Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Metro history: 'Midget runs 52 miles on a gallon of gas'

December 21, 2011 - 11:20 AM
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Meet Gus Petzel. (Photo: Popular Science)

People talk a lot about fuel efficiency these days. We worry about our dependency on oil, and alternative fuels like propane and electricity matter, not to mention our attention to transit and car-free initiatives.

But even 85 years ago, stellar fuel efficiency impressed our local drivers.

The proof — "Midget Runs 52 Miles on a Gallon of Gas," Popular Science magazine, February 1926.

The magazine tells of how "a baby automobile" outfitted with airplane tires, nine speeds, and four cylinders motored its way into our D.C. and all the way to the Capitol after a "transcendental tour from San Francisco." It truly is a tiny car, from what the article describes. The driver and vehicle designer (with the wonderful name of Gus Petzel) looks virtually as big as the 560-pound car itself, which was said to be "no longer than a man is high." What an ingenious, hilarious invention to recall, more than eight decades old and a participant in a cross-country joy ride. Scrawled across the motor are different city names: "San Francisco," "New York." I can't imagine the faces of all the Jazz Age Washingtonians who witnessed Petzel zoom up in his "midget" motorcar.

But what's truly impressive is the mileage this little car received. Popular Science reported that the speedy car, which traveled 80 miles/hour on a track and 65 miles/hour on the road, was capable of driving 52 miles for every gallon of gas, as the piece's headline proclaims. Petzel showed off the great mileage for D.C. residents once he arrived.

Read the February 1926 issue of Popular Science here and more pieces of Metro history here.

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