posted on February 17, 2011 23:00
Project Sipster: Frugal Sipster (is what I was gonna call it)
Project Sipster: Sipster Indeed (is how it ended up)
by 2009 Dave Coleman with commentary from 2011 Dave Coleman
On February 20 (2009), TopGear.com America declared war on oil, poverty and slow cars, all at the same time. We naively proposed that we could build the car that no car company could manage to build themselves. Specifically, we proposed to marry timeless Italian style with thoroughly adequate performance (0-60 in 7 seconds) shocking fuel economy (70 mpg), and humble frugality (you can duplicate it for $7,000), and we decided to build it in 55 days.
We didn't exactly decide on 55 days. Word had come from the home office in New York that the project would finish, and Jared would be back in the office by April 1, no negotiations. Office politics trump science once again.
In retrospect, both symmetry and our own sanity would have been better served if we gave ourselves 77 days to pull this off, but no matter, one cannot change the challenge once one has made a declaration. It just isn't done.
In a perfect world, we would have started with a 1974 Volkswagen Scirocco. This paragon of low-rent sex appeal would easily swallow the turbodiesel Volkswagen engine we planned to use, and it's far more aerodynamic than the brick we finally settled on. We rejected that plan because we feared the bureaucratic hurdles involved in registering a car that had been converted from gas to Diesel. We have since been informed by countless readers who have easily registered Diesel-converted cars that we're complete idiots. That would explain a lot of other things too…
Having settled on a Volkswagen Rabbit instead, we really should have shopped for one that was cheaper (we paid $1,700, but should have paid closer to $0), hadn't been crashed, and that didn't have a fuel tank full of rust and french fry bits from its former life as a grease-powered hippy car. See idiot comment, above.
Maybe you have to own wrenches to know just how ridiculous this idea of putting a modern (2003) engine in an old (1981) car really was. Putting a Jetta TDI engine in a Rabbit is an egregious abuse of the word "put". You can put your hat on a rack, and you can put a head of lettuce in your grocery bag, but try putting an elephant in your trunk. Just as easy to say, but its a fair bit more complicated to do, and odds are pretty good something will go wrong when you actually try it.
Unconstrained by realism, we drove the car to Canada, where Cam Waugh, owner of CWS tuning, skillfully coaxed the engine under the hood, along with its turbocharger, computer, and hundreds of wires. Surprisingly things didn't really go wrong at first.
It ran, in fact, for a full 40 kilometers before we figured out the old fuel tank and new fuel gauge couldn't agree on what was in the tank. The gauge said half, but the dead Sipster on the side of the road clearly said empty. As soon as we made it to California, the car died again when our new fuel filter again filled up with rusty old french fries. Two weeks later, black smoke started belching out the tailpipe, accompanied by a distinct lack of quickness. Another fuel filter--this time a German one--and a new Diesel injection pump fixed it for a while, until, a few days later, it just refused to turn over.
Friday, February 18, 2011 12:36 AM
While the Rabbit does the job, I agree, the Scirocco would have been a better choice (a bit more aerodynamic), if you can call it that; capable maybe of squeezing out a few more MPG?!
Friday, February 18, 2011 4:04 AM
Great job, guys.
Car factories could easily produce new cars with this sort of MPG, but they opt not to. Go figure.
Friday, February 18, 2011 4:55 AM
Well the combo of great power, good efficiency and light weight are hard to come by these days. Especially the light weight part. Try looking back at the Saer Sipster article. I'd rather have that modern Jetta body wrapped around me and give up some of the mileage. Better to spend a few bucks on airbags and door beams than be dead.
So when are we going to see a turbo CRX that gets awesome off-boost MPG and super fun power on boost? This was mentioned in a Dear Dave many years ago...I think it's about time that idea was revisited. Or a Miata. Or something else nobody would expect.
Friday, February 18, 2011 10:39 AM
So what are the "real world" results of this car? If driven like "normal" what kind of mileage and acceleration are you getting?
Auto manufacturers choose not to build these cars, because they think we don't want them. How hard it it to make a Smart Car into a diesel and get the same MPG? Why don't we have more cars like the Fiat 500? Americans want SUVs and big trucks to show off their manhood. Why do you think the Ford F series sells (or sold) more than any other vehicle on the planet? (I think that's accurate)
Next up for Sipster or similar, should be a "real world" car that can do what Sipster did, but look good and perform well at the track for a reasonable budget. $7k is great. But what could you do for $10k? Can you make something the auto manufacturers would be interested in and be economically profitable? It's all about the bottom line.
