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Solar car stops in Tampa on cross-country trek

TAMPA — It's a glimmer of gold and black topping out at 75 mph.

No stops for gas. Just food, rest and friends. But it's a looker.

In Alaska, someone called police about the UFO on the road. Motorists turn around to snap pictures.

Power of One, a solar-powered car trekking across North America on three wheels, stopped Tuesday at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Creator and driver Marcelo da Luz told his story to students and faculty members before continuing a tour to extend his world record for distance traveled in a solar car.

For this odyssey, da Luz quit his 10-year job as an Air Canada flight attendant. He ran up his credit cards and took a couple of mortgages out on his house to come up with $100,000-plus to pay for the materials that went into the car.

He said it had to be done.

"The pain of not following the dream became unbearable," da Luz said. "I had to do something about it."

Da Luz wants to inspire people. He wants people to realize that a car like his can handle even a 450-mile stretch of gravel across the Arctic Circle.

The trip started 11 months ago in Buffalo, N.Y. He hoped to make it to Miami Tuesday, followed by Key West, and a return home to Canada.

In Alaska, he picked up an intern, who follows behind in a van and trailer, carrying a sign that warns, "Caution: Solar car ahead." The intern, Netherlands college student Michael Feith, crafts a business plan for the solar car project's future.

Da Luz drives on his back, toes pointed forward, his face peeking out through the window of a hump on the roof. He steers with handlebars that look like they belong on a motorcycle.

The car has no rearview mirror. Instead, a camera behind him transmits to a tiny screen mounted on his sunglasses.

He drives at least six hours a day in good weather. Bleak skies stranded him for 30 days in Vancouver.

Lack of sunshine was no problem in Tampa on Tuesday morning.

Da Luz tilted the solar panels to the sun, keeping an eye on the crowd and asking the curious to step aside.

Their bodies blocked the rays.

Da Luz needs as much sun as possible to generate the car's 900 watts. A toaster can use more than 1,000 watts.

Power of One, for all its efficiency, lacks an air conditioner or heater. In freezing temperatures, he wraps himself in a sleeping bag. In Florida, he sweats.

The car seats only one.

That's a problem. Da Luz, 40, hopes for a family.

He's looking forward to developing a bigger, better car, as practical as this one is efficient.

Power of One is still a test.

Da Luz said, "You can't call your boss in the morning and say, 'Well, there is no sunshine.' "

Ileana Morales can be reached at (813) 226-3403 or imorales@sptimes.com.

Solar car facts

Top speed: 75 miles per hour.

Acceleration: 0 to 50 mph in 6 seconds.

Power source: 893 mono-crystalline solar cells.

Power storage: 26 lithium ion batteries.

Distance: 300 miles on a sunny day; 130 miles at night with a full battery charge.

Length: 16 feet.

Width: 6 feet.

Height: 3 feet.

Weight: 470 pounds.

Ground clearance: 1.3 feet.

On the Web: www.xof1.com.

Solar car stops in Tampa on cross-country trek 05/12/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 8:48am]
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