young, whose team is called Linc Volt, is trying to prove that people can drive the cars they want without having to sacrifice efficiency or the environment. Indeed, the team's website at www.lincvolt.com
touts the effort as "Repowering The American Dream."
Young is documenting the car's conversion and its race across the United States in a film, also called Linc Volt
. The movie, produced by Shakey Pictures, is being directed by Bernard Shakey – a.k.a. Neil Young. "The main ingredient for working on this project is refusing to believe that some things are impossible," said a quote on the website from thermodynamics expert and team member Uli Kruger.
Toronto-born Young, a U.S. resident who has maintained his Canadian citizenship, declined a request to chat with his hometown newspaper. "It's a little early for us," said manager Elliot Roberts, saying Young will talk when the car is on the road and ready to compete. "Hopefully in weeks."
We do know the car will be battery operated, and according to a recent AP story Young has put about $120,000 into the project. The rock legend initially wanted the vehicle to run on biodiesel but decided to switch to electricity.
More details emerged earlier this month from a report in the Wichita Eagle
. An enterprising reporter dropped into Goodwin's shop and, despite Young's dislike of media attention, got him and Goodwin to open up a bit.
"Johnathan and this car are going to make history," Young told the reporter. "We're going to create a car that will allow us to stop giving our wealth to other countries for petroleum."
In late May, according to the Eagle
, Young and Goodwin took the car for its first test drive with its prototype power system. It was a 19-kilometre trek, and Young remarked that the car accelerated fast and was quiet. But the two almost crashed when a makeshift knob that controls acceleration was twisted the wrong way, speeding up the car and almost rear-ending another vehicle.
He then told the reporter, "You can't change the world by writing songs. But we could change it with this car."