There is a lot of talk in this country right now about our dependence on foreign oil and the impact gas-powered cars have on the environment. Whatever side of the issue you fall on, it is without question that gas prices have been creeping ever high in the past few years, renewing interest in cheaper interest in cheaper, and cleaner, alternatives.
Muscle car guys have been jumping on the alternative fuels train with increasing frequency, though this isn’t the first time in America’s history that alternative fuels have been explored.
In fact, back when the U.S. government first got serious about regulating car emissions in 1970, a movement sprung up around propane autogas as a replacement to gasoline.
While it didn’t really go anywhere, one of the more famous cars to be converted to propane was the “Propane-X” ‘69 Dodge Charger 500, a HEMI-powered, clean-burning drag car.
Popular Science wrote several articles covering the Propane-X car, which it is said was donated by Dodge to engine builder Don Bass and driver Everett Murphy.
The 1969 Dodge Charger 500 was fully loaded with every option, including a beastly 426 HEMI V8 and a 4-speed manual transmission.
The conversion to propane is a relatively easy process, requiring a simple change of carburetors (utilizing an Impco unit) and swapping out the standard gasoline fuel tank for a tougher (and bigger) propane tank.
As a result, there wasn’t much trunk room left after installing the 23-gallon fuel tank…but Propane-X was a drag car, not a street car. And it was one hell of a drag car.
We weren’t able to track down horsepower numbers on the propane-converted HEMI 426, but it was reportedly capable of running low-11’s at a trap speed of over 121 mph. Of course, the HEMI engine was heavily modified with a new roller camshaft and valvetrain, forged pistons, a Mallory ignition system, and more.
Taking a 3,900 pound car to an 11-second quarter-mile is no easy feat, but the Propane-X Charger did it on a fuel that many of us use for grilling or heating.
What happened to the Propane-X Charger, (which may or may not have had its name changed to “Rated-X’ at some point, but that’s a whole other debate) is a bit of a mystery. The only real sources of information were a few posts over on the Dodge Charger forums, and an old article in Popular Science. The car has been spotted all over the country, from California to New Jersey.
The most recent “update” on the Propane-X car comes from this post buried at the bottom of a thread on the Charger forums, which claims that the car was in Los Angeles, California with its original owner, Gary Nichols, though we can’t seem to find any association between Nichols and Propane-X.
It’s a bit of a mystery as to exactly what happened to this car, though now would be as good a time as any for it to make a sudden reappearance.
Whatever happened to the Propane-X Charger though, it’s mere existence disproves any notion that muscle cars and clean-burning fuels can’t go hand-in-hand.
Today, converting a carbureted V8 to propane can cost you less than a $1,000, while delivering a fuel that is cleaner burning, requires less maintenance (oil changes are needed only every 10,000 miles) and, due to its higher octane rating, can be run at much higher compression levels.
So next time one of your buddies goes on a tangent about the glories of gasoline, tell them the story of the HEMI-powered, 11-second ‘69 Dodge Charger that ran on the same fuel he grills his steaks with. It might just make a believer out of him.