Who killed-Off the 376 MPG Classic 1959 Opel P1 fuel-sippers dream?
The subject of countless interviews for television, radio, film and print, this is the world-famous and world-renowned Opel Experimental prototype. It holds the world record to date for a gasoline-powered vehicle of its size and only mild modification from the original stock pushrod engine. This 1959 Opel achieved over 376 miles per gallon in Wood River, Illinois, in 1973!
If you haven’t yet heard the full story, this historic station wagon broke the world record for auto gas mileage in October 1973 with a highly modified engine which allowed the car to travel 376.59 miles on a single gallon of gasoline during a Shell Oil Co. contest at Wood River, IL.
In 1973 the 1959 Opel P-1 shattered world performance records at Wood River, Illinois with a whopping 376.59 m.p.g.
This near-original condition record-setter holds an important—and for many, nothing less than shocking—place in American automotive history. Competing as an experimental modification, the exploits of this street legal paradigm were widely reported upon prior to its induction into the Talladega SuperSpeedways’ Motorsports Hall of Fame, and cited in numerous industry reports and white papers.
Early MPG Milestones
The previous record of 49.73 m.p.g. was broken in 1939 by a 1947 Studebaker achieving mileage of 147 m.p.g.; in 1969, a Fiat 600 established a record of 244.35. In 1973, the 1959 Opel P-1 Hardtop discussed above shattered that record with its 376.59 m.p.g. result. Although heavily-modified experimental cars can today achieve m.p.g. of 2,000+ in specific test conditions, these high-performing road cars—Studebakers, Fiats, the Opel—perhaps demonstrate that fuel efficiency and performance are not so much a function of scientific possibility as will.
Documented Track Results
The 1959 Opel established its stunning record as it appears in the above photo—on a closed airfield circuit course at a stringently enforced minimum of 30 miles per hour (driving style was not restricted, but tuning modifications were limited to carburetor and ignition adjustments only).
Description and Modifications
The 1959 Opel is a CaraVan station wagon whose roof was chopped (lowered) and made into a pickup, with a 2-speed chain drive, 4-cylinder motor that is nearly completely insulated (including the entire radiator), a strange air induction (the carburetor has a ¾” bore), and a mid-engine replacement. Its rear wheels are connected to the center of the axle. The individual names of the Experimental Team members who developed and prepared the car are still proudly emblazoned on its rear deck.
Patented Gasoline Economization
A 1988 patent application by Paul M. Brown both cites and explains one theory behind the Opel’s record-setting performance: “The chemically correct air/fuel mixture for total burning of gasoline has been determined to be 15 parts air to one part gasoline or 15/1 by weight. Changing this to a volume ratio yields 8000 parts air to one part gasoline or 8,000/1 by volume. The system of the present invention vaporizes liquid fuel before the fuel enters the engine. Theoretically, a homogenous mixture can yield gas mileage in excess of 300 miles per gallon.