Commutamatic IV



Last updated February, 2010

The text below sometimes accompanies the vehicle and trailer at
shows (like the Microcar and Minicar Classic) and expos (like AltWheels).

Frequently Asked Questions
about Microfurthur


Do you hope… or expect… people to drive around in vehicles like this?

Absolutely. Not! This is just some hacking around. The point is that a guy in his basement using hundred-year-old technology and decades-old parts can get between 40 and 80 mpg on anything from diesel to used cooking oil, grill propane to old motorboat gas. This is America! We put men on the Moon 40 years ago! Shouldn’t we be way ahead of where we are? (Let alone flying cars. Don’t get me started!)
Why “Microfurthur?”

Further (then Furthur) is a bus of some renown from the 60s. Its colorful life is intertwined with the histories of Ken Kesey, The Merry Pranksters, Allen Ginsberg, the Grateful Dead, Neal Cassady, Tom Wolfe, Stewart Brand (Whole Earth Catalog), and many others.
“Microcar” is a category of small vehicles, usually having engines of 250cc or smaller. This vehicle is an example of a Post-War Italian microcar.

“Microfurthur” is a nod to both.

What is it?

The three-wheeler is a 1965 utility vehicle from Italy called a Lambro. I and some high-school science students did the electric conversion of the rusty relic in ’04 and ’05.

The homemade trailer has a single-cylinder Italian diesel (Lombardini) from one of those big flashing yellow arrows you see by construction sites on highways.

The other two removable APUs (Auxilliary Power Units) are, first, for APU #2, an engine converted to run on propane that delivers DC straight to the batteries; and second, APU #3, an off-the-shelf Colman home generator from the '90s into which you can plug the conventional charger. One of these modules at a time can ride in a small compartment at the back of the vehicle.

How is Microfurthur a hybrid three (four? five?) ways?

1. It’s Battery-Electric.

You can plug it into a charger that runs from a wall socket. (Straight battery-electrics like the Tesla Roadster are making the news lately, though they’ve been around since the late 1800s. Indeed, there were more battery-electric cars on the road than all other kinds put together at the beginning of the last century.)

The upside: Straight electric has no emissions at the point of use, and power-plant economies of scale mean less CO2 and fewer pollutants per mile driven than conventional cars.

2. It’s Multi-Fueled Diesel-Electric.

Like trains, tugboats, and submarines (to name a few) going back to about 1900, the hybrid combination of a diesel engine to run a generator to charge batteries is tried and true. (By the way, gasoline-electric hybrids are not new with the Honda Insight or Toyota Prius. Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that Porsche) built the first one in 1899.)

The diesel engine can run on petrodiesel or biodiesel and on SVO (straight vegetable oil) or on UVO (used vegetable oil).  The whole diesel APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) is on a trailer which can be towed along as a range-extender… or left at home or a work site.

The upside: My neighbor’s cooking oil can be used to move me through my commute, or to run power tools at remote locations. And it smells nice.

3. It’s Propane-Electric.

This APU rides on the vehicle. It employs a Honda 5-hp internal combustion engine (I.C.E.) that I converted using a kit with some students back in about 2000 to run on propane. It delivers DC to charge the battery pack directly.

The upside: Propane burns very cleanly. (That’s why Zambonis and forklifts and other vehicles that run indoors run on propane.)

4. It’s Gasoline-Electric.

This APU rides on the vehicle. It has a plain-as-anything off-the-shelf generator featuring a Briggs&Stratton 8-hp gas I.C.E. running a generator head by direct drive. This delivers 110v AC for the same charging system you would use to plug the electric vehicle into a household wall socket.

Upside? Gas is the dominant energy storage medium for cars, of course. Plus I can put leftover lawn mower gas and boat gas to use before the winter comes.

Is this Lambro three-wheeler now lost to history?

No! Even though it was a rusty and beat up old thing when I got it, I have been very careful not to do anything irreversible on it. Maybe the next caretaker of this hard-luck time-traveler will want to do a full restoration.

Do you wish you had a mass-produced stock microcar that had a nice paint job and didn’t look like a rolling science project that was left in a field then adopted by hippies with a plywood problem?

A little, yeah. But this is pretty fun.

Are biofuels the magic bullets that will save us all?

Not by themselves! But maybe they will be a part of a smarter, brighter future.

Even a quick review reveals what a scam and environmental failure corn-based Ethanol is. The perverse subsidies for corn have wreaked havoc in the prices of the commodity which is fuel for some, but food for more.

However, cellulosic Ethanol, algal fuels, oil from Jatropha, and other technologies hold much greater promise. We’ve got a ways to go.  But we’ll do it when we need to.

Visit for more!

Microfurthur makes occasional appearances at The Discovery Museums in Acton. Have you been there lately? It’s a great place for you and your kids!

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