Photos from the Vault

Car that gets over 150 mpg rolls into San Luis Obispo

Engineer Glen Boulton, left, and driver and designer Doug Malewicki refuel the experimental California Commuter in the Madonna Inn Parking lot.
Engineer Glen Boulton, left, and driver and designer Doug Malewicki refuel the experimental California Commuter in the Madonna Inn Parking lot.

When buying a car, consumers often say they want fuel economy, but usually the choice is made on emotion rather than pure engineering.

For example, the California Commuter was a car far ahead of its time.

The streamlined mini-car set a real world fuel economy record, getting 157.192 miles per gallon in a route from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 1980.

It never went into large scale commercial production, but plans are still available online for $34.95.

On his website, under the heading, “CAUTIONS,” inventor Douglas J. Malewicki warns that the 230-pound car will lose any crash contest with a 3,000-pound automobile. He also notes that even a Hummer would lose when pitted against a tractor-trailer rig.

In addition, the car was not designed for winter snowfall, with no heater or defroster. The original prototype did not even have a canopy for rain.

Don’t even think of picking up a bag of groceries. There was barely room for a laptop or small briefcase in the nose and a lunch in the tail. Not even a cup holder was on the list of standard features.

The gas price in 1980 ranged around $1.25 per gallon.

Using the CPI inflation calculator, the $4,000 list price for the proposed production model of the California Commuter translates to about $11,500 in 2015 dollars.

Cars today look more like the California Commuter than cars of the 1980s. The streamlined jellybean shape has even been embraced by iconic auto makers like Mercedes and Jeep. Telegram-Tribune reporter Ted Jackovics wrote about the California Commuter in the Nov. 21, 1980, Telegram-Tribune.

Gasoline saver: Little vehicle astonishes CHP

Would Californians buy a $7,000 car that looks like a cross between a “Star Wars” spaceship and an Indianapolis 500 racecar and runs more than 100 miles on a gallon of gas?

Doug Malewicki, who designed a rocket-powered motorcycle for Evel Knievel, thinks so and hopes to begin production of the tear-shaped two-seaters in two years.

Malewicki rolled into San Luis Obispo Thursday on his way from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a single-seat prototype vehicle called the California Commuter.

The driver of the single-seat version lies flat in a cockpit like a soap-box racer and steers it with a small handle like the stick of a jet fighter.

“Driving it is like lying in bed,” Malewicki said as he filled the 1-gallon gas tank in the tiny vehicle that sounds like a motorcycle. It is licensed as a motorcycle but at first a California Highway Patrol unit at Woodland Hills wasn’t convinced the vehicle could be driven legally.

“They couldn’t believe it and pulled me over for a while,” he said. The officers then radioed other units along Highway 101 that the little white craft with a four-horsepower engine could sustain 55 mph and had all the proper registration papers.

Malewicki’s trip was to promote the idea of a specialized vehicle that has less than half the aerodynamic drag of a motorcycle.

He averaged about 150 miles per gallon in the Los Angeles-to-San Luis Obispo portion of Thursday’s trip.

Aerovisions Inc. of Irvine plans to produce and sell 500 single-seat versions at $4,000 and up before producing the two-seaters.