In parts one and two we covered the genesis of John McCain’s vision for a wind-powered automobile, a car that would fulfill his mandate for a vehicle not only powered by the elusive “Clean, renewable energy” environmentalists theorize and extol, but a vehicle that would be a source of energy itself: clean, fast, edible and nutritious, the “Wind Breaker” project.
We chronicled the early successes: the development of “diet fiberglass,” a cellulose-reinforced hard candy shell (look for the “M” on each piece!) and bread-stick cross-members. We told you how they developed super-aerodynamic body shapes that emulated bird feces. But we also documented the trials and struggles of the “Power Team” and its successive failures under a series of chief engineers who spun the revolving door at the Reform Institute and spent the millions of dollars on concepts that ran the gamut from fruitless to silly.
They even killed one test driver who, ironically, ended up recapitulating the pattern of McCain’s success as a Navy pilot by bursting into flames and completely destroying his vehicle in a crash. Unfortunately, though, the “Wind Breaker” driver died while McCain, by contrast, survived his first crash to go on to collisions as pilot of four more aircraft.
McCain never gives up.
And he believed “Wind Breaker’s” fortunes were turning around when he discovered the undocumented Mexican engineer, Pablo Gonzalez. McCain had decided, as a matter of principle, to accept Gonzalez’ claims of credentials without investigation, and hired him as chief engineer for significantly less than the cost to get a U.S. citizen. Designing McCain’s wind-powered car was quickly becoming a job no American wanted to do.
There followed, first, a period of great anticipation. Looking back, McCain aides say the Senator became absolutely giddy when Gonzalez took the helm. It was as if the Senator had entered a storybook fantasy-land. He was, he believed, about to introduce a vehicle that would change the world (and the Presidential race); a car that used no fossil fuel (no “fuel” at all, in fact), designed by an undocumented immigrant. Gonzalez was even helping alleviate Global Warming in the design process ~ using significantly less energy. He shut down all operations in the afternoons for an hour or two for quiet “contemplation.” He abandoned the mammoth hanger and test facilities that previous engineers had used – the Institute was able to cancel the huge monthly bills for lights and heat, etc – and he didn’t use any of the previous research & development staff, preferring to work in his garage at home and enlist the help of his friends and extended family. Instead of a big monthly payroll to meet for the Wind Breaker project, the Reform Institute accounting department now only maintained a weekly budget for six or seven cases of Dos Equis.
No one can say that there was any decline in the optimism his initial hiring had generated as Gonzales worked. McCain went back to concentrate on his work in the Senate: talking Republicans into “crossing the aisle” to co-sponsor Democrat legislation like his Global Warming Cap and Trade Bill (McCain/Lieberman). His chief engineer would send weekly reports from the garage directly to McCain in Washington. They took the form of schematics, photos, and diagrams (see below), usually of “factors” or components of his plans (in return for his weekly shipments of Dos Equis). There was no longer an engineer on the payroll so McCain couldn’t fathom the diagrams. But that incomprehensibility was exactly what he was looking for: evidence of expertise. Staff who expressed any doubts were suspected of latent racism.
The Senator gave no indication of being displeased in any way. In fact, about two months in, Gonzalez sought (and received, of course, directly from the Senator) the go-ahead to plan around restricting his “wind engine” to production of motive power for the vehicle and using Solar energy for accessories like headlights. McCain was delighted and proudly announced the decision around among Institute staff: wind for the engine, solar for accessories.
But at last came the day for the unveiling of Pablo’s first prototype. The Senator was excited and invited all the top Institute brass, donors George Soros and Teresa Heinz Kerry, as well as his closest Congressional allies (Senators Lieberman, Feingold and Kennedy) to the event.
That day it all sort of “hit the fan” at the same time. Pictured below is Pablo Gonzalez standing in front of the car: his “Solar Wind II.”
They say John McCain walked around the car just once and stormed back to his limo. Only one aide claimed to have literally seen smoke rising from the Senator’s collar but several people say they heard him say, “The Viet Cong had better crap than that.”
Gonzalez was dismissed, his calls blocked and his access to all Reform Insitute offices and work-sites denied in perpetuity. (He is still drawing both unemployment and workman’s compensation, however, for his Insitute work, more than two years later. He apparently attempted to continue the shipments of Dos Equs, as well, by calling the dealer directly and ordering shipments billed to McCain.)
In retrospect, though, “Solar Wind II” actually ran (unlike some of the work product of previous “documented” engineers), but it was clear that it ran on batteries and the amount of energy that actually came from the crude grille-mounted “wind energy collection fan” was probably not enough, by itself, to charge them. Worst of all for Gonzalez, though, was that it was very ugly and the most low-tech looking thing the Institue had financed, even including the “helium-bladder tank” Tom Golding had produced prior to his dismissal.
McCain’s temper is legendary, but he has learned there is a political downside to showing it. They say for weeks, as he returned to the Insititute to hire a new engineer, his face bore the frightening forced-grin-through-clenched-teeth that sometimes would appear on the campaign trail in times of extreme frustration. And they say the energy he expended in the weeks that followed, in just pacing back and forth, must have provided significant cardio-vascular training. The magnitude of his disappointment seemed to deepen his commitment to succeed in the “Wind Breaker” project. He paced and raged, losing his temper at the drop of a hat and chewing people out over trifles… but all through the bizarre filter of that grin.
And finally he only came in at night.
And that’s when the project went completely secret.
Next: The Mysterious Miracle; McCain’s Car Unveiled.