Classic car running on CNG

Industrial arts teacher Mike Faillace converted his classic, 1955 Chevy Bel Air to run on CNG – compressed natural gas.

Industrial arts teacher Mike Faillace converted his classic, 1955 Chevy Bel Air to run on CNG – compressed natural gas.

BY PAT FARNELLI

A classic car that runs on natural gas will be a focal point at Saturday’s Cabot Community Picnic on Saturday.

Mike Faillace, an industrial arts teacher who lives in Dimock, converted the blue and silver 1955 Chevy Bel Air with art deco fins to run on compressed natural gas, and has been so pleased with its performance that he has been driving the car almost exclusively.

Faillace said, “I have other restored automobiles, like a 1931 Model A Ford, a 1971 El Camino, and a chopped 1946 Cadillac, but they are sitting in garages unused most of the time, because I love driving this car. I’ve driven it 15,000 miles in the two years since I’ve had it set up.”

Faillace said that when he originally restored the car, he converted it from a carburated engine to a fuel injected one, which made it easier to convert to natural gas.

Now, the car has been converted to multi-fuel, and can burn either gasoline or CNG, which is actually more efficient until there are more CNG stations, he said.

“The conversion was my first, and because of the learning curve, I really took my time on it for the better part of two weeks,” he said. “Now I can do it faster.”

“The biggest part of the cost of conversion is the tank, and I used a wire wound tank which is the middle of the road set up. It’s actually one of the tanks that go in a Ford Conversion Classic car,” he said.

“For the other related parts, I assembled my own kit.” Now, he is working on a new design for fuel efficiency.

The car’s original colors have been only slightly altered. Faillace mixed the paint using a cobalt blue pigment with a slightly purple pearl hue mixed in.

Faillace uses the former feed mill near the Dimock crossroads as his auto body shop.

Of the Bel Air, he says that he prefers to run it on natural gas, because it runs so much cleaner. “If you start your car in your garage, you are not in so much of a hurry to get it outside” he said. “There are less emissions. I’m not sure what’s in it (the exhaust)…but you can even see, when you run it for extended period of time, that the spark plugs are just as clean after a year of use, as when I put them in.”

Faillace especially noticed the difference in the motor oil. “After a year, oil if you run an engine 5- or 6,000 miles you need to change it, but on CNG the oil still looks really clean. You don’t really need to change it yet after 5,000 miles. I would feel comfortable drastically extending oil change intervals.”

He said that he hopes that CNG will soon be readily available for transportation. “If it was the same price (as gasoline), I would burn natural gas, because it’s cleaner, and it supports American jobs. I am all for supporting America’s industry and products.”

Faillace is a certified industrial arts instructor at Elk Lake, teaching both metal shop and the graphic arts program.

He has brought the car to the school to demonstrate it to the adult program, where he talked about CNG as a fuel. “I say to people who are uneasy with the idea of natural gas in cars, ‘You like cell phones, right? Why do you like them?’”

When people say they like the convenience of using a phone away from home, he says, “Everywhere you go, you don’t have a tower, right? Sometimes, you lose service?” He then explains that hopefully, there will be more CNG more filling stations.

He also brought the car to school for the automotive class, and said that high school students are more likely to embrace the concept of using natural gas for transportation.

“I tell them, all the skills you are learning about gasoline engines will transfer over to CNG.”

He said that the Susquehanna County Career and Technology’s automotive program is interested in converting a car as well. “Alice Davis is pretty innovative that way,” he noted. “This technology is fantastic for the cars and for the American Economy.”

He would have had to go to Wyalusing to purchase CNG, but in return for the advertising on the side of the car, Cabot Oil & Gas has made the fuel available to him at their Springville Twp. station.

When he first considered converting a car, he was planning to switch over a “beater car,” a Ford Contour, but the Cabot representative saw the Bel Air and liked the looks of that car.

“The Cabot logo is blue and white, and so is this car,” he said. “And it is more striking, so they were more inclined to pick this car.”

Faillace has taken the car to the Montrose Fourth of July Parade, the Cabot Picnic, and the Nicholson Car show.

For years, Faillace’s students at Elk Lake have been building and entering competitions with electric cars, starting with a competition in the 1990s called the Electrathon.

Now, the electric car project has an annual budget of $10,000, provided through a grant from Penn State University. The current electric car is a Geo Tracker, which is still in progress.

Faillace received his degree in industrial education as well as another in architectural engineering at Penn State-University Park. His first teaching job, in 1977, was at Lake Lehman High School, and while working there, he designed and built a solar home for his family, with a perfect southern orientation.

After five years of teaching, he returned to Philadelphia to work in his uncle’s restaurant but decided teaching was more rewarding.

Besides teaching, Faillace is an optician for the Dimock Family Eyecare, where his wife Karen is optometrist. He said his metal working skills transferred easily to eyeglass frame making and repair, and his wife trained him in understanding prescriptions and grinding lenses properly.

The couple has been married for 12 years and enjoys caring for rescued horses and greyhounds in their spare time.