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Gas guzzlers get new lives -- as tire-smoking hybrids

  • Story Highlights
  • Small Kansas company turning gas-guzzlers into biodiesel hybrids
  • Cars get much better gas mileage without sacrificing power
  • Celebrity customers include Neil Young, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Conversions are expensive, but company is working on cheaper fixes
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By Sean Callebs
CNN
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WICHITA, Kansas (CNN) -- On a beautiful, crisp late fall afternoon, rock icon Neil Young took his 1959 Lincoln Continental for one last spin before a team of mechanics ripped out its gas-guzzling engine to make way for an electric motor.

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Neil Young watches as mechanics remove the engine from his 1959 Lincoln Continental.

Car buffs may think it's sacrilege to tear apart an automotive classic, but Young wants it to have a new life as a fuel-efficient hybrid.

"If we're going to make a difference, truly make cars more environmentally friendly," Young said, "we have to make that emotional connection."

Young said everyone has a connection with an old car like the Lincoln.

It only took about an hour for Johnathan Goodwin and his four-man team to pry the engine out of Young's Lincoln. He'll have the new engine installed in 45 days. Video Watch Goodwin show off a biodesel hotrod »

Talking about the old motor, Goodwin says, "Of course, it's not fuel efficient at all. It's a big polluter, one of the biggest rawest forms."

The Lincoln's new electric engine will power the car and when it begins to lose juice, Young will simply flip a switch and the car will run on biodiesel fuel until the electric motor is recharged. "A 19-foot-long car, the longest car ever made at its time. Two and half tons, the heaviest car at its time," Young said, "And it can get 100 miles to the gallon, not 10 miles to the gallon."

Young renamed his car Linc-Volt, and is making a movie about the transformation, which he hopes to release next year.

Goodwin is making a name for himself -- and his company, H-Line Conversions -- by turning gas-guzzling behemoths like Hummers, Cadillac Escalades, Jeeps and other big American cars into clean-power machines.

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The first thing he does is remove the old inefficient engine -- even if it's a brand new vehicle -- and replace it with a diesel engine that can run on biodiesel.

"It's the transformation of what I call old technology to new technology," Goodwin says.

Here's his analogy: Remember 15 or so years ago when a cellular phone was the size of a brick. Now it's a lot smaller, because the industry underwent a ton of changes over the years.

The same kinds of advances are made in engines. But since it's so expensive, changes to cars are made in leaps, not tiny steps.

What's the drawback of his method? You guessed it. Cost.

"It's not cost-effective for someone to run out and spend $40,000 to double the fuel economy, but I have no shortage of customers," Goodwin says.

Including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who's having his Wagoneer converted to biodiesel.

Goodwin, 37, drives a 1987 gas burning Wagoneer, rents his home and will sheepishly tell you he didn't graduate from high school.

Expect to hear a lot more about Goodwin in the future.

Companies are knocking down the door to work on projects with him.

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Goodwin's developing a download that can be installed in a car's computer and improve the mileage by five to seven mpg without losing performance. He expects it to cost about $200.

Ask Goodwin what his favorite project is, and he answers, "the next one" but the Linc-Volt project has been special. "We're going to prove you can have your cake and eat it too so to speak," Goodwin proudly boasts. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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