By on December 17, 2009

miraculous goings-on under that hood

My gig is to wander the streets of Eugene and hopefully stumble onto something worthy of your attention. Sometimes, my wildest expectations are exceeded, and then exceeded again. Walking down Willamette Street, I see the distinctive rear hatch of what I take to be a Pinto. Nice enough. But no, this is a Mercury Bobcat; quite a find in this day and age. I start snapping away. And then the owner shows up and tops it all: he’s converted this Bobcat to a steam injection system of his own invention, and it’s going to pull twelves in the quarter mile and get 75 mpg. Incredible! CC 69 043 800

Incredible indeed. Oh, and I have a 200 mpg carburetor design that the oil companies paid me a fortune to not reveal. But let’s not jump to conclusions before we’ve given his years of (still incomplete) labors its fifteen minutes of fame. The fact that he’s using a 1978 Bobcat as the basis of his rolling experiment alone deserves attention. It also makes it easier to imagine what kind of stereotypical personality this inventor is. Why didn’t I ask him to pose with his car?

Before you think this is all some BS hype to jack up our stats or some old recycled April 1 post, I did take pictures of his steam injection system from a photo in his album, and we popped the hood to confirm evidence of his currently partially-dismantled set up. There’s the steam “distributor”, copper lines, kaneuter valves, etc…this is not just some glorified water injection system; the “steam” will be 500 degrees hot, and rapidly expand in the cylinder. Damn; in all my excitement, I forgot to ask him how he was going to heat it up, without using a boiler of some sort. I’m sure he’s got it covered though.

He showed me detailed drawings and photos of numerous valves, manifolds and other components worthy of an overly complicated home hot-water heating system. And I heard his sad story of living on disability income; how he was using food money to try to finish building the components so that he could qualify for a $270k DOE grant or something like that. And he assured me that when (if) the Bobcat was completed, twelve-second quarter miles and 75 mpg economy were a slam dunk. Sure, I see no problem; but he might consider some bigger rubber on the rear wheels before he sets out to prove his claim on the drag strip and vaporizes those little 13″ tires.

steam system currently under further developmentYou might be wondering just what drove him to using a Mercury Bobcat for his little steamy wonder (I was), other than a quirk of personality. There’s a reason. Well, it didn’t exactly have to be a Bobcat, just any of the millions of the Ford vehicles that used the 2.3 OHC Pinto-derived engine, which still powered Rangers until quite recently. The later versions of that engine had a twin-plug setup, and held the key to fitting the steam injectors, which are clearly visible in the picture. His engine came from one of these Rangers, but because its fuel injection system was too complicated not suitable to the inventor, he went to considerable length to convert it back to a carburetor set up. Steam injection: good; fuel injection: not.

Its not like anyone makes adapter plates for that particular job (converting back to a carb intake manifold) either. He showed me pictures of his handiwork, and told me plaintively “you have no idea what it took to make that adapter by hand”. I didn’t ask what he meant “by hand”, but I hope some power tools were involved along the way. Moving along…

He anticipates a four-fold increase in combustion chamber pressure as the result of the steam injection. He made reference to the Crower six-stroke engine, which I’ve read about, but somehow he had invented the solution to incorporating the gasoline combustion and steam expansion cycles into one. Maybe I was just hungry and had low blood sugar, but his explanation is all a bit hazy today, despite this encounter taking place just yesterday. I’m just not going to make a good venture capitalist. I’m sure the DOE will have an easier time of getting it.

and I thought it was just a pintoOr perhaps I was just distracted with his Bobcat. They’ve become almost as rare as six-stroke engines. Mercury’s “grill engineered” Pinto was offered to a less-than-enthusiastic public from 1975 through 1980. It was Mercury’s desperate response to the 1974 energy crisis, but never sold more than at a tiny fraction of the Pinto’s sales numbers. 1978 was a particularly inauspicious year to buy a Bobcat, if performance was even vaguely on your mind, which it probably wasn’t. It marked the low-water year for engine output: the 2.3 (pre-steam injection) made 88 horsepower, and if that wasn’t enough, you could spring for the 2.8 V6, rated at 90 hp. That probably represented one of the more expensive horsepower-per-dollar investments.

In 1981, the Escort-rebadge Lynx chased the Bobcat from the scene. Makes me realize I haven’t seen that species from the house of the sign of the cat in a long time. Maybe I’ll stumble upon one soon, and it will turn out to be be powered by a cold-fusion engine. Otherwise, it’ll be hard to top this scalding-hot Bobcat.

