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Saturday, October 22, 2022

Another car of tomorrow by Alex Tremulis

~ONE OFF~ As a true lover of the automotive world, You are certainly familiar with the figure of Alex Tremulis, one of the visionary automotive designers with great talents who is able to produce extraordinary automotive works such as the Tucker 48, Gyro-X, and many others. Well, our discussion this time is also related to the designer's creation in 1970s for one of the well-known Japanese brands, Subaru.
1980 Subaru X100 concept built in 1973 with the aim of achieving 100 MPG designed by by Alex Tremulis, and built at the Subaru Technical Center in California by Subaru engineer Ron Jones over 6 years to complete. (Picture from: Rongineer)
The mentioned concept car named the Subaru X100, was built during a difficult era of the oil crisis with rising oil prices set by OPEC and the high costs the United States had to spent during the Vietnam War, causing stagflation in the country. This automatically causes automotive industry entrepreneurs, designers, and engineers to think even harder about ways to push the automobile's fuel efficiency limits.
1980 Subaru X100 concept's exterior by using an old airplane wing tank as the base for the car body. (Picture from: DrivingEnthusiats)
Back to the designer, Alex Tremulis who at that time was being worked as a consultant at the Subaru Technical Center (the BRAT logo and side graphics is some of his work)  and he was passionate about aerodynamics and fuel ecomony. This coincidentally seemed to be a blessing for him to execute a new breakthrough vehicles with an excellent fuel efficiency in the right time in the midst of an oil crisis.
1980 Subaru X100 concept's exterior by using an old airplane wing tank as the base for the car body. (Picture from: AlexTremulisArchives)
As quoted of Rongineer, it didn't take much time, Alex Tremulis managed to convince Walt Biggers, the brilliant godfather of the Subaru Technical Center, but more importantly he was able to sell on the idea of building the concept car to Harvey Lamm, president of Subaru of America then. In short, this car had been in Alex's mind for many years and his great idea was to drive the car across the country on one tank of gas to demonstrate the benefit of good aerodynamics on fuel economy and to provide favorable publicity for Subaru at every stop along the way.
This is the rolling chassis of the Subaru X100 Concept designed by Ron Jones. (Picture from: Rongineer)
By design, the concept car designed by Alex Tremulis is a three-wheeled vehicle with a very aerodynamic body. He was fond of saying that he was commited to "eliminating the sadistic torture of innocent air", and he meant it. Further, he designed the exterior by using an old airplane wing tank he had kept for a long time as the base for the car body.
The design and construction of the Subaru X100 chassis and drivetrain was handed to Ron Jones, who in turn brought in a talented fabricator named John McCollister. (Picture from: Rongineer)
Meanwhile, Subaru offers the prospect of a suitable powerhouse, namely a package of a 500 cc engine commonly used in the Rex, a Kei FHI class car in Japan, then combined as a perfect match with the rear drive unit mounted completely on the subframe with the suspension. The design and construction of the chassis and drivetrain was handed to Subaru engineer Ron Jones, who in turn brought in a talented fabricator by the name of John McCollister. Walt Biggers, director of Subaru’s Technical Center, oversaw the project.
Alex Tremulis stands by the main body form which was based on the aircraft wing tank. (Picture from: Rongineer)
Jones was directed to use as many off-the-shelf Subaru parts as possible. To that end, he utilized the engine, transmission, and rear suspension from the Rex, a kei jidosha not sold in America. Although aluminum wheels with a custom offset needed to be made in order to fit under the drivetrain under the body, the combination worked perfect. Much of the rest of the car was built from scratch by Jones and McCollister, including the frame, shift linkage, front suspension, front wheel, and steering system. To his credit, the chassis weighs only 70 pounds (32 kg).
1980 Subaru X100 concept while on testing in August of 1980 at the Ontario Motor Speedway in California. (Picture from: Rongineer)
The X100 was a side project, it done in the team’s spare time in Jones’ shop at the Technical Center, and taking six years to complete. The original oil crisis only lasted about six months, so the initial panic had long subsided. Still, the team saw the project through and testing began in August of 1980 at Ontario Motor Speedway in California.

Before a cross-country run could be attempted, the car had to prove it could achieve 100 miles per gallon while cruising at the national speed limit of 55 mph. For the track testing, a 1-gallon tank replaced the original 25-gallon tank. In initial tests, the car ran out of fuel a frustrating half a lap from the desired goal. Jones, who describes himself as “a bit of a lightweight”, offered to give it a try. He nailed it in one shot, finishing half a lap past the 100-mile goal. Tremulis was on hand to congratulate Jones and the team.
1980 Subaru X100 concept is powered by a 500 cc engine of the Rex, a Japanese Kei FHI class car, then combined with the rear drive unit mounted completely on the subframe with the suspension. (Picture from: DennyGibson)
And that’s it. With the embargo in history’s rear-view mirror, Subaru already established in the US, and the 100-mpg goal achieved, the cross-country promotional tour was canceled, so the car has remained in Subaru’s storage facilities since that day. Until just recently, that is. For 2018, the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee held an exhibit celebrating Subaru’s 50 years of being in the American market. Along with 360 variants from the museum’s own collection, Subaru of America loaned a new WRX STi, the very first BRAT, and the almost-forgotten X100.
After the exhibit ended, the BRAT and WRX STi were shipped back to New Jersey to rejoin the rest of Subaru’s historic collection. But the X100 was left on loan to the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville for another four years. It is currently on display with other high fuel mileage cars such as a Honda Insight and Volkswagen XL1. *** [EKA | FROM VARIOUS SOURCES | ALEX TREMULIS ARCHIVES | JAPANESE NOSTALGIC CAR | RONGINEER | DENNYGIBSON ]
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