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This Former Dell Executive Builds Cars Made of Cannabis

May 9, 2016

Bruce pulls up to the valet and all eyes turn—not on him, but the car he’s driving in—a red hot convertible coupe with more angles and curves than a trunk full of Kardashians. Seeing a car of this caliber cruising around Miami is nothing new, but what set this vehicle apart from all the other fancy sports cars riding up and down Ocean Drive was not what lied underneath the hood, but the actual hood itself—it, and every other component of the car, was made entirely from cannabis.

Yes, Cannabis. Marijuana. Weed. Or, more specifically, hemp. And according to Bruce Michael Dietzen, founder and creator of this one-of-a-kind automobile, it’s exactly how Henry Ford originally envisioned it almost 85 years ago.

So to follow in Ford’s footsteps, we decided to hop in with Bruce for a spin. After a few oohs and ahhs from the small crowd slowly gathering around us, Instagram-ready cell phones at hand, I open the passenger’s side door and slide into the Cannabis Car, our photographer François and crew in tow in a Toyota pickup behind us, trying to keep up as we speed out our hotel driveway and head west.

Wynwood, Miami’s hottest new neighborhood and newly anointed design district, is our destination, and for the next couple of hours, I was about to learn all there was to know about Bruce and his one-of-a-kind Cannabis Car.

A former Dell executive who’s worked in sales most his life, Bruce has that laidback, chilled out vibe you’d expect from a retiree living out on a catamaran in the Keys for the past 15 years. Soft-spoken and quiet with a head full of wavy yet thinning gray hair that’s perfectly suited for flopping in the winds of his cannabis convertible, we begin to chat a bit more about how his unique creation.

So you’ve been living down in Key West for quite some time now, huh?

Yeah, back in 2000, I decided that I was going to change gears and get away from my high-pressured corporate life, so I retired, moved down to Key West, met a lady, and took up sailing. It’s just so gorgeous out here, with the Keys and the Bahamas not too far.

He takes a hand off the wheel and waives it around the sunny Florida skies above us.

Can’t argue with that. So what happened? How did you go from cruising around the Bahamas and Keys in a sailboat to cruising around in a car made out of cannabis?

(Laughs) Well, as time went on, I bought some real estate, dabbled in stocks and what not, and, you know, I was just thinking…

Which I’m sure you get a lot of time to do down here…

You certainly do… and I was thinking, and I realized that there was more to life than just making money, and I decided that I wanted to leave this world, leave something behind that was, you know, good for the planet. I wanted to let the world know that I did more than just sell computers.

So… cars?

Well, I’ve always loved cars. I used to collect them back when I had a ton of money. I’ve probably had over 20-30 different cars in my lifetime.

What kind of cars are we talking about?

Mostly British and Italian sports cars. Like the 1962 MGA, which just had beautiful curves, a TR3, also, big, monstrous curves—no visible right angles. A couple of Corvettes that I bought and sold. I think at one point, when I was a national sales manager, I probably had about 8 different sports cars in my garage, some of them literally hanging from the ceiling because I didn’t have enough space.

And so how did this love for cars lead to the Cannabis Car?

Well, I started tinkering around in the garage, and I began carving out this 1/18th scale model of a car by hand with clay. And as I designed it, it slowly started to take on the form… the look and feel of these European race cars I always loved.

We stop at a red light and a silver Bentley coupe convertible slowly pulls up next to us. The middle-aged male driver looks over, glances, and asks what kind of car we’re in. Bruce smiles back as the light turns green and yells, “the Cannabis Car.” We laugh and speed away.

It does sort of look like an old European race car.

(Laughing) Yeah, even now, when people see the car… I mean, even that guy in the Bentley… it reminds them of something, but they can’t quite put their finger on it. Well, much of the design—the fender, the grille, taillights, headlamps, etc.— it’s all really inspired from these gorgeous European race cars from the 50’s.

Bruce takes his left hand off the wheel, sticks his arm out over the driver’s side door, and slowly caresses the large round curve of the door as it tapers down towards the headlamp.

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So how did the rest of the design come together?

Well, the platform that I decided to build the prototype on is a Mazda Miata.

A Miata?

Yup. Most of these British and European sports cars broke down all the time, so I decided to build my design on the chassis of a Miata. I actually owned one for quite some time and it never broke down, so I was just like, hey, why not take some of the best styles and designs of these European race cars from the 50’s and just build them on a chassis that’s not too expensive, but at the same time strong and tough enough to hold up to a good amount of wear and tear? And that was the Miata. That and the fact that there’s been so much engineering in and around the Miata—a lot of car guys play around with it because it’s a relatively inexpensive, easy vehicle to work with, so there’s a lot of info. out there when it comes to building on it.

And so that eventually turned into the Cannabis Car?

Yeah, so I decided on the Mazda chassis, and that’s when I really got inspired.