Friday, February 18, 2011 10:43 AM
Jared reports that he's regularly getting 60 mpg when driving 80 mph between LA and San Francisco. Not too shabby!
Friday, February 18, 2011 12:45 PM
I totally agree with Jeffball610, I would also add that Americans are getting fat by the minute, and jumping into a Smart Car is not really that feasible by today's standards.
I'm all about safety, nimble cars n small-convenient cars. The Bluebird 510 for instance, or the Toyota MR-S, the Civic EF or EG, or the little AE86, or even the Lotus Elise/ Exige.
All these cars are all gone and will never come back because Americans need SPACE.....go figure.
Now Dave, focus on the Miatabusa and show us what it's got !
Friday, February 18, 2011 1:47 PM
"So when are we going to see a turbo CRX that gets awesome off-boost MPG and super fun power on boost? This was mentioned in a Dear Dave many years ago...I think it's about time that idea was revisited. Or a Miata. Or something else nobody would expect. "
That was me! hahaha I sent that letter in to Dear Dave a few years ago when I should have been studying for finals. I still have that magazine at my house too. I remember reading it and saying "hey that sounds like the email I wote" and sure enough it had my name at the bottom of the page!
Also, thank God you guys started MotoIQ. I was dying without my SCC.
Friday, February 18, 2011 2:45 PM
JustTheTip: I think I still have that issue as well! I have to ask with a lot of guys, when is the next "Drive by the big gas pump with a bigger Grin" next project car coming? I know that project Aprilla and Ruckus are the two wheel versions, what about the next four wheel variety?
Friday, February 18, 2011 2:46 PM
Those last two questions were for you Dave!
Friday, February 18, 2011 5:28 PM
Friday, February 18, 2011 8:28 PM
Is that a sky diver in the background of the "Sipster in the desert" at :30 seconds?
Saturday, February 19, 2011 7:28 AM
this series is full of win! good conclusion.
Saturday, February 19, 2011 10:28 AM
That's not a skydiver, its a paraglider (parachute + fan in your backpack). There were also 3-wheeled fan-powered go-Karts with hang gliders attached to them (not sure what you call that) and landsailers (imagine the unholy unuion of the aforementioned 3-wheel go kart and a sailboat), not to mention the Predator drones I talked about in the story. El Mirage is fantastically wierd.
Sunday, February 20, 2011 9:38 AM
Okay - time to retrofit this into a Scirocco and send the wrecked Rabbit body to the junkyard.
Sunday, February 20, 2011 2:19 PM
Where I'd like to see things go next would be an attempt to hypermile things to 100MPG.
Knock off the extra wiper blade and the side view mirrors. Fit some low rolling resistance tires with possibly a slightly larger overall rolling diameter and some further tuning to the engine.
Look at reducing frictional losses in the drivetrain: slipperier fluids, replace bearings if they're as old as the rest of the Sipster, WPC treatment?
I dunno what else, could the aero be optimized at the rear of the Sipster some?
Monday, February 21, 2011 10:23 AM
We did more to the aero than you can see from this story. There is one more story from the archives that actually explains some of what we did. I'll have that up soon. we had more tricks up our sleeves, but didn't have time to implement and test them. Also, of course, the base vehicle could have been better. Scirocco seems obvious, but a Volkswagen truck with a long, tapered cargo topper might actually be better. Or maybe some hybrid of the two...
Tuesday, February 22, 2011 7:09 PM
I wonder if you guys could do a 40 mpg, 4 second 0-60, 4k gas powered car. Maybe a Honda D series turbo in a first gen CRX or a 3.8L Buick V6 in a Vega or something awesome like that.
Saturday, February 26, 2011 3:09 PM
Now that my paycheck doesn't depend on knowing about the latest cars for sale, it took me awhile to learn that Subaru makes an aluminum-block diesel boxer motor. That needs to be put in a 914. Let me know if anyone can find a 914 that doesn't need to be restored from a bare shell for less than $10,000. Guess you could always use a 2.7L 911.
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