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Hall of Fame Rocker Neil Young Visits ODU Lab at Racetrack to Help His New Passion -- Fuel Efficient Cars

When Victor Seaber thinks of the whirlwind visit last month by famed rocker Neil Young and his team of fuel efficiency engineering experts, he almost has to chuckle.

"When we got the call they were coming, we didn't believe it at first," said Seaber, director of Old Dominion University's Virginia Institute for Performance Engineering and Research (VIPER) Engine and Drivetrain Lab at the Virginia International Raceway (VIR) in Danville.

"We got a call from them the day before, saying they were coming," Seaber said. "We thought they might stay an hour and a half. Well, three vehicles showed up, including a film crew, and they ended up staying three days."

Young, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee whose hits include "Heart of Gold" and "Cinnamon Girl," has a new passion - making the biggest, most fuel-efficient car anyone has ever seen.

Young and his team have modified a giant 1959 Lincoln Continental Mark IV convertible, called the LincVolt, to run on a combination of gasoline or alternative fuels, and a hydrogen generator. The vehicle is almost 20 feet long. "It's gigantic," Seaber said.

The team's goal is a vehicle that gets 100 miles per gallon on the highway. Off the assembly line, the 1959 Lincoln Continental Mark IV got a mere 10 mpg.

"The reason we're using this car is because the car doesn't go against the flow," Young said during his visit. "My theory is you go with flow and then the change will happen quickly.

"People want big cars. Let's build a big, smart car. What's the problem?"

The car has been entered in Progressive's Automotive X-Prize competition for fuel efficiency and performance. In order to be chosen for prizes, the LincVolt needs to break that magic 100-mph barrier, something that's far from a sure bet at this point.

Seaber's team used VIPER's instruments to fine-tune the single-rotor Wankel engine driving the generator in an effort to improve the vehicle's fuel efficiency. The generator engine and electric motor output were tested on the chassis dynamometer at VIPER's lab in VIR's north paddock.

Seaber said the whole experience was a little surreal. He was even rigged up with a wireless microphone so the film crew documenting Young's quest for the 100-mile-per-gallon Lincoln could interview him while he worked.

"But they couldn't have been nicer. They asked lots of questions. Neil himself was great, just a cool dude," Seaber said. "He's definitely quite serious about this."

Young's team is making a documentary out of their quest, which is due out in the fall.

The VIPER Engine and Drivetrain Lab serves three purposes at the VIR: providing testing services for academic and private-automobile projects at the track, conducting research on drivetrain mechanics and vehicle performance, and supporting ODU's aerospace engineering and motorsport science programs.

Virginia International Raceway is a multipurpose road racing facility located between Danville and South Boston. It hosts a wide range of professional and amateur track events, and is a hub for motorsports research for a number of universities, including ODU.

This article was posted on: April 7, 2009

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