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The 200 Mile-per-Gallon Carburetor: The Story of the California Carburetor

patentThe carburetor in the illustration on the right was designed by Roy Marks. Granted US patent number 710,330 in 1902, it, together with number 710,329 (Explosive Engine for Motor Vehicles), covered all the major features of the “California Carburetor.”

Like many of the day, it worked on the “surface” principle; it was basically a box in which the fuel was allowed to form a vapour that could be mixed with air and fed to the engine. (Today, that vapor, when it forms in the gas tank, is burned using the evaporation control system).

Mark's carburetor differed from most by using cotton to draw the fuel up onto a series of shelves (through wicking action) to give a larger surface area for evaporation.

There was no float chamber; the rider had to open the tap every so often and add fuel to the appropriate level, judging by the level glass on the front of the tank. Tricky to do while riding! Still, in practice, with fuel consumption claimed to be close to 200 mpg, one fill would keep you going between stops.

The 200 mpg carburetor has been found. It is real. It was a popular technology when the automobile engine consisted as a large one or two cylinder engine that ran at a fixed speed, not much faster than 600 rpm.

Throttle control technology had not been created yet. Engine rpm was fixed by some form of governor applied to the sparking system (if any) or to holding a valve open when the rpm increased above a certain speed. Road speed was generally achieved by using two forward gears — one gear used for a fixed low speed and the second gear for a fixed higher speed. Very rarely did the high speed exceed 15 mph.

The California carburetorTo build a 200 mpg carburetor for yourself [allpar does not recommend this], remove the lid from your air cleaner; remove the air filter, and fill the cavity with cotton cloth waste. Disconnect the fuel line from the carburetor and plumb it into the air cleaner using some form of a shut off valve similar to a toilet valve, [but capable of carrying fuel without damage]. When the fuel rises to a given level, it will be shut off.

As air passes by the gasoline-soaked rags, the fumes generated by evaporation would be sucked into the engine and the engine would run. Sort of, with a drivability problem or two, and the chance of a fire or explosion.

The carburetor butterflies would sort of control the mixture into the engine, but not well. When you shut the engine off, the gasoline would still be evaporating; the fumes would be obvious. But that could be solved by using a system such as the one boats use to vent the engine compartment before the engine starts to prevent explosions. In the winter, you could route the hot exhaust gasses up to the air cleaner to encourage the evaporation to take place, as long as you carried a fire extinguisher along and did not store the car indoors, there should be no real concern.

Also see the “200 mpg” Pogue Carburetor

The oil companies did not buy this patent! Why should they, it was hardly practical in the first place! It was used for a time, but automotive technology moved onwards and it was largely forgotten.

Automotive orphans

powered by 200 mpg carburetorWould it surprise you to find out that there has been over 5,000 different manufacturers of automobiles since the turn of  20th Century in the U.S. and Canada? That includes about 165 manufacturers that filed the proper paper work to become a company and never went any further than that. This does not count the thousand or so trucks made during that same time frame, powered by steam, electricity, and the gasoline and diesel engines. In many cases, these vehicles had a production run of under ten before they too became orphans, while others managed to stay in production for a number of years before they either closed their doors or were bought out by some other firm.

Being an orphan in this hobby is not necessarily a bad thing. We have at least one orphan car show a year that has always had a good review by anyone who has attended. The orphan population outnumbers the Corporate-aligned collectable cars includes such reputable cars as the Duesenberg, Marmon, and Pierce Arrow, along with Twombly (1913-1915), Veerac (1905), and the ever popular Smith & Mabley Simplex (1904-1907, produced in New York City).

Also see the Story of the Pogue CarburetorSo! Hedge a bet, if you see the opportunity to purchase an orphan from the early years, it might just be your financial ship coming in. Of course it might not.

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