“Dang,” Turner, 21, said one day last week as he inched up a hill and heard the telltale gasp from a back tire.
But in a place such as Leesburg, where so many people slog through long commutes every day, Turner’s low-impact, decidedly low-tech pedal car has struck a chord. People smile when they see it. They honk. They pull over and jump out of their cars to take a closer look.
Maybe they are tired of having to bring their car into the dealer every time a warning light goes on. Maybe they feel a little too detached, sealed inside their air-conditioned rides with the Global Positioning System lady telling them where to turn. Or maybe they see his car and think: Go-kart! Wheeeeeeeee!
Whatever it is, the reaction has Turner thinking he should market and sell these things.
Turner, who just transferred to Old Dominion University to study mechanical engineering, loves cars. He always has: He built them from Legos for demolition derbies as a kid, fixed his friends’ old cars in high school, enjoys long drives. But at some point he started to worry about the environment and feel guilty about all the gas he was using.
“I don’t see how making cars the way we do now is going to last for too many decades,” Turner said.
So he took the emergency brake out of an old Honda Civic, ordered a go-kart steering wheel online, took apart a pink little girl’s bike and welded together a steel frame in the back yard of his parents’ house.
The result is a three-speed, two-seat car. (The seats are recovering lawn chairs from Home Depot.) The car is meant for tooling around town on slower roads; the top rate from the motor fed by the three batteries is 23 mph. His mother would greatly prefer that he not find a way to make it go faster. “I do worry,” Paula Turner said.
He plans to add seat belts, mirrors and other safety features. Someday.
In the meantime, he’s having fun. The car eventually will have a fiberglass shell and windows that open and shut, but for now, it’s cage-like, with no driver’s-side door and red clamps holding the trunk closed. The pedal shafts say Bulletproof — a brand name but a nice touch.
On a recent morning, he pedaled through a strip-mall parking lot, asking only the barest assist from the electric batteries, which he may replace with gas because they last only 10 miles. Or maybe a solar panel on the roof. Maybe a few different versions, under the Tuhart name he coined.
He stopped and stepped out, a young man with little silver glasses and cargo shorts and a crazy little car. People swarmed.