While trucks that can burn compressed natural gas have been all over our roads for decades and plenty of cars have undergone aftermarket conversion to run on the clean-burning-but-bulky fuel, the peak for factory-built CNG-powered car sales took place here during the late-1990s/early-2000s period. These cars are hard to spot in junkyards— you have to take a close look at the engine or search for not-so-obvious special badging— so today’s Junkyard Gem makes just the second of two discarded OEM-made CNG cars I’ve found, after a 2003 Honda Civic GX in California.
You’d think that CNG cars would be even more popular today than they were a couple of decades ago, given that natural-gas production has boomed as a result of oil-well fracking and international trade in the stuff, but hybrid-electric powertrains conquered the green-car world here, starting with the introduction of the Honda Insight in the 2000 model year and the Toyota Prius slightly under a year later.
The big, trunk-devouring CNG fuel tanks really turned off civilian buyers of these cars, too, so most sales went to big fleets (Honda persisted in selling the Civic GX to ordinary car shoppers until 2015, probably because the GX qualified for the coveted drive-solo-in-the-carpool-lane “Access OK” stickers in California). Nearly all the fuel-system gear behind the engine had been yanked from this car by the time I got to it, but the size of the tank-mounting hardware shows that you didn’t get much trunk space in your Bi-Fuel Contour.
The Bi-Fuel Contour got that name because it remained capable of burning ordinary gasoline, with a proper liquid fuel tank in the usual location. Its range must have been impressive with both tanks filled, resulting in human bladder capacity as the main limiting factor for long highway-driving stints.
Apart from its fuel system and Mondeo origins, this car is a very ordinary base-trim-level, refrigerator-white fleet sedan. Things might have been different if Ford had offered the screaming Contour SVT with the Bi-Fuel option… no, scratch that, nothing would have been different.
It seems highly unlikely that Ford made TV commercials for the Bi-Fuel Contour, so we’ll watch this macho-voiced ad for the go-go-juice-burner.