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Utah duo create 'quadbrid' vehicle

Brent Singleton, 17, Washington Terrace, stands with his multiple-fuel vehicle at Bonneville Salt Flats, where he will race next year.
Brent Singleton, 17, Washington Terrace, stands with his multiple-fuel vehicle at Bonneville Salt Flats, where he will race next year.
Kent Singleton

Brent Singleton, a 17-year-old high school student from Washington Terrace, Weber County, plans to race his quadbrid on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

"Quadbrid"? What on the salt is that?

A vehicle that uses two types of fuel is a hybrid, which is what the Escort became after students at Weber State University modified it.

Brent's father, Kent Singleton, explained that in 1992, Ford donated 35 of the Escorts to learning institutions including Stanford and MIT so that students could compete on the problem of creating vehicles using more than one type of fuel. WSU's students installed electrical components so the Escort could run with either electrical or gas power, or both.

In the second year of the contest, Kent Singleton said of the Ogden university students, "They took first place. They beat all the big boys with all that money."

In 2001, Brent Singleton bought the vehicle from WSU. By then the car was partly dismantled and Brent restored it.

That year, the father-son team took it to time trials on the salt flats, where Kent Singleton ran it at 96 mph in hybrid mode. The Singletons claim the record for the first hybrid ever to race.

But having a hybrid wasn't enough for Brent. He added solar panels to recharge the batteries, making it what the father-son combo calls a "tribrid" car. Then he added wind generators: "quadbrid."

"The wind will turn the propeller. That's truly a generator, so it's producing electricity," Kent Singleton said.

A junior at Bonneville High School, Washington Terrace, Brent drives the car to school every day. "It just feels like a regular car, then when it's in hybrid mode it feels like a regular car with power," he said.

His dad added that with the wind-driven propellers, when the car sits in the school parking lot, the batteries are being recharged by wind. "It's the same thing with the solar panels, too," he added.

The two have searched the Internet and, while manufacturers are putting out hybrids, they have not found another tribrid, let alone a quad. Some all-electric cars have solar panels to recharge the batteries, but they doubt any other vehicle uses gas, electricity, solar and wind.

In 2001, when they first took the Escort to the salt flats, Brent could not not drive it because he wasn't old enough for a driver's license. So his dad drove the vehicle.

Now that he has a license, he plans to race next year during Speed Week against Honda and Toyota hybrids.

Bill Clapp, a WSU professor and chairman of the computer and electronics engineering technology department, headed the program when students were modifying the Escort.

Personally, Clapp doesn't have much hope for the future of the type of hybrid cars that use a great deal of electrical power. They must store energy in huge batteries, he said.

If one were to crash, "you'd have a lot of battery acid and a lot of current sparking and arcing," he said. But, he stressed, it's important to keep pushing to improve auto technology.

As far as racing on the salt flats is concerned, Kent Singleton said, "All of the safety updates are required to be able to race at Bonneville Salt Flats," including roll bars.

When Weber State had to sell the car, said Clapp, "I looked far and wide to find somebody who would put it to use."

He turned up the Singletons. "It was just wonderful to find a father and son," he said. "They were so interested in this car."

He enjoys the fact that they have kept the Escort in great shape. "We hope it does well this summer when it competes against Toyota and Honda."