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This blog may not have any impact for you if your state does not sell E85, but chances are there is a place in your area that sells this alternative fuel. For most car owners, E85 probably isn't worth the money or hassle of modifying your fuel system and other components, but there are a handful of reasons why it may be beneficial to some. I will explain what E85 is, why it may or may not be beneficial to you, and the basics of how to modify your muscle car (hint, hint), and where to get more information
What E85 gasoline is
The word E85 derives from the terms "Ethanol" and "85%". E85 is 85% Ethanol alcohol. This alcohol is created from bio sources which is mainly corn, switch grass, and coming up soon, garbage. There is a pretty big political question of whether this is sustainable and even energy efficient to produce fuel this way, but we will not get into that in this article. Alcohol makes a perfect motor fuel. The first real engine, patented by Nikolaus Otto in 1877, ran on alcohol. The Ford Model A ran on many fuels, including alcohol. But then oil was being easily pumped out of the ground, and the oil industry basically put out the little independent farmers overnight.
Alcohol has a high octane, which prevents engine detonation (engine knocking) under high loads, and burns cleaner. Carbon and gum deposits do not build up on internal engine parts when alcohol is used as fuel. Alcohol based engines also run cooler, extending engine life.
Why use E85 in my classic car?
The positives of using E85.
1. Possible engine performance - This may be possible if your engine has high compression ratios (probably above 11:1), since alcohol burns cooler than standard gasoline. This means you will be able to increase the ratio even more, producing more power but using less energy. I have heard of compression ratios up to 16:1 . Yikes!! Yes, it is more energy efficient, but as I will get into the cons, it takes about 15 - 20% more alcohol to produce the same amount of power.
2. Emissions and buildup - emissions are reduced greatly when using E85 and other alcohol based fuels, and if you don't really care about that, know that the dirty pollution being spit out of your standard gasoline engine also builds up inside your engine. Just know that what burns cleaner, leaves your engine cleaner.
3. E85 has a motor octane rating of 104-108 - it drops air intake temps dramatically, which helps in creating power. With the lower temperature, it’s true operating octane rating is around 115, which is in the range of racing fuel.
4. Ease of modifying – maybe I shouldn’t say it’s easy (I haven’t done it myself), but it is easier to convert an older car to run on E85 than a newer car, which is probably controlled by a computer.
Cons of using E85 on your classic car
1. 15-20% more fuel required – it takes more E85 to produce the same amount of energy as regular gasoline, so your fuel economy will go down 15%-20%. Since E85 is usually cheaper than standard gasoline, that may not be a big issue. Also, since you probably only drive your classic car or muscle car only sparingly, it shouldn’t affect your wallet too much
2. Limited availability – E85 is not available in all areas, and if it is, it may be scarce. Doing a search by my zip code (Minnesota), I found over 60 stations with E85 within a 25 mile radius. The same search in Salt Lake City, Utah pulls up only 3 stations, and one is government only.
3. Price of modification – Modifying your classic car to run on E85 can be expensive. More than likely you will need new gas lines, fuel pump, carburetor, fuel filter, and jets. You will need to do the research for your particular vehicle, but it will probably be a few thousand dollars. I will get more of how this is done in the next section.
Basically, modifying your muscle car to run on E85 only makes sense if you are trying to get more compression and power out of your engine. If you have an older classic car that you are not interested in adding more power to, this modification probably isn’t for you. You will not get better gas mileage, and for the price, you will not see any added benefits (other than a cleaner burning engine and emissions).
How to modify your muscle car to run on E85
First off, I have never done this myself, and secondly, each car will be unique in what is required to properly tune it. Please post any questions you have, specific to your make/model in our classic car forums
The first step you will want to do is replace your rubber fuel lines with urethane or steel lines. Alcohol can eat through rubber. Some say this is not true, but my take on it is that this is probably the easiest and cheapest part of the modification, so why skip it, especially if it does cause problems down the road. A Teflon lined braided steel hose works well. You will also want to install a fuel pump without any rubber components, which any large car parts or performance parts shop should carry. Remember, racing cars have been using alcohol for quite awhile, so parts are available.
You will next need to replace your carburetor and fuel filter. I suggest starting out by talking to your favorite performance parts shop. Fuel injection systems can also use E85, but the jets need to be larger in diameter to allow more fuel to pass through. You will also need to look into raising the compression ratio. This is needed since the temperature is lower when using alcohol as a fuel. The higher compression ratio will help ignite the fuel properly. This will of course help in performance.
E85 and alternative fuel resources
A great site to check for alternative fuel stations in your area is http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/stations/find_station.php
This page has scientific details on how alcohol burns as a fuel, compared to standard gasoline. Don't worry, it's not "too" technical. It is a good, short read.
About the Author
Daniel Fehn is a web designer, a huge classic car and truck fan, and a wannabe mechanic currently living in Minneapolis, MN. I designed and built timelessrides.com so I could share my enthusiasm for classic vehicles, and created the classified ads section for all to buy and sell their rides for FREE.
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