Methanol Marathon

Methanol Marathon (1988-1989) was an alternative fuels competition for 15 colleges and universities in North America. Sponsored by  the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors Corporation, schools were selected based on the best proposals for converting 1988 Chevrolet Corsicas to operate on M85 (85% methanol, 15% hydrocarbons). General Motors provided kits of specialized parts to assist the schools with the conversion and teams were tasked to re-engineer these vehicles in under five months.


These modified vehicles competed in performance trails in a 1,230 mile road rally from Detroit to Toronto to Washington, D.C., where the finale was held at the 1989 SAE Government and Industry meeting.

Goals of the competition:

  • To offer an unparalleled education experience that teaches teamwork, planning, execution, and the need to solve problems.
  • To educate the public about the technologies the students had worked with.  “The public” includes others at the school, parents and friends, and people who see the students and their vehicles at parades, auto shows, grade schools, and the dozens of other places the students take their vehicles.
  • To provide media coverage for all the parties involved: DOE, other sponsors, schools, faculty advisors, and students.
  • To advance the state-of the-art in fuels/vehicle technologies when possible.
  • To prepare students to enter or continue with science/engineering studies;or if they are university graduates, to find jobs in the automotive industry.

The second year of Methanol Marathon (1989-1990), known then as Methanol Challenge, was designed to further challenge the student teams by establishing more stringent and controlled tests of their Corsicas from the previous year.  An important addition to the Methanol Marathon was the inclusion of a gasoline-powered control vehicle that provided a baseline from which to judge the effectiveness of the conversions.

Twelve of the original 15 teams in Methanol Marathon (1988-1989) competed. Students made improvements on the same cars from the previous year and again, the cars were evaluated in the areas of design, performance, fuel economy, and emissions. This year had a number of ‘firsts’ for competitions. It included full emissions tests at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where student vehicles were tested on federal test procedures for the first time. Also, for the first time in a DOE competition, a gasoline powered control vehicle was used for comparison purposes. This gave the student vehicles a benchmark to which they could compare their performances.

This event was held at General Motors’ Milford Proving Grounds and the Michigan International Speedway (MIS). Also, the vehicles competed in an over-the-road rally that started at the Esso Research facility in Sarnia, Ontario.