Putting pizazz back into auto performance

Soon actor Charleton Heston will be driving a new Corvette: It will go from 0 to 50 m.p.h.in 4.5 seconds (very fast). But more important it will burn methanol , not gasoline.

Mr. Heston's car is an offshoot of an ambitious effort being mounted by Chuck Stone of Future Fuels of America in Sacramento, California.

Mr. Stone joined forces with the owner of the biggest Ford dealership in the US to establish a business converting Fords to burn pure methanol. The Ford Motor Company is participating by giving a $500 credit toward a methanol retrofit. The State of California will add a $1,000 investment tax credit as well.

''There are no problems left in using methanol as a neat fuel,'' Mr. Stone declares.

Stone's converted cars and trucks have racked up 4 million miles of use so far. The Bank of America is an active participant in the operation. In the next month, the bank is expected to issue a report that says burning methanol saves money and announces that the bank will convert its auto fleet to methanol in the next five years, Stone says.

Some of Stone's former employees have set up a new company called Methanol Performance World, which will adapt high performance cars such as the new Camaro and Firebird to methanol. Adapting engines to methanol allows a much higher compression ratio and substantially better performance than equivalent, gasoline-powered engines -- witness the 4.5-second acceleration of Heston's modified 'Vette.

''They hope to bring back the muscle cars of the past while saving gasoline and meeting all environmental standards,'' says Stone. ''Pretty soon the fastest cars in the US will be running on methanol,'' he exclaims.

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