I have been reading the Sept. issue of Classic Trucks. Every issue has something for someone, but not everybody needs the same thing. I usually learn something from each issue. I happen to have a couple of '55-59 Chevys. Some of the articles on the other two pickups (Dodge and Ford) will apply to my Chevys, so I enjoy my magazine and do not worry about the small stuff. Somewhere in the Sept. issue it was talking about alcohol fuel (E85), and I was wondering if in the future the magazine could have an article about what we would have to do to run E85 in our classics.
Gene's letter couldn't have come at a better time. While the widespread use of ethanol-based fuels is still years down the road, it's something we all need to start seriously considering, 'cuz those years are going to pass no matter what. Fortunately, this is not something we need to lose any sleep over, so don't worry.
First off, let's clarify the differences in modern ethanol-based fuels (E-fuels-a Robism). For starters, there are different types of E-fuels. E10, frequently called gasohol, is a fuel mixture of 10 percent alcohol and 90 percent gasoline. E15 is similar, just with a higher (15 percent) mixture of alcohol. Both E10 and E15 can be used in most modern vehicles without engine or fuel system modifications. Finally, while there are higher alcohol content mixtures, there's E85, the one everybody's talking about. E85 is the Supreme of E-fuels due to its 85 percent alcohol and 105-octane rating. However, it will be the least used in vehicles, especially anything of substantial vintage-in other words, classic trucks
Currently, despite its content characteristics, E85 can be found across the United States at various stations. As of last year, there were 400 E85 pumps available to the American public. In Minnesota, ethanol is growing rapidly, so over 200 of those pumps are located within its state lines. Before 2010, expect to see an East to West corridor of E-fuel stations, but don't expect to see nationwide mandatory use any time too soon. Regardless of when and where, I know those concerned are more worried about any possible vehicle modifications that will be required to allow their classic truck to run-run right-on E-fuel.
If you've already got visions of specialized carburetors, fuel pumps, and such bouncing off the inner walls of your head, shake your cranium and get 'em out. Basically, we're talking simple modifications, so don't fret. Since alcohol burns cooler/slower, in short, your engine needs to be recalibrated accordingly. For your carburetor, if you plan on running E85, you'll need to go up at least one jet size for an enriched fuel mixture (fuel-injection systems will require fine fuel/air tuning, but we're still collecting info on that). From what I've gathered so far, a typical carb can run unchanged on E10/15. However, it's strongly recommended that you convert to an appropriate fuel pump, one impervious to the new fuel that can also deliver the amount of fuel needed efficiently. From the pump back, you'll need to address component construction. In other words, Teflon-coated rubber or stainless steel fuel lines and a poly or stainless steel fuel tank. E-fuels are highly corrosive, not to mention they have a high condensation factor when left sitting for any length of time, so any steel or basic rubber components will suffer.
Now, while E85 will offer horsepower benefits from its high-octane rating, there is a downside-decreased fuel economy. While E85 can be substantially cheaper than gasoline, it produces approximately 27 percent lower fuel economy, which means the consumer will end up paying more per mile traveled. The real positive side is the emissions, and that's why Big Brother and, in turn, the Big Three are pushing so hard for E-fuel use. If you ask me, I wouldn't be surprised to see just as big a push behind coal-based fuel before long, so I better start preparing material for that editorial!