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Catherine Ledner LA Rollers

Photo: Catherine Ledner

The Veggie Mobile

Daniel Strebin became a convert three years ago: paging through LA Weekly, he came across an article on the biodiesel movement. Since then, the vintage-poster dealer and his wife, Alexandra, who also works in retail, have owned no fewer than 20 cars, all diesel models from the 70’s and 80’s that Strebin has inexpensively adapted to run on biodiesel fuel. Strebin sells the cars to friends, barely breaking even in the process, as a way of promoting this less-polluting gas alternative manufactured from such things as soybean oil, walnuts, and vegetable wastes. But the family’s 1987 Mercedes 300TD biodiesel-converted wagon is a permanent fixture in their driveway. Bought from a Boston-area dealer on eBay for $2,250, it’s still chugging along with over 335,000 miles on it. Six-year-old Vanessa likes sitting in the kid’s seat in the way back, where she often catches the friendly looks from other drivers who’ve glanced at the vehicle’s many bumper stickers—one of which reads: this car is a vegetarian.

Gassing Up "For two years we drove to Ventura—130 miles round-trip—because it had the closest biodiesel station. We would bring back 50 gallons in buckets, and they would last six weeks. Then we helped form the first biodiesel co-op here in L.A., in Culver City. Now there are two commercial stations as well, selling biodiesel at the pump for about $3.25 a gallon(you get the same mileage as you do with regular fuel)."

They Can Smell You Coming "We don’t use recycled restaurant oil. We attempted that with one car, but it’s a lot of work, plus it’s stinky and dirty, and, technically, it’s illegal. Biodiesel is viably mainstream—when you research all the current and future alternatives to fossil fuels, it’s clear this is the only one that has practically no downside. Admittedly, it smells like french fries—you can smell it as soon as you start the car."

Family Field Trips "We go to Desert Hot Springs to sit by the pool at Two Bunch Palms, a rustic spa resort that was once a famous, kinda-secret movie-star hideout. Last winter we went skiing at Mammoth. Biodiesels are really good for climbing hills—they don’t have low-end power, but they have torque."

Spread the Word "A lot of people ask about the car, so we printed brochures about biodiesel and have a card that says, ’We can help you find a biodiesel car.’ We’re not in this to make money. We don’t want a car lot. We just want to convert people."

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