Bruce’s eyes light up as he slows down to turn onto the on ramp. He floors the car onto the highway and the engine lets out a mini turbo-like sound, the RPM’s creeping up and redlining.

(Yelling over the wind) In the process of looking at all these cars and trying to come up with the best design, a friend suggested I take a look at Henry Ford’s 1941 hemp soybean car that was made entirely of hemp and soybeans and fueled by remnants from his cannabis hemp crops.

Wow, that’s wild.

(Yelling)  It is. It turns out he started working on it way back in 1929, and the more I researched, the more intrigued I got. After several months of digging, I found out what motor he used in the original design—a flathead V8.

Bruce smiles and floors it again as he continues talking about Ford’s original V8 engine.

This V8, it was actually one of Ford’s greatest creations—he’s really remembered for making one of the first mass-produced V8 engines, which at the time was a monstrous engine with something like a whopping 60 hp. A lot of hot riders today like to use them and supe them up. And it turned out his car ran on ethanol alcohol, which was also made from cannabis.

I take a packed one hitter out and attempt to light it up in the wind.

Really?

Yeah, most ethanol is made of corn kernels because the sugar is readily accessible, but all plants have sugar, and in order to get to the sugar, you need to break the plants down. Ford had this process where he broke it down and turned it into cellulosic ethanol. Turns out this ethanol, according to an Argon Labs study done in 2008, was 85% greener than gasoline.

Electric cars—the most liberal interpretations of how green they are—come in at about 50% greener than gasoline cars, so you can see that even back then, this cannabis hemp car was extremely green. A lot greener than these electric cars you see people driving today.

And when you say cannabis hemp, this isn’t the kind that gets you high, obviously. Can you talk a little bit about the difference between hemp and the cannabis that many of us enjoy consuming for its euphoric effects?

Well, they’re the same plant, really. There are 3 different varieties of cannabis—cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and cannabis ruderalis. They’re all the same, just different varieties and sexes that give you more of the psychoactive THC ingredient or less. The female is the one that you’re smoking right now—the one with those gorgeous buds that gets you high…

I offer Bruce a hit but he politely waves it off, opting to keep two hands on the wheel and concentrate on the open road ahead of us instead.

…  and the hemp clothing and material stalk can be from either the male or the female. For example, we use the hemp fabric in the car, and it can be made from either.

And this hemp, like cannabis, is still federally prohibited, correct?

Yup, that’s right. In 1937 it was effectively made illegal right along with the cannabis and marijuana that got everyone high. But obviously now with all that’s going on, and with many states slowly moving towards legalization, a lot of that is changing and we’re slowly seeing industrial hemp becoming legal again on a state level.

And so with all these laws and regulations, how were you able to go about securing the hemp you needed for the car?

Well, I actually import it from China.

China?

Yup, we used to grow a ton of hemp back in the Carolinas and Georgia, but unfortunately when it was made illegal all those facilities were shut down, and eventually, all these textile facilities shipped off to China. So that’s where mine comes from. The hemp material from China comes pre-woven, and that actually makes it a lot easier to work with.

So the hemp that you import from China, that’s legally allowed to be brought here?

It is, it is, but it’s not cheap. There’s something like a 32% import tax, so it makes things pretty cost-prohibitive.

And why hemp specifically?

Well, once I started doing my research, I saw that in Ford’s mind, hemp was the way cars were going to be built in the future, and it had nothing to do with the climate or because it was greener—that stuff really wasn’t an issue just yet— but it had to do with the American farmer and Ford’s concern for their wellbeing. Back then, hemp was a huge textile, and Ford, having grown up on a farm himself, wanted to source all materials for his car directly from the farmers, because at the time they were hurting so badly.

And so what makes hemp so special? Why continue to follow in Ford’s footsteps and use it? Surely nowadays there are better, stronger materials to build a car with, no?

Well, actually, quite the contrary. When I wanted to make the toughest body I could, I saw that hemp was the strongest, and when you use woven hemp, it becomes even stronger. And then what really convinced me was when I actually sat down and did the calculations, and saw that hemp turned out to be not just tougher, but significantly greener than almost all the other materials I researched.

We slow down by the exit and head onto the off-ramp. The wind slowly dies down in synch with the car’s engine.

Let’s talk mechanics. What are the specs of this current prototype?

Well this is the first generation, so it uses a first generation Mazda chassis. In the future we’d like to build the entire chassis of the car from scratch, but right now, if you purchase the car at the base level price—$40,000—it’s going to be built on a first generation Mazda chassis, unless, of course, there’s a special request for something else.

And horsepower? Speed?

This model has around 130 horses, but we can currently put anywhere from 100-640 horses in the vehicle. At top specs, it would have the same power to weight ratio as a brand new Ford GT. About 28, 2,900 pounds, with a top speed that could theoretically go over 200 mph, but obviously with the current aerodynamics and all, you wouldn’t necessarily want to do that.

Wow, that’s pretty impressive.

Yup. And at almost half the $400k GT price tag.

