Converting Older Cars to Run on Ethanol...
Ask the Energy Wiz!

Q: Dear Energy Wiz,
I just read Ken Halversonís thesis on the Necessary Components of a Dedicated Ethanol Vehicle. I have a 1971 Chevy Chevelle and am interested in the possibility of converting its 350 engine with a Holley 4 barrel carburetor to run on E85 as well as E10. There are a number of rubber hoses, of different sizes, that are part of the fuel line (before and after the fuel pump) and connected to the carburetor. These are easily replaceable. Can I get these types of hoses at a local parts store?

The thesis outlines a number of issues regarding conversion, but I have a few questions: First, can this be done without too much effort or expense? Itís an older model, without fuel injection, so maybe that makes it easier. Would it hurt to try a half of tank to see how the car responds?

There are a number of rubber hoses, of different sizes, that are part of the fuel line (before and after the fuel pump) and connected to the carburetor. These are easily replaceable. Can I get these types of hoses at a local parts store?

The engine has an aluminum intake manifold. Is there an issue of galvanic corrosion? Do I need to replace the manifold? I donít think there are other areas of aluminum connecting with stainless steel, but there might be in the carburetor. I donít think this car has a fuel pressure regulator. If the fuel pump needs to be replaced, can you recommend one. The under-body fuel lines are stainless steel. Would there be any issue with the fuel tank in this model?

The issue of cold weather starting is a minor one because the car is a convertible and is stored in winter months. Perhaps an in-line Oldsmobile fuel heater as mentioned in the Halverson thesis could resolve this problem.

What do I need to do about fuel control and spark control? Do I need to get a new carburetor? Or can I adjust the fuel mixture with the one I have? It sounds like I need to get slightly cooler plugs. Any suggestions would be welcome. Does the timing need to be adjusted? Do you recommend replacing the original head gaskets with thinner gaskets? Should I have the compression ratios checked?

I know this is asking a lot, please provide any direction you can.
The Energy Wiz!
The Energy Wiz!


A: Dear Reader,
I've called Ford Motor Company, and what you are proposing to do is very technical. DO NOT simply try a tankful of ethanol blended fuel. From what folks at Ford told me, it doesn't take long to burn a hole in the top of your pistons, and cause other damage.

I also did some checking on conversion kits, and it looks like you probably wouldn't find any for the type of vehicle you have.

If you really want to drive a vehicle using E85, you might consider purchasing a used vehicle at a state auction since many state government fleets in the Midwest have owned flexible fuel vehicles for years.


Sincerely,
The Energy Wiz
Editor's Note:
The staff at the Energy Office respond to many inquiries on a variety of topics from Nebraskans. From time to time, the Quarterly will share some questions — and the answers — with readers.
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