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Frank Gray

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Bob Manor is shown in 2007 in his pickup truck powered by air, a concept he started developing in 1968. Manor, a stonecutter from Salamonia, died in 2008 at age 83.

Frank Gray: Man’s air-powered-car dream may come true

Have you ever had one of those miserable dreams where you keep trying to do something, over and over and over again, and can’t get it right?

Robert Manor, who was from Salamonia, about 50 miles south of Fort Wayne, probably knew what dreams like that are like, except his dream was very real.

It was back in 1968 when Manor, a stonecutter, sat in a wheeled office chair and sent a blast of compressed air out of a hose. The force shot him across the room and into the wall.

That made him wonder. Why can’t you build a car that runs on compressed air, running the air through cylinders in an engine? It would be the ultimate in cheap fuel, a car that consumes air and shoots air out the exhaust.

Tanks to hold the air were readily available. Welders use tanks that hold gas at 2,500 pounds per square inch.

For nearly four decades, Manor struggled with the concept. He got patents. He built cars that were fueled by large tanks inflated to only 45 pounds per square inch, and they ran.

Problem was, Manor wasn’t an engineer. He was just a tinkerer with an idea, and though trained engineers were willing to discuss his idea, including some with major car companies, they either didn’t have the money to fund research or wanted the rights to Manor’s patents.

So the years and generations passed by, and Manor, as he put it, aggravated over the idea in his crude garage.

Manor, who eventually went blind, died in 2008, still in possession of a crude air-powered car and perhaps heartened just a little bit by the knowledge that in other parts of the world people were trying to tap into the same energy source.

So far, though the other experiments had a lot more funding, none of the cars seem to have fared a whole lot better than Manor’s models. Grand announcements that an air-powered car would be coming to the market in the next year always faded as the car failed to appear.

Now Peugeot, a French carmaker, has announced that it has perfected an air-powered hybrid that can propel the car in the city with compressed air and then use a gasoline engine in combination with compressed air for highway travel. It bills itself as a hybrid that doesn’t require heavy, expensive batteries.

If Manor were still alive he might be a little jealous. He didn’t have 100 engineers to figure out how to make an air car work.

Whether the latest incarnation actually makes it to market, and whether it will ever be available in the United States, remains to be seen.

But if it does, it will be interesting to note that a stonecutter in a little bitty town south of here first posed the idea nearly half a century ago.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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