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Sleek Solar-Powered Car Outshines Competition in International Race

November 08, 1987|LORI GRANGE | Times Staff Writer

Its name is Sunraycer, but some call it the "Flying Cockroach." It cost millions of dollars to build, easily overheats, averages about 42 m.p.h. and is always out of gas.

But its creators--a leading car manufacturer and an efficient-energy guru from Pasadena--couldn't be prouder.

Sunraycer, a solar-powered car built by General Motors and designed by Paul MacReady, the man who built the first successful human-powered airplane, sped across the finish line near Adelaide, Australia, on Friday to win the world's first sun-powered car race.

The car took five days to complete the 1,864-mile World Solar Challenge, which began last Sunday in Darwin. Sunraycer was on the road only 44 hours and 54 minutes, averaging about 42 m.p.h. and finished more than 600 miles (about 2 1/2 days) ahead of its nearest competitors.

The high-tech car, driven by John Harvey, a top Australian race car driver, was greeted at the finish line by a cheering crowd and GM President Robert Stempel.

The race, which is still going on, attracted 25 entrants, including Japanese, West German and Australian teams and two cars designed by high school students. Five American teams are competing, including Ford Motor Co.'s Model S, currently in second place. A $200,000 car sponsored by Los Angeles-based Paul Mitchell Hair Care Systems dropped out early in the race.

Engineering Feat

Sunraycer's success means a $20,000 gold and silver trophy and worldwide publicity for the winners. It also represents a breakthrough in aerodynamic engineering, said MacReady, who relaxed in his hotel room Saturday in Adelaide while waiting for the other entrants to finish.

"The value of this is . . . to provide more efficient transportation while making fewer demands on the earth's resources," said MacReady, a renowned inventor of unconventionally powered aircraft.

"The success of the car doesn't mean solar-powered cars soon will be available on the market, but does make battery-powered cars more feasible . . . (and) this project is a springboard for work in that area, and their time will come at least three years earlier because of this race."

MacReady, president of Monrovia-based AeroVironment Inc., a research and consulting firm specializing in alternative energy sources and the environment, led a team of GM engineers in designing the car.

Efficient Machine

An emphasis on aerodynamic efficiency, a complex electronic system, a small but powerful electric motor and a streamlined construction allowed Sunraycer to go faster and use its solar power more effectively than its rivals in the race, he said.

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