And it’s all made of cannabis.

(Laughs) Yes, $150k worth of cannabis. Except you can’t smoke it.

We pull over by the Wynwood Design Building to grab some shots against the various murals lining the streets. Bruce gets out, lights a cigarette, and watches as our photographer François sets up shop. A couple of kids on skateboards roll by and yell, “Nice car, bro.” Bruce waives and smiles.

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So tell us a bit about this tour you’re on now?

Well, the tour is called “The Hempsters Cannabis Car Sustainability Tour” and it’s a TV docu-series that we’re making with producer and filmmaker Diana Oliver of The Hempsters Documentary Film Series, and the whole concept revolves around us traveling around the country and investigating whether these cannabis stories we keep hearing about, with cannabis having the power to save lives and, as you can see with this car, even the planet, are actually true.

So almost like a Sanjey Gupta-type show?

(Laughs) Yes, exactly. Except without the credentials.

And where did the tour start?

We started in Chicago for Farm Aid this past September, and from there we went to Denver for the Marijuana Show and then on through Indiana and Kentucky, which is a good example because they were actually one of the first states to truly recognize the power of hemp and legalize it, which is rather surprising because they’re typically pretty conservative out there.

François grabs a couple of shots, then asks Bruce to get back in and drive the car over to another corner where a large black and grey painting of a woman’s face is sprawled across the wall, her eyes intensely gazing out into the far corners of… the next muraled building. Bruce slowly pulls up and François begins shooting. After a few back and forths, Bruce gets out to let the François  grab some solo shots of the car against the mural. We continue our conversation.

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You mentioned the Marijuana Show. I believe they refer to it as the “Shark Tank of Cannabis”? What was that like?

Oh, it was a blast. I was on the second season, and at the time they were embracing more of the hemp side of the cannabis world rather than the straight marijuana side. There were 12 contestants to start out and we filmed out in Denver.

That sounds awesome. Any luck with investors?

Well, I can’t give that away just yet.

Alright, fair enough. So besides the Marijuana Show, do you have any crazy stories with the car and the tour so far? Any wacky encounters you care to share?

He laughs, then ponders for a second or two before reaching into his pocket and lighting up another cigarette.

Well, when I was out in Denver for the show, you know, out there, you come across a lot of people smoking marijuana out in public, and one guy came up to me… I guess he saw the car and the sign, and he came up to me and handed me a joint, and I told him I don’t smoke, and he said, “No, no, you don’t understand, this is for you man. This is hemp. Special hemp. A really high CBD hemp—you know, the stuff we’re using to make treatments for epilepsy and parkinson’s.” And this guy was the calmest guy you ever met, and he asks me to smoke, and, well, I was a little nervous. I mean, I just met this guy, didn’t know him or anything, and so I politely declined, but he insisted, and eventually just gave me the joint and told me to save it for a special occasion.

And so I stashed it away in my glove compartment and had pretty much forgotten about it, and we continued with the tour… and then one day, we’re in this little town and I guess the Cannabis Car was parked incorrectly or something, and this police officer comes over, looks at the car, and informs me that I have to move it. And meanwhile, I’ve got this big cannabis sign there, in this really conservative Midwestern town, and right there I see the joint lying on the passenger’s seat. I don’t know, it must’ve fallen out of the glove when I went to get the registration, but thankfully he didn’t see it, and he smiled and let me go.

So did you ever end up smoking it?

Yeah, I actually did, and you know, I don’t really smoke these days. I did when I was younger, of course, but for me, my mind is already opened up enough at this age, and I really don’t need any help opening it up any further. I think it would just be too dangerous. (Laughs). I mean, who else is crazy enough to come up with a cannabis car?

Fair point. And speaking of points, what are your thoughts on legalization and where the country’s heading right now?

Oh, it’s a no brainer. I mean, anybody who’s studied this knows that alcohol is so much more dangerous, and the way I see it, even though I don’t really smoke it, is why on earth would you have alcohol legal but not cannabis? Why can you enjoy a glass of merlot or a cabernet, but not a joint? It just makes no sense. It’s absolutely insane. Marijuana should be completely legal, no question about it.

So how long you think before it gets there?

Well, to quote Wiillie Nelson, he said it’s going to happen within his lifetime.

And with the way he’s going, let’s hope sooner rather than later.

(Laughs) I couldn’t agree more.

François waives and we make our way back to the car. A small group of onlookers has gathered around, admiring the car’s curves and sneaking in a few selfies. As we hop back in, a local barista walks out of a nearby coffee shop to grab a photo. No doubt searching for that perfect hashtag, he asks what kind of car it is. 

“Cannabis!” Bruce proudly yells as he starts the engine. “The car’s made from cannabis!” And from there we speed on off into the sunset, leaving a cloud of… well, almost cannabis, entirely in our wake.

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Photography by François Bota

For more info. on Bruce and his Cannabis Car, please visit renewsportscars.com.

 

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