View Full Version : Featherfoot Champ

Big Bad AMX
01-13-2005, 05:53 PM
Featherfoot Champ -- From AMCs Americana Magazine
By Bob Irvin

Coaxing the best gas mileage out of your car isn't hard if you follow a few simple guidelines offered by American Motors' veteran engineer Les Viland.

"There is no mystery in economy driving," says Viland, who knows what he's talking about. Viland has driven Ramblers to 11 class titles in Mobil Economy Runs, and posted the best overall mileage of 24.09 mpg in this year's run from Anaheim, Calif., to Indianapolis, Ind.

Viland calls economy driving "a fascinating and absorbing game of skill." The most important technique is maintaining a smooth, steady speed, he says, cautioning people to avoid jack-rabbit starts and sudden stops.

"Every time the accelerator pedal is pushed down, an increased gasoline charge is put into the engine," says Viland. "Sudden braking wastes the energy created by the gasoline already burned in the engine."

If your car has a manual transmission, Viland recommends that when accelerating, you shift into second at about 5 miles per hour, and into third at between 15 and 20 m.p.h.

Viland suggests that to avoid suddenly hitting the brakes, you should anticipate probable stops.

"Often the need for braking can be avoided by a slight adjustment of car speed," he says. "As soon as it becomes apparent that a stop will be necessary, the accelerator pedal should be smoothly released and the engine allowed to assist in braking the car before the brakes are gradually applied."

He also lays to rest the commonly held misconception that it's better to let the engine idle than to stop it and then restart the powerplant.

"When parked or stopped, if only for a few minutes, the ignition should be turned off," he says. "Idling requires a rich fuel mixture‑about one‑half gallon of gasoline per hour is consumed. One minute of idling will consume more gasoline than is required for restarting."

"Cool it" is Viland's advice for city driving. "This type of driving requires the greatest amount of self-control and alertness," he says, adding that "common sense, courtesy and willingness to go with traffic rather than fighting it brings the best results. Losing one's temper invariably causes the driver to do something that will waste gasoline. Instead of competing in `traffic light sweepstakes,' it is far wiser and more rewarding to play an economy game."

Driving in hills and mountains always uses more gasoline, Viland notes. "It takes more fuel to go up and it is often unsafe to coast down without using brakes," he says, but adds that "certain driving techniques can minimize the adverse effects."

He suggests gradually increasing speed when approaching a hill, something which may eliminate or delay the need to shift into a lower gear.

Also, he says, "It is best not to wait until the engine has lost its speed and forward movement is reduced to the point where `lugging' begins, before shifting to a lower gear."

If you drive regularly in the mountains at altitudes of 5,000 feet or more, Viland recommends having the carburetor adjusted for a leaner mixture. "Carburetors are normally adjusted for sea level operation and this setting gives a wastefully rich mixture at extremely high altitudes."

On long trips, plan ahead. Pick the best surfaced roads and bypass congested areas, Viland recommends. Try to avoid rush hour traffic in big cities. Take the best advantage of good weather.

Viland admits that advance planning for along trip may sound complicated, but he says it's actually easy and requires little time. "It's part of the interesting `economy game' that can make a long trip seem shorter."

But before you do anything else, get your car thoroughly inspected and serviced. Car care is even more important than driving technique if you want to save gasoline. "Motor tune‑up, including correct ignition timing, is an absolute must for top fuel economy," Viland said. "Drivers may not realize their cars need a tune‑up because the loss in performance is often so gradual."

Besides plugs and points, engine compression should also be checked. "Malfunctioning valves and stuck piston rings lower engine compression‑with adverse effects on fuel economy and power," he said.

As for plugs, Viland says that if they're faulty, you may waste as much as two gallons of gasoline every time you fill the tank. A dirty air cleaner can cut fuel economy by as much as 10 percent.

The gasoline you buy is important, too. "Only good gasoline or the grade recommended by the car manufacturer should be used," says Viland.

"Gasoline can also be saved by asking station attendants not to fill the tank to the cap. This avoids spillage and the leaking of gasoline through the cap or vent if the temperature rises and causes the gasoline to expand."

Don't neglect the tires, wheels and brakes, either. Tires which are soft--under-inflated--can seriously affect mileage by increasing rolling resistance. Viland suggests the tires be inflated five to six pounds above recommended pressures for top mileage on long trips with heavy loads.

Gasoline is also wasted by tight wheel bearings and dragging brakes, something which can be easily checked merely by jacking up the car and seeing how freely each wheel spins.

Viland also has some words of caution about speeding. "High speed is the enemy of fuel economy. At 30 mph, about 25 percent less fuel is used than at 60 mph, and fuel consumption is almost 50 percent greater at 80 mph than at 50 mph."

Drive safely because it can save you money.

Viland notes that those few extra drops of gasoline used in a fast start or in cutting in and out of traffic can quickly add up into dollars.

He figures that these techniques, coupled with improper car care, can cost a motorist $75 a year if he averages about 15,000 miles behind the wheel.

Viland's watchword is courtesy. "An economy driver is a courteous driver and a courteous driver invariably is a safe driver," he says. "I can't emphasize this enough. So give the other guy a break."

BOB IRVIN is automotive editor of The Detroit News.