The UCLA Hydrogen Car Project evolved from a note Frank Lynch (UCLA ’72) put on a bulletin board in 1970 to the effect that students interested in developing a hydrogen fueled car to enter the Urban Vehicle Design Competition should contact him. Joe Finegold and Ned Baker did so in short order, followed soon by Bob Takahashi and John Liu, and later by Carl MacCarley. Lynch then asked professor Albert Bush to be the faculty sponsor and the project took off. General Motors donated a 1972 Gremlin and Ford Motor Company a “Boss” 351 cubic inch engine. The students modified the engine to run on hydrogen and installed a tank to hold the hydrogen in the rear of the car. Since the exhaust of a hydrogen powered vehicle is steam, the students had no problem taking first place in the competition for lowest emissions.
While the desire to minimize the automobile’s contribution to air pollution had been largely responsible for driving the Hydrogen Car Project, the energy crisis induced by the oil embargo of 1973 may have sustained the continued interest in it, as serious attention was suddenly paid to alternative fuels. Professor William D. Van Vorst was asked by professor Bush to join the project – together they proposed a more research-oriented continuation of the activity, and obtained the support of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Efforts were devoted to the study of engine efficiency while operating with hydrogen as a fuel, solution of the backfire problem, fuel injection techniques and the difficult problem of on-board storage of a supply of hydrogen.
After the untimely passing of professor Bush, professor Al Ullman joined Van Vorst in a project to convert a postal service jeep to run on hydrogen. The emphasis of the project was not only to modify the jeep to run on hydrogen, but also to develop a liquid hydrogen fuel system. This effort was aided by the donation of a spherical cryogenic tank by the Minnesota Valley Engineering Company. Unfortunately, as the energy crisis eased, funding for the project ran out before the system could be completed, however, a significant contribution to the subject literature was made.