One sleepless night later and the Sipster is purring like a kitten with tuberculosis. BBC America already booked a flight to ship their editor back to New York, leaving us about 3 hours from the time the car is fixed to the time he has to be on a plane.
Our mileage test just became pass/fail. We’ll fill the tank, drive 70 miles, and fill it again. If it takes less than one gallon, we’ve broken the 70 mpg barrier.
Starting at our favorite gas station in Seal Beach, California (our favorite because they sell Diesel cheaper than regular unleaded) we’ll drive down the freeway to Dana Point, California, exactly 35 miles away, turn around and come back. Getting good mileage will mean driving slowly, like 55, which is tough to do on a Southern California freeway where the average is more like 80. Trucks here still have to go 55, though, so we can duck in behind one and let them both push the air out of our way and take the blame for screwing with traffic.
About 5 miles into the drive we remember an important detail about truck drivers. They apparently don’t work on Sunday.
It’s ironic how squeezing the most out of every last drop of fuel–a selfless bit of environmentalism if there ever was one–means driving like an erratic, self-important douchebag. Our apologies to anyone within a mile of the Sipster who actually has somewhere to go. Keeping our fuel economy up doesn’t only mean clogging the slow lane, it means engine braking at the first sign of a red light (even if it’s half a mile away), accelerating like a grandma, coasting up hills, and–this is the only fun part–carrying absolutely as much speed as possible through corners so you don’t have to accelerate on the other side.
As fuel economy tests go, this one was pretty chickenshit. We had planned to do a full-tank drive. We had planned to get a Prius and go nose-to-tail with it somewhere far away. We had all kinds of ideas for how to get a realistic picture of just how frugal the car was. But when the boss says the story is done, the story is done, so we did the shortest test we possibly could. Jared literally left for the airport directly from the gas station, then fell asleep in the terminal and missed his flight to New York. Hell of a way to celebrate our accomplishment.
Exactly 70 miles after starting, we clatter back to he same Diesel pump, swipe the card, and, with held breath, start pumping. The pump shuts off almost immediately. 0.14 gallons! No that’s not right, that would be 500 mpg.
Diesel is like beer; pour it hastily and it’s all foamy head. The foam was just working its way up the filler neck and shutting off the pump early. To get an accurate measurement, we have to turn away from the tantilizing numbers on the pump and stare down the Sipster’s filler neck, dribbling fuel down the side of the neck to quash the froth. It’s a painfully slow process, but finally the fuel reaches the top. One more drop, and it will start dribbling down the fender.
This is it. If the number is bigger than 1, all the bloody knuckles, all the sleepless nights, all the stress and favors and promises would be for nothing. Tempting as it is, procrastination is pointless. We turn around and there it is: Zero point eight three three gallons. Covering 70 miles with that little fuel works out to 84 mpg. We didn’t just meet our spectacularly arbitrary goal, we crushed it. 84 mpg is nearly double the highway rating of a Prius. Ok, yes, a Prius would probably do pretty well if you drove it with all the hypermiling tricks we just tried over the last 70 miles, but let’s be realistic. Prius drivers never drive like that.
Sometime next week we’ll actually explain how to build a clattery, unreliable, silly looking, fast, nimble and incredibly fuel efficient Sipster of your own for only $7,000. And after that? You decide. Aside from replacing the fuel tank, what should the Sipster do next? Should we try to set a land speed record with it? Should we try to do the 12 Hours of Sebring without refueling? Should we fill the tank, drive as far as it will take us and then try to start a new life wherever we land? Hit the TopGear.com America forums and tell us. (Yeah, don’t bother, the forums are gone.) If you have any really great ideas for it, though, Jared still owns the car, and he has proven to be rather suggestible…)