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41 Comments on “Curbside Classic: Incredible Steam-Injected, 12 Second 1/4 Mile, 75 MPG 1978 Mercury Bobcat...”

  • avatar

    Boy are you gonna feel silly when this hits the market in a couple of years…

  • avatar

    Even the best ICE is only about 50% thermally efficient. Not sure how he plans on generating steam, but IIRC, I spoke with some guys at  BMW who were playing with this years ago.

    I don’t have the time to do the math, but reclaiming some of the (much) wasted heat energy in an ICE scenario is certainly not a crackpot idea. Turning that wasted heat energy into work will definately help the mileage and power.  

    Glancing at the photos, the layout looks plausible. Wish I still traveled to Eugene, I’d love to see it.

  • avatar

    See, bright metal side window trim does make a car “upscale”.

  • avatar
    Cole Trickle

    I hope the man doesn’t get word of this new development aimed at putting the oil companies into the poor house.  Could mean curtains for your inventor.  Perhaps that is why he wouldn’t pose for pictures.  Was he wearing a tinfoil hat?  It is harder for the man to listen to your thoughts if you wear a tinfoil hat.

    • 0 avatar

      Mock thee not the advantages, nay the necessity of proper defletive headgear. Failure to properly disperse the controlling brain wave signals of “the man” could lead to consumption of the Kool Aid and the purchasing of a Pinto derived ICE personal transport system. This link should suffice for temporary protection.      

  • avatar

    Its a long wheelbase pinto.

    • 0 avatar

      There was no difference in the wheelbase of the Pinto and the Bobcat. That was the Comet and the Falcon.

      You got extra trim, double the Pinto/Maverick tailights in the rear and the Lincoln inspired front grille with different turn signals. The 78 refresh is where it all went horribly awry….

  • avatar

    That’s one of the best hatch-back windows of all time.

  • avatar

    How timely that a Bobcat (’80) figured as one of my most regrettable purchases ever, just in yesterday’s QOTD.  If only I had fitted it with the steam injection system, my mpg could have jumped from 14 to 75.

  • avatar
    Facebook User

    A combination of extreme obliviousness and complete refusal to comprehend the most basic laws of physics that only Eugene, Oregon could (and does) cultivate.

  • avatar

    What a great find!   I would think by capturing the heat, much in the same way a turbo utilizes exhaust heat to spin the turbine, steam could be generated.  But can it be done with  less complexity and weight than a turbo?  Probably not.  We’d have to fill up and carry not only fuel, but water as well…

  • avatar

    Smokey Yunick was experimenting with something in the 80s, before he died ,that involved super-high compression and recapturing the heat loss to put it to good use — I believe an article about it was written in Car and Driver, but during the test drive the engine knocked quite a bit (something Smokey claimed he would be getting rid of shortly.)

  • avatar

    That was awesome.  The steam angle and do-it-yourself inventor angle made my day.

  • avatar

    I really like where you are taking TTAC!  I’ve heard Eugene marches to its own drummer.  Curbside Classics confirms this.  I gotta get up there sometime.  What’s next?  A Mazda Cosmo outfitted with window louvres and a Chevy 350?

  • avatar

    Don’t you just love the railroad ties (landscape timbers?) attached to the front and back ends?

  • avatar

    What next? A granola-powered ’72 Maverick?

  • avatar

    Fantastic find. One of the more character filled owners no doubt.

  • avatar

    I appreciate his determination, but I see a problem.  500 degree steam is MUCH cooler than the combustion gasses.  Recovering waste heat is great…but trying to extract energy from it by injecting it into the chamber on the power stroke is a bad idea.  It’ll prematurely cool the gases already in there, probably lowering overall efficiency & power if anything.  The steam is being generated from some kind of engine waste heat no doubt, and this energy must NECESSARILY be cooler than the temperature in the combustion chamber.  Unless he’s injecting enough steam, at greater pressure than is already in the cylinder, to counteract the pressure loss from the cooling effect, this thing won’t work.
    The crower 6-stroke, however, is an excellent idea.  It injects water separately from the combustion stroke, which does the necessary engine cooling by flashing to steam, and extracting a little extra work in the process.  Power won’t be very good on that stroke, but what little power you’re extracting is made from waste heat and is essentially free.

  • avatar

    One benefit of an old car (at least here in California) is that you are exempt from a variety of emissions rules, making modifying the car at least a possibility.

