Wayne Cook
September 14, 2007
Photos By: The Manufacturers, John Dickey
One of the earliest proponents of alcohol fuels was the old man himself, Henry Ford. He believed his Model T should be able to run on fuel produced by the farmer, so it's perhaps the first flexible fuel vehicle. Although the average farmer wouldn't have this model, here is a favorite Model T of ours-a Model T Speedster that shows up every year for the California Knott's Berry Farm show. Tank this thing up with white lightning and she'll do 80 with the right gearing and a tailwind.

E85 is an alternative vehicle fuel usually composed of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Gasohol is also a gasoline and ethanol combination, but the ethanol content is much less, usually around 10 percent. Almost any vehicle should be able to operate on the gasohol mixture, while the "Flexible Fuel Vehicles" now on sale as new cars are designed to run on either gasoline, the gasohol mixture, or E85.

The ethanol contained in both gasohol and E85 is an alcohol that's produced by fermenting and then distilling a variety of plant materials. Crops that can be used include but aren't limited to corn, barley, sugar beets, and wheat. Wheat and corn are excellent sources for ethanol production, however, the high value of these crops as food means that other biomass sources will need to be found. At present, the technology for converting wild plants such as shrubs and grasses into ethanol is still emerging. Once this can be done cost effectively, there will be a greater potential for solving our energy problems rather than by distilling crop materials alone.

During ethanol production, the sugar content of the plant material is extracted and the sugar is used as food by microbes during the fermentation process. The end result, which is the same as bootleg whiskey or "white lightening," is alcohol and carbon dioxide. Using ethanol as a motor fuel has several advantages. Besides reducing the amount of petroleum used, ethanol is also good at increasing fuel octane and reducing undesirable emissions. The increase in fuel octane means a higher compression ratio can be used. Engines with cast-iron cylinder heads can easily go up to an 11:1 compression ratio, while aluminum headed engines can go even higher. Spilled ethanol is nontoxic and doesn't require cleanup of hazardous-waste.

Getting your vintage-Ford engine to run on corn is only a little more complicated than this. In fact, the whole plant, including the kernels, cob, leaves, and stem, can be used to produce high-octane fuel.

One of the disadvantages of using ethanol as a fuel is decreased range because a gallon of it contains less energy than a gallon of gasoline. About 60 percent more ethanol is burned per mile compared to gasoline. Another disadvantage is that the distillation process used to produce the alcohol also consumes a significant amount of energy as the mixture in the still must be heated. With E85 there are additional corrosion and water attraction factors to contend with.

AED Performance carburetion scientist Jay Brockwell and his team of E85 technicians were extremely helpful to us in writing this story. AED has examined E85 fuel use from every angle and says the corrosion problem "actually occurs more on initial usage as the E85 acts as a solvent that cleans out any built-up residue, rust, or other contaminates present in the fuel tank and lines." This dissolved sludge runs right through the fuel system directly to the carburetor. So before using E85, be sure to thoroughly clean the fuel tank, filter, and lines. Some E85 pro-viders may use tanks that held fuel oil previously or might contain some water, so try to buy fuel from a high-volume dealer that has a dedicated E85 storage tank.

The operating parameters of E85 require finer adjustments than those for gasoline, and it can be more difficult to tune E85 for acceptable torque, power, and driveability. AED used a computerized "wet flow-bench" to determine a linear fuel curve throughout the usable rpm range at wide-open throttle.

At present, there is no aftermarket kit that can be used to convert a classic Ford vehicle to run on alcohol fuel. However, several E85 capable carburetors have been recently introduced and would be suitable for classic-Ford conversion applications. Let's discuss some of the modifications needed for your car's fuel system to successfully run E85 fuel. We'll also look at the new E85-friendly carbs.

To run E85 fuel in an early car, the fuel system must not have any bare or unprotected aluminum, magnesium, or rubber components as the ethanol attacks them all. Ethanol conducts electricity whereas gasoline does not, so any electric fuel pumps used must be nonconductive where the fuel transfers through the pump. Likewise, any rubber diaphragm in a mechanical fuel pump could be subject to failure.