Switching to biodiesel, part III

I’ve gotten quite a few questions about my progress on getting my diesel Land Rover into the country and running on biodiesel. Well, some things have gone well and some haven’t :).

port_hueneme.jpgIn my last installment I described how I had found a diesel Land Rover from an outfit called UK LandRovers in, you guessed it, the UK. They shipped the car in early July and it arrived in Port Hueneme, just south of Santa Barbara about 5 weeks later. The UK LandRovers guys sent me all the necessary paperwork and I called the port people who recommended Soo Hoo Customs Broker to get the car through customs. The Soo Hoo people were super friendly and efficient and 10 days and $400 ($200 to Soo Hoo and $200 for import taxes) later, I got a call that my car was ready for pickup. I checked with the DMV and they said to just drive it home from the port and then bring it to the DMV to get plates (sounded surprisingly relaxed for a DMV).

Continue reading Switching to biodiesel, part III

Switching to biodiesel, part II

After deciding to give biodiesel a try, I had to get a diesel car. It’s not the easiest task in the world to find a good diesel in San Francisco. Because of current regulations, you can’t buy a new diesel in California. So cars like the Jeep Liberty CRD, or the various new diesel Volkswagen’s are out unless you can find a used one – check diesels on Craigslist to see what’s available, they tend to run in the $15-30k range. If you want to spend less (like I did), you can find used Mercedes diesels (check Craigslist again or eBay). There are lots of well preserved 80s models in the $5-10k range. All of the above will work with biodiesel with either no or minimal conversion (replacement of fuel lines might be required on older models). Finally, there are also some diesel pickups and SUVs that show up in those listings. I dismissed those because they are on the large/inconvenient side for San Francisco.

Continue reading Switching to biodiesel, part II

Switching to biodiesel, part I

Back in February, Braughm gave me the idea to try out biodiesel. Pretty soon thereafter, I decided that I want to switch my primary car over to a renewable fuel. This has taken a little bit of research, which I’d like to share here.

Step 1 was to pick a fuel.

My requirements

Replace my primary car (a 1993 Volvo Wagon) with a car that runs on a renewable fuel. I’d like to be able to get the fuel without going way out of my way. If I’m stuck somewhere without renewable fuel, I’d like to be able to use “normal” gas or diesel as a backup. And while I’m at it, I’d like to get a smaller car that’s a little bit more convenient for around San Francisco. The cost of the fuel is not a huge factor for me (because I don’t drive that much and won’t mind paying extra if it’s better for the planet). The cost of the car is a factor, because I don’t want to invest a lot in a car that might not be the best alternative fuel choice in 2-3 years.

The requirement to be able to use widely available fuel as a backup pretty quickly narrowed my choices to ethanol or biodiesel, which can be run alongside regular gasoline or diesel respectively.

Continue reading Switching to biodiesel, part I

Citroen SM

Apropos nothing, I would like to show you this fabulous Citroen from the category of “I’d love to have one if it wasn’t completely impractical”:

Fun facts:
– Maserati engine
– Self-leveling hydraulic suspension
– Self-centering, speed dependent steering
– Headlights connected to hydraulic suspension (to dampen bumps)

About 13,000 Citroen SMs were made between 1970-75. They are notoriously difficult to restore and maintain (hmm, let’s see a hydraulic suspension plus a Maserati engine = maybe some trouble?) but oh so beautiful and apparently very smooth and powerful to drive.


I definitely got the biodiesel bug now. Since my post on the topic I’ve gotten a lot of encouraging feedback and I’m now researching ways to import diesel Land Rovers and Land Cruisers (I’m also planning on test driving one of these). It’s occured to me that one of the reasons I like these types of cars (shall we say rugged and semi-obscure) because I was imprinted early on. When I was a teenager, my dad got a Gurgel X-12 as a trade from someone who couldn’t pay a bill. It came from Brazil, where Gurgel was a pretty big car manufacturer from 1969 until they went out of business (in the late 80s?). Our X-12 was made of fiberglass, built on a VW bug chassis and painted a faded army green. My dad gave it to my sister to learn to drive in it, and it was handed down to me a few years later (I promptly repainted it and added a stereo on some new wheels – hey I was 17).

I know it looks a little weird, but boy was it fun. In a VW bug with a light, convertible body it feels like you’re going really fast, sliding through corners, and you look down and you’re doing just 40 mph! Here are some random Gurgel links.


Yesterday I found a fellow car nut in Braughm. We chatted and realized that we both like old Land Rovers. I told Braughm that I’d love to drive an old (pre 1994) Range Rover if it wasn’t such a gas hog. He came up with the perfect solution: find a diesel Range Rover and covert it to biodiesel!
He got the idea from a mid 80s diesel Land Cruiser (another car I like a lot) that’s parked outside his office:

It has a biodiesel sticker on it which sort of gives it away:

Turns out it belongs to a guy who has driven several cars on biodiesel and has lots of good info on his site.

If you happen to have an extra diesel Range Rover sitting around, please call me…