"The Pride of Maryland" is not exactly what you would want in a family car.
It seats one, has no power windows or air conditioning, looks like the Stealth bomber and costs more than $350,000.
But to a team of 50 engineering students at the University of Maryland at College Park, the automobile is everything a car is supposed to be: solar-powered.
The students and university are resting their hopes on Pride to capture first place in next week's "GM Sunrayce USA," the nation's largest ever solar-powered automobile race, sponsored by the General Motors Corp. Thirty-two colleges from the United States and Canada have fielded entries in the 11-day race, which begins Monday and stretches 1,800 miles from Lake Buena Vista, Fla., to Warren, Mich.
Powered solely by the sun, Pride and the other cars will attempt to run 150- to 200-mile legs of the race each day. They will travel through eight states on a series of U.S. and state secondary roads alongside their gas-run counterparts. The team with the lowest travel time for the combined legs is the winner.
The top three teams will compete in the 1990 World Solar Challenge race in Australia in November.
"These students started from scratch and have built something really exciting and incredible," said William E. Kirwan, president of the university, at an unveiling ceremony Monday on the lawn of the Engineering Class Room Building. "They've built as good an automobile as they could have built. I think they have a good chance of winning."
The 340-pound automobile -- which is 19.9 feet long, 6.6 feet wide and barely over three feet high -- is the result of more than a year of testing, tinkering and technology. Pride underwent several chasis reconfigurations, two exterior design remodelings and more than $75,000 in wind-tunnel testing. As a result, students said, the car is lighter, faster and better constructed than "Sunraycer," the car General Motors built and used to win 1987's World Solar Challenge.
The final design features 2,350 photovoltaic solar cells covering the car's low, swooping body frame constructed of aluminum and the synthetic fiber called Kevlar. The cells, which convert sunlight directly into electricity, power the car and charge a silver-zinc battery on board, which provides extra speed and energy for sudden starts and stops.
With correct gearing and sunlight, the car's 10-horsepower engine can propel it to a top speed of 90 miles per hour, according to Laurence Long, a graduate student in charge of the car's aerodynamics.
But even with all the preparation involved in the car, the team still has concerns about the race.
The students will be racing against the likes of Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Polytechnic State University -- some of which have experience with solar vehicles.
"In theory we look excellent. In theory we can beat anyone," said David Holloway, professor of mechanical engineering and supervisor of the project. "But there is a big difference between theory and reality."
Beyond that, the car underwent two days of rigorous road-testing this week and is being shipped to Florida. Holloway and team members said the tests were "extremely crucial" to the car's success. A demonstration run for the media and onlookers was only the second time all of the car's components had been tested simultaneously.
"We've done all we could have with the car," Long said. "Now, it's all up to components coming together. Which we hope they will."