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The final details to complete our changeover to methanol fuel

Words and photos by Jok Nicholson

I am just about finished with the conversion of "Project 4-Link" and the Indy Cylinder Head 540-inch from 115 octane race gas to methanol. There are several reasons and some small details involved in why I wanted to change and I will cover them in this article.

There are several names for the fuel we have chosen: methanol, alcohol and alky. No difference in the products, but there is a difference in grades of methanol. I recommend you buy the methanol from a reputable race fuel dealer or commercial / industrial supplier. I get mine locally from a commercial supplier. It is rated as a 99.85% pure methanol. I can pick it up in one of three ways: 1) pure methanol with no top lube; 2) methanol with Power Plus top lube already added and blended; 3) they will fill my barrel, to which I have already added Power Plus top lube.

I recommend ALWAYS using a top lube to protect the fuel system components from corrosion and for upper cylinder and valve guide lubrication. Once I have my drum of fuel with the top lube mixed in I treat the entire system like it was my gasoline system. No special maintenance is needed during the race season. Since Iowa winters are five months long, I drain the entire system for winter storage. Just flush the system out with some unleaded gas and you can rest easy.

Now, the advantages of alcohol and three of the primary reasons I decided to make the switch. One, it substantially reduces engine temperature, which means less time thinking about getting the car cooled down in later rounds. Two, since the volume of fuel has increased almost two-fold, the engine is less sensitive to atmospheric changes. This means when the air density changes and a gas car might pick up .03 the alcohol car may on pick up only .01. Three, I feel the availability of leaded race gasoline will become more and more limited and a lot more expensive in the future. Environmental concerns and just the hazards of handling, breathing and dealing with leaded gasoline justify the change to me. Not to mention you can buy methanol for about $1.40 per gallon and I was paying $6.75 per gallon for 115 octane race gas. I don't care if it does use twice the amount of fuel, the economics make sense enough for me.

There were several "stories" about running alcohol that I heard before I made the switch in my Dart several years ago: "The oil gets all foamy from contamination and ruins bearings faster," "draining the entire system every week is a pain in the butt," "alcohol kills ring seal and the engine wears out faster." These were just a few warnings I had heard before I switched. I can quickly address them all.

"The oil gets foamy from contamination" -- there are really two main reasons for this, one is the idle mixture is way too rich, and the second is the engine is not being warmed up enough. I ALWAYS get to the track and run the engine up to about 200 degrees and let it "soak" the heat into the block, heads and oil. I try not to run the car until the oil temp is 180 degrees. I also hook up a hose to a vacuum port on the base plate or into the carb spacer and run it to a ball valve so I can "create a vacuum leak" when warming up the engine. This not only saves time and fuel, but it makes engine warm-up similar to gas as for me. I have NEVER had a bearing problem since I changed to alcohol. The best way to keep moisture out of an engine is to keep the engine warmed up. It is a lot easier than trying to keep it cool with gasoline that's for sure.

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