MAX's* second year on the road

(a high mileage homebuilt for Mother Earth News)

*MAX now stands for Mother's Automotive eXperiment

Click here to go to the first page of the MAX saga—otherwise, read on for MAX's continuing adventures.

Winter '08-'09

Returning to Cave Junction from The EG and my harrowing adventure of The Great West Coast Storm of '08, I gave thought to MAX's liabilities as a winter car. If you click the link above, you can read about my motivation in excruciating detail, but this'll do for the short form.

Our "bikini top" roof might be fine for sun and wind protection, but in serious weather it went decorative on us. Besides, if I dressed well enough to stay warm, I could barely get in the driver's seat. There wasn't much to do at the shop (the storm had blown the power out), so I drove home, slipped out of my (from top to bottom, outside to in) leather helmet, ski mask, rain jacket, leather bomber jacket, sweatshirt, long sleeved t shirt, regular t shirt, Miller work gloves, rain pants, work pants, fleece lounging pajama bottoms, boxers, shoes, and two pairs of socks, and hit the sack.

MAX had to sleep outside, though. Can you guess why?

Next morning the power was back on (if you guessed MAX was outside because the garage electric door wouldn't open, you guessed right) and other than gentle snow, the storm was over. I dressed up like Peter Panda again and went cruising. At the EG, I'd described MAX as " all weather car—all the weather gets right in the car with you," and I expect I'll use that line again, but actally, with the roof and the clamshell fenders, it beats motorcycling by a bunch. If I'd holed up at my folks' house in Monterey for a couple of days, I wouldn't have had a storm to complain about, but where's the adventure in that?

Still, it's clear there is room for improvement in the weather protection arena. A second windshield wiper would be a nice feature and I'm sure my passengers would enjoy it.

By the way, note the headlights are on. I didn't give MAX a headlight switch. It's an awfully little car and in its Prisoner livery, it's mostly painted forest green. I live and work in the forest and I'd like people to know I'm there when the road winds among the trees, so when the ignition is on, the lights are on.

April '09

A friend (Chet Burdette, founder of )had to sell his very quick Miata-powered Locost and I decided it was time to learn how the other half lives. I've never spent serious time in a "normal" (meaning "stupid quick cop magnet") Locost so I went on an adventure; picked it up in WV, blatted northeast to PA, south to FL, west through LA, through TX, into southern CA and home to OR. Before I flew out to get his car, Chet kindly painted it to match MAX, since I felt Chet's sinister flat black paint job was too menacing for my tastes (and none too visible to boot). So MAX got a stunt double, and since the Brink episode about MAX was going into replay, a great many people recognized it from television--or thought they did; hey, what are the odds, right? Same driver, same paint job, gotta be the same car. Well, it wasn't, and with five times MAX's horsepower, I fell to temptation at times. You can read the whole story here, on the forum.

The photo above is Chet's last ride before turning over the keys. A bittersweet moment, but not the end of the world. He had fun both building and driving, he made a little money on the deal, and he can always make himself another Locost.

August '09

I've been swamped writing other stuff this year (paperwork for the X Prize Foundation has been a biggie, and that's behind us now) and have let this web site go fallow. I'll get back to it now, and probably write some backdated monthly entries as my copious free time.

We're soliciting suggestions from the studio audience for an improved roof and cabin. The convertible “bikini top” we made before The EG last year gave us mixed results; it met about half our goals and didn't come close on the other half. We have some better ideas now, thanks to the experience (as a wise man once said, “Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want.”), but you may have better ideas than we do and we'd be interested in hearing yours.

Here are four pix you can download for inspiration, or as Photoshop fodder, or whatever—you have our permission to use these four images as you like. If you're a Rhino user, let me know (via e-mail) and I'll send you out the Rhino file that generated these pix.

