This past weekend, over 7,000 hot rods, street rods, muscle cars and classics invaded Syracuse, New York for the annual Syracuse Nationals. This is NOT the eco-friendly event of the year; it is in fact, anything but. But I still love me some cool cars, and you don’t have to be a gearhead to appreciate classic sheet metal of this caliber.
But still, I was shocked to stumble across this 1972 Chevy Vega claimed propulsion by hydrogen. An alternative fuel car at a show full of dinosauce suckers? Where are the mobs and pitchforks?
You’ll have to forgive the cramped pictures because surprisingly there was a good sized crowd around this car at all times even though it was rather well hidden in one of the food alleys. I couldn’t find the owner initially, so I left him my name and number, and within about 20 minutes Mr. Tom Hamilton called me and we met. I had to know how he got a hydrogen-powered Vega past the gate keepers!
Well it turns out that this Vega isn’t 100% water powered. The “hydrogen powered” claim comes from a small hydrogen booster which enhances, rather than replaces, the existing power plant. Essentially just an electrode sunk in a vat of water and connected by tube to the air cleaner, this deceptively simple device increased Mr. Hamilton’s gas mileage significantly. The electrode separates the hydrogen gas from the oxygen, and then pumped the gas directly into the stock 2.3 liter motor. The motor still runs on gasoline, but the hydrogen boost provides a significant boost to mileage and required zero modification to the engine itself.
He managed to drive around 175 miles on half a tank of gas, and these Vegas only have an 11 galon tank. He estimates his mileage with the booster to be about 35 miles per gallon. A Time magazine article from 1973 listed the Chevy Vega with the 140 cubic inch motor at 21.5 MPG. That is quite the boost, and Mr. Hamilton says he isn’t quite done yet.
He plans to install small carburator jets, as well as adding a water injection kit. He found the car in a storage unit some years ago, though he has always been a fan of Vegas and has owned several of them. It might seem odd, but most of the time these small Vegas are modified to hold big block V8 engines, as their light weight and rear-wheel drive layout makes them ideal for drag racing. Mr. Hamilton also gave me some interesting leads on some other hydrogen-powered classic projects, so stay tuned. I hope to bring you guys some interesting cars in the near future.