CANTON –A SUNY Canton alumnus and current online manager built a car that tied for first place in a most-efficient vehicle competition recently at Watkins Glen.
A February 1982 copy of "Mechanix Illustrated" inspired Jerry J. Bartlett, a 2004 graduate of SUNY Canton from Colton, to want to build a futuristic coupe capable of going 200 miles per gallon.
Recently his modified Urba Centurion tied for the Most Fuel-Efficient Vehicle award in the Toyota Green Grand Prix Doris Bovee Memorial Road Rally April 11 at the Watkins Glen International racetrack.
Bartlett is a learning systems manager for the online side of the college who loves to make modern technology more efficient.
"The Centurion is built on a 1966 Triumph Spitfire frame with a custom body made with fiberglass over foam," Bartlett said. "It runs on a three-cylinder Kubota diesel engine and can hit 65 mph. Attention to detail enabled the Centurion to rightfully earn its name on one of the most prestigious racetracks at the most unique green car and driver event on the planet."
During the first stage of the challenge, he and a passenger drove on the racetrack for over 100 miles against more than 40 other contestants. The award was determined by calculating time, distance and fuel economy of each car. He ultimately tied with a completely electric vehicle. "The competition is a challenge of your technology, your ability as a driver and your car," Bartlett said.
While building the Centurion, Bartlett modified the retro wedge design to be more aerodynamic, which gave him an advantage at the Green Grand Prix. The car is about 41 inches tall and the driver's seat is only about four inches above the road. He said the car performed better than taller, heavier, commercially produced vehicles during the rally because of its design.
The magazine article that inspired Bartlett 30 years ago now hangs on the wall above his desk. Early testing of the car began with hopes of meeting the 128 mpg touted in the article. The small displacement engine coupled with the low weight and custom gearing make it a desirable alternative to larger cars, especially when diesel fuel costs more than $4 a gallon.
His award came with a $1,000 prize. Bartlett donated all of his winnings back to the Green Grand Prix, which is a non-profit corporation. Robert Gillespie, chairman of the event, said the mission is educational and is used to promote sustainable transportation technologies. "This event is truly something I can stand behind," Bartlett said.
A fuel-efficient Centurion design had a big-screen debut. A version of it appears briefly throughout the 1990 movie "Total Recall" starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"As far as I know there are only three of these vehicles in existence," Bartlett said. "One is the car used in the movie and it is in California. Another is in the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, and the other is the one that I built."
Bartlett acquired the original wheels used on the "Total Recall" car for his own vehicle, but didn't use them for the race due to their weight. He also prepared for the race by dressing in a lightweight jogging suit and using a two-gallon fuel tank to reduce the weight of both the driver and vehicle. "Every pound matters when you are working with a 17 horsepower engine," he said.
An avid do-it-yourselfer, Bartlett previously built a diesel motorcycle which averages 115 mpg. He also made a hybrid-electric trike that combines human and battery power. He lives off-grid in Colton and powers his home with solar panels and wind turbines. "The whole thing is one big science experiment," he said. "Once you start, you can't stop."