NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Doug Pelmear may have patented the final auto-industry solution -- a working, 400-horsepower, big-block V8 engine that really does get 110 miles per gallon.
But he's running on fumes.
"I have seen a lot of things. Was it ugly? Yeah," he told me over the phone last week. "But you learn to see what you have. And you don't cry about what you don't have."
This sober Pelmear is a faint echo of the sparkplug of an entrepreneur I met three years back. The then-successful Napoleon, Ohio, speedshop owner had combined a 19th century engine technology called the Stirling with rotating-fire cylinders and in-piston magnets to dynamically alter the horsepower and fuel consumption of traditional V-block motors.
"When you're chugging up the hill towing the boat, it's all firing along as a standard 40-horse engine getting eight miles to a gallon," he explained. But on the level highway, he says, the magnets in the cylinders nudge the heavy pistons along, keeping the engine driving with minimal fuel usage.
"The carbs shut off," he said. "Fuel consumption goes smack down to zero."
Now, was Pelmear quirky? Oh, heavens yes. He's like me, self taught. Independent. He controls his own PR, prefers 20-hour workdays in the shop to fundraising. He saved his own money to build his magic engine for a Ford (F) Mustang II, a car he drove from Ohio to Las Vegas and back on just a couple tanks of gas.
That stunt got the attention of journos, including me. I covered it, so did CNN. He struck up relationships with local universities. I'll never forget how Tom Stuckey, then president of Northwest State Community College, confirmed to me that Pelmear's big idea was as big as they come.
"It all works," Stuckey said. "I know it sounds crazy. But it works."
Pelmear even found a start-up carmaker partner called Revenge Designs that announced it would build a massively powerful cousin of Pelmear's engines for a new generation of fuel-thrifty muscle cars. With investor dollars flowing into nutty ideas such as Instagram (FB) or electric carmaker Tesla (TSLA), Pelmear figured that it would be only a matter of time before he'd be doing well and doing good.