The story of the teams who, for $10 million in prize money from the X Prize Foundation, are striving to make a car that will travel 100 miles on the equivalent of a gallon of gas.
Journalist Fagone (Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream, 2007) heard about the competition offering that sizable payday and smelled a good story, and he makes the most of it here. Unlike the builders and the cars themselves, the author takes his leisurely time following the work of four teams and the construction of their brainchildren: the irrepressible, big-hearted Oliver and his ultralight entry; a team of West Philadelphia high schoolers; a crew from the cornfields of the Midwest; and a more professional team, which gets considerably less page space than the other three. For this is a story about the man on the street, “the democracy of it. Invention as an everyday pursuit.” The teams sought to build a machine that would be efficient, responsive, cool and affordable. Fagone is not above raising an eyebrow at some of the loopiness that went on, but he never falls short of conveying the energy and spirit of the enterprises. Along the way, readers will pick up plenty of inside information on regenerative brakes, chromoly steel and how to reinvent the common lug nut to shave a pound off the car’s weight. We also learn much about the personal lives of these inspired ordinary Joes and how they processed the setbacks and the bad news of losing. Fagone succeeds in making his subjects entirely relatable. “In the thick of the worst economic funk since the Great Depression, here were all these people working furiously in garages and warehouses and barns,” he writes, “trying to hit a series of staggeringly difficult targets that no government, automaker, or inventor had ever achieved.”
A well-tooled, instructive tale of ingenuity.