None of this is cast in stone. We're staring body construction from the front and working our way back, which gives us the opportunity for testing as we go along. It's a rather unorthodox approach, but we have unorthodox goals: not only do we want our body to reduce drag, we want our body simple and cheap. Forward of a car's greatest cross-section (the passenger compartment) the main drag reduction objective is to keep the airflow smooth and close to the body, as long as airflow isn't separated from the surface the body is doing its job. We can work on the front end while we're still thinking about the cabin and the stern, and if it doesn't work as well as we need, we can change the front end too. Our only real limitation on the cabin design is we're going to use flat glass for the windshield, but we're open to single panel or split windshield and feel free to move the roll bars around, redesign the stern, or whatever suits you.

October '09

We was robbed! Click here for the full rant, but here's the short form: many of our business records and all of our development records—everything from test documentation to computer generated bodywork files, every digital photo, every GPS log, every story not yet published, everything—is gone gone gone*. On the bright side, I've learned a fair bit since I drafted that body so the next version should be slightly improved.

The first beneficiary of our clean slate opportunity will be the rear fenders. Rear fenders were the next parts to run through the Foam Ranger (our 3D carving machine) but since I have to do-over the Rhino drawings anyway, the new fenders will have bigger corner radii, a shallower angle from the top of the seat back to the stern of the car, and steeper side angles from the wheel wells back...and while I’m at it, might as well completely enclose the rear wheels.

*PS This just in. You can add our incoming and saved e-mail to the missing in action file. Anything e-mailed to us before November 4 can be assumed gone and unrecoverable. Details have been added to the rant. Gosh, I hope it isn't my karma kicking in...or perhaps this is the answer to my prayers for a simpler life. Grrr.

November '09

We got lots of cabin drawings in response to our request in August, but thanks to the recent computer and e-mail festivities, the only drawings that remain either came by snail mail or were already on another web site.

This one was on the site, provided by a guy whose screen name is MiataV8. It has a lot going for it; the cambered roof would add some headroom and would pull air down and behind the car, but according to the textbooks (e.g. Aerodynamics of Road Vehicles, Hucho, SAE) if the green part of the roof were more shallow from the midpoint back (12 degrees is said to be optimum) and the rear window were steeper (30 degrees is the worst, anything different either way is an improvement) or a whole lot shallower (all the way back up to at least 12 and no more than 15 degrees). The Hucho book leans a bit on rules of thumb, but it shows the tests to back them up. Counterintuitive as it seems, a square backed station wagon has less drag than a 30 degree "fastback," all else being equal. Anyway, with a few angle tweaks this lime green hardtop would have less drag than the open cockpit version and it sure would be more comfy in crummy weather.

Below is a concept that came in an envelope, and I sure wish I could thank the guy who drew it but, well, his name is in the computers (the missing ones), and if you're him I'd love to hear from you. I apologise for the crummy reproduction, it's a flash photo of a color copy and the original looks better.

The general concensus for cabin entry is as in this drawing—the roof split in half and hinged along the centerline, and gull wing doors attached to the roof panels. More than half the suggestions we got were for some variation of gull wing doors and T-top roof.. From the top, the angles of the "boat tail" behind the cabin look a bit extreme (I suspect the airflow would detach from the cockpit at about the occupant’s shoulders) but I think we can test for that and if it’s too sharp an angle, use a Kamm tail rather than a pointy tail. Or we could make the tail longer...but I hate to do that, for both aesthetic and practical reasons. In theory we could reduce MAX’s drag if we lengthened the back by a couple of feet, but I think the stern would get run over in parking lots and besides, I’d need a bigger garage.

December '09

Okay, we've got a scheduling change here...

Sharon Westcott has been my friend and adventuring companion since the previous millenium. We've faced many challenges togetherEscape from Berkeley, two World Microlight Championships (her as US Team Leader, me as US Pilot), two James Bond films (as on-location techs and special effects aircraft designer/builder), the list goes on and on. Our current challenge is anaplastic thyroid cancer; she's got it, and dealing with it is our top priority these days.

She feels fine, but the doctors are all looking very solemn and MAX isn't going to have my attention this winter. And boy, this sure put the October burglary in perspective.

Go forward to MAX's third year on the road (2010)

Go back to MAX's first year on the road(2008)