just wasn’t there. As if to prove it, GM exhibited a variety of experimental cars that May, all of which looked as safe and roomy
as a Barbie camper. The California bill was killed in the assembly
Transportation Committee — by one vote. Still, in 1972, Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson introduced congressional legislation
to outlaw the internal combustion engine nationally by 1975.
“Expert after expert outside the automobile industry has confirmed that we can produce alternatives to the present automotive engine that are e;cient, economical, quieter, and virtually
pollution free,” Nelson told Congress. By then, Detroit had fine-tuned their defense: banning internal combustion wasn’t necessary, they insisted. Banning leaded gasoline would do the trick.
If the oil companies would get on board, the president of GM
declared, the internal combustion automobile would be “fume-
free” by 1980. The New York Times characterized this as “an e=ort
to head o= attempts to ban the engine and force the auto makers
to produce electric or steam-powered cars.”
“Detroit intends to delay and stall when it will have to give
up on the internal combustion engine,” wrote Ronald Buel in
his jeremiad Dead End: The Automobile in Mass Transportation.
“If there is any sanity at all left in the political processes of this
country, that day is coming.” Buel’s book was published in 1972.
IT’S ONLY MONDAY, and folks on the Salt already look pink.
The Triplets have failed Tech a second time. They’ve been told to
add a bar for their harness and side windows so the driver can
see out. One of the Saline Burner’s many quirks is that it has no
windshield— just a clear nose. Gamely, the Triplets are sawing
holes in the car. There’s no run happening today.
Bob and I decide to check on the electric cars. We learn that
the Brigham Young team has had balance issues with their rear
tires and gone back to Provo to make some adjustments. Only
Ohio State remains on site. We drive out to the edge of the
pits, where a red tractor-trailer reads BUCKEYE BULLET. Under a
canopy, a college student is asleep in a folding chair. Another
team member is hunched over a laptop inside the trailer. He
tells us the car is having problems with its newly engineered
battery pack and is being tested out on an abandoned dragway
at the Wendover Airport.
HOT RODDING HAS ALWAYS BEEN about innovation. It began
in the 1920s and ’30s, when Detroit’s cars were underpowered;
car nuts would put engines from bigger cars into smaller bodies.
After the war, as Detroit turned out gaudy, living-room-sized cars,
hot rodders would remove the excessive “gorp”—fins, decorations, huge bumpers — that had been added to ensure planned
obsolescence. In the 1960s, when the Big Three began building
muscle cars — the Ford Mustang, the Plymouth Barracuda — hot
rodding declined. It returned in the early ’70s, when the energy
crisis and a raft of new regulations forced the auto industry to