Indiana High School Students Make a Winning 849 MPG Car

Craft & Design Education
Indiana High School Students Make a Winning 849 MPG Car


After 10 months of work and support from a volunteer team of parents and community members, a group of students from Mater Dei High School in Evansville, Ind. won the AutoZone’s Show It off America social media contest last week. The contest recognizes the best DIY automotive projects in the country. This spring the eco vehicle also took second place in the Shell Eco-marathon Americas competition for an ultra high MPG vehicle. At 849 MPG, I’d say that’s pretty high.

The single-person car has an aluminum frame and is powered by a 50-cc engine

“It felt great,” said 17-year-old team member Kyle Haas on winning the contests. “We put all that work into it.”

For nearly a decade, the parent and volunteer led team has been designing and making cars in Evanston and entering them in contests around the U.S. This year the team created a totally new design from scratch by first creating it in CAD, building a foam mold, and then a carbon fiber shell.

See the step-by-step progression of the car’s shell here:

32 thoughts on “Indiana High School Students Make a Winning 849 MPG Car

  1. Thomas Bruzan says:

    Wow, That car is truly a work of art, just gorgeous! My hat is off to you folks.
    Very best regards, Tom Bruzan, Mount Prospect Illinois

  2. Salman Sheikh says:

    It looks like they came in 2nd on the Shell page link to another car that got 1254 mpg from Laval University in Canada…

    1. Salman Sheikh says:

      Actually its 1254 km/l (the page default, mpg is much higher) but Laval is still #1 in both…

  3. Darrick says:

    It was actually 2,308.3 MPG according to the Shell page.

  4. Dax says:

    These eco marathon races are a bit misleading, because the way they operate is to run the engine for short periods of time only and then coast as much as possible.

    The tracks are usually built or chosen to have a slight hill or a gradient that they climb up first and then roll down the other side in a short loop to climb back up, and the competition is rather who manages to roll the furthest each time around, kinda like soapbox derby.

    All sorts of cheating is also possible, like “carving” with the wheels to allow the rider to add momentum to the vehicle by shifting his balance inside the car, almost like a person operating a swingset.

    1. Dax says:

      As an example, suppose that we have an ideal track that has a long steady downward gradient and a short uphill to climb. It would take extremely little fuel to climb up the hill and coast down, and that’s all the engine power you’d need to use.

      Suppose the vehicle weighs 100 kg with the rider, and the elevation is 1 meters. The potential energy increase is therefore about 1000 Joules, or the equivalent of 1/31,500th of a liter of gasoline. Adjusting for modest engine efficiency, they would still need just 1/10,000th of a liter of fuel to get up the hill. If the course is 1000 meters long, that would give you a mileage of 10,000 km per liter or 23,521 MPG if only the cars will roll along a gradient that shallow.

      So you see how it’s possible to get high mileages out of the eco racers just by picking a better racetrack that allows for minimum engine use.

      1. Darrick says:

        @Dax, Tricks or not, the headline of the article is way wrong. Also, it is still a High-School team that beat out many major Universities in the same competition, on the same track, and with the same opportunities to milk every MPG they could possibly get via “tricks” to extend the distance as you pointed out. So in the end, this school still deserves props for doing so well and should be encouraged. I was shocked to see my old High-School on the list.

      2. DW says:

        Dax, please don’t speak to something that you do not know the details. I am one of the advisors on the team and can clear up your statement. You are correct in the fact that the cars do what is called a coast and burn to improve mileage, but the competition is held on the downtown streets of Houston…no hills of any kind and not free of potholes.
        Here is more iinformation about the car. It is in the Urban Concept classification whereas the Laval car mentioned is a prototype car, which are much smaller and have fewer guidelines. 4-wheel hydraulic disc brakes, headlights, turn signals, wiper, luggage compartment and a host of dimensional requirements, all of which the prototypes do not have. This car won first place, Urban Concept gasoline division, at 849.2mpg.
        Thanks for the interest and visit the Shell site in April to see how we fair in 2014 competition.

        1. Dax says:

          Then I’m sure you’ll be happy to provide an elevation graph of the track used in the race to prove your point. I think you might be surprised how much the elevation can change going around a typical city block, even though it doesn’t look like it.

          It doesn’t take much of a gradient to give an advantage to cars that are designed to coast as far as possible. As long as they spend longer distances going downhill that uphill, they naturally improve in mileage, so the races should actually be ran twice – both ways around the same track – to cancel the effect.

          1. loupgaroux says:

            Congrats to these automotive engineers. Let’s enjoy the accomplishment rather than bash the details- they beat my little hyper-miler by about 818 mpg, regardless of how many mountains were made out of molehills.

  5. Rich says:

    Not much on personal safety equipment at that school. Pictures of guys spreading resin with only gloves. No safety glasses, or breathing protection. Another guy on the scroll saw with no safety glasses. Just saw one guy with a canister mask in the one picture. Not a good way to teach!

  6. Boyd says:

    DW, Congratulations on your team’s vehicle. I would be very interested to have the following information if it’s available- Coefficient of drag, vehicle weight, frontal area, engine HP and BSFC, and vehicle speed for this Cd. Thanks.. Boyd

    1. DW says:

      Sorry Boyd, but some of this information is not known.
      Body design was based off of a standard airfoil (# I don’t recall). We have never had the opportunity to do any kind of wind tunnel testing (virtual or real), so Cd is unavailable. The engine is a stock 50cc Yamaha which has not been tuned or modified to this date (HP ?). The car weighs 191lbs and carries a 155lb driver. Frontal area is 872 square inches. Cars must average 15mph over a 6.25 mile course (25min. time limit).
      Project this year is to build a chassis dyno to do some tuning on this car as well as our two prototype cars. So maybe we can get the BSFC in the future.
      Thanks for your interest.

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Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.

View more articles by Stett Holbrook
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