  • avatar

    Beyond the ‘Crower’ 6-stroke  (actually rather old, dates back to the early 1900s, Crower’s just the latest to improve it) there are plenty of legit companies working on exactly this type of tech.

    Google ‘BMW steam hybrid’ and check it out, if you don’t believe. There’s several others doing the research as well.

    For the flat-earthers who joke this is a foil-helmet-miracle-carb conspiracy, go back to thermodynamics 101. This really is science, not BS…

    • 0 avatar

      If you inject the steam into the cylinder on the power stroke, you’re going to cool down the combustion gasses, reducing power and efficiency.  There are ways you can extract waste energy from steam.  This isn’t one of them.  Yes- I’ve taken two years of thermodynamics.

    • 0 avatar

      BMW’s idea used a seperate steam engine driven by steam created from the heat from the ICE’s exhaust heat. This guy’s idea is to inject the steam into the ICE during the power stroke. He basically created a less efficient EGR system to cool the combustion chamber. This guy can’t understand fuel injection, do you really think he is capeable of understanding thermal dynamics in an engine?

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    And I used to think Alameda was awesome, but the way you’re telling it, Eugene is one of the most interesting places on earth!

  • avatar

    This guy injects steam into a Saab 900 turbo, and reports a 14% increase in efficiency.
    He shows a video of the car sitting at the curb, with and without steam injection.  Slightly more power with the steam.

  • avatar


    Depends on what part of the combustion cycle he injects it. Does not appear that he is utilizing a turbo, which would also make this more useful. 

    • 0 avatar

      No- it doesn’t.  To extract any useful energy from this, you’d have to add the heat energy of the steam after compression, but before ignition.  The only time to do this is at the end of the compression stroke.  Even if there was enough time to add the steam before ignition, temperature and pressure inside the combustion chamber at the top of the compression stroke are about the same as the temperature and pressure of the steam, so no heat or pressure can be added.  After ignition, assuming you had enough pressure to inject the steam, you’d be lowering the temperature inside of the cylinder.  This would be bad.

  • avatar

    What he meant with 75mpg OR 12 sec 1/4 mile — your choice.


  • avatar
    Joe ShpoilShport

    Another testament to the “Grizwald Family Truckster” approach to badge engineering. 

  • avatar


    He probably drives it to and from his mountain hideout where he’s writing his manifesto….

  • avatar

    Thermodynamics explain that we waste a huge amount of the energy in gasoline, and I’m sure somebody will come up with a good way to improve efficiency.

    So I wish the Bobcat owner (and BMW and everybody else) the best of luck in reclaiming some of that energy, but it will not be easy.

    One complication as an example: the hotter the heat source, the more useful it is in a thermodynamic sense.  So using the exhaust heat will work better than the extra heat in the radiator.    But if you extract heat from the exhaust, you cool the exhaust gas down, and it pollutes more.

  • avatar

    These type of classic cars are divided in many parts as the old cars, the Antique classic cars, the antique cars, the vintage cars but commonly it can be said that they are marvelous cars. I like also this Mercury Bobcat.

  • avatar
    Facebook User

    I had a 76 Bobcat.  I was poor and newly married in 1980 and the 5speed (or maybe it was just a 4) Bobcat was the right price.  After a year of reliable and boring service, I got hit from behind and Bob was totalled.  I bought it from the insurance company for 50 bucks, pulled the engine and tranny and dropped it into a (blown engine)Pinto wagon (with fake wood).  I had to convert the wagon from an auto to manual, which was actually  quite easy.  I added headers, a Remus muffler and fatter tires, and I had a $200 sex-wagon that ran for 70,000 more miles.

  • avatar

    I had an idea a while back to use exhaust heat to power a vehicle air-conditioning system — until I realized that the catalytic converter needs that heat to operate properly.
    I wish him luck with the steam idea, but it doesn’t really add up (as described).

  • avatar

    I’ll take a plaid interior on anything if they’ll just build a car without a stupid console taking up space down the middle and cramping my knee. Please! Or at the very least offer the option of deleteing the idiotic thing. In a small car, less really is more.

  • avatar

    Of course the plan makes no sense until you figure in the 1.21 jigowatts added by the flux capacitor.

  • avatar

    This is really awesome and the thanks Paul about this information on classic cars. The classic cars are one of the most amazing cars and they are the best performance cars. The classic cars has good engine speeds and they have to be maintained with

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