Skip Navigation

Produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications

Subscribe Now
Campus & Community

Born to Sun

Clark School to Welcome Home a History-Making Solar Car

By Sala Levin ’10

The solar-powered Pride of Maryland, designed and built by students, shown here with then Vice President Al Gore, placed third in the 1990 GM Sunrayce USA.

Photos by John T. Consoli and courtesy of University Archives

The solar-powered Pride of Maryland, designed and built by students, shown here with then Vice President Al Gore, placed third in the 1990 GM Sunrayce USA.

Nearly 30 years ago, the car of the future looked like a cross between a horseshoe crab, a retro flying saucer and an airplane wing. And it was (gently) gunning for the lead in a low-speed yet high-tech cross-country race.

Time to Shine: The A. James Clark School of Engineering celebrates its 125th anniversary this year and has plenty of milestones to celebrate. 1894: The first engineering curriculum is established with a four-year program in mechanical engineering. 1908: A building—now known as Taliaferro Hall—is erected to house civil, electrical and mechanical engineering departments. 1928: Evelyn B. Harrison '32 becomes the first woman admitted to the College of Engineering. 1949: Glenn L. Martin Wind Tunnel begins operations. 1951: Hiram Whittle, an engineering major, becomes the first African-American undergraduate student at UMD. 1984: Electrical engineering alumna Judith Resnik Ph.D. '77 chosen for the space shuttle Challenger mission. 1992: Neutral Buoyancy Research Facility, one of only two in the country, opens. 1994: Women in Engineering program established. 2013: A student team sets a world record for human-powered flight, as helicopter they designed and built hovers for 97 seconds. 2017: A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation invests nearly $220 million in the Clark School and university.This was the Pride of Maryland, a vehicle designed and built by some 60 UMD engineering students to compete in the 1990 GM Sunrayce USA, a challenge to university students to create and race a solar-powered car. Yet that 1,644-mile adventure was only the start of a wild decades-long, continent-crossing journey that may finally end soon, when the car parks at a permanent home on campus.

Building the car “seemed like it went on 24 hours a day,” said Maureen Williams ’91. “It was a nonstop process.”

The team, led by mechanical engineering Professor David Holloway, developed a lightweight, aerodynamic vehicle, then tested it in the university’s Glenn L. Martin Wind Tunnel. The result was sleek and tapered, with solar panels where the horseshoe crab’s tail would be, and measured 20 feet long, 6 feet wide and 3 feet tall. The car could reach upwards of 40 mph on sunlight alone, and more by using the car’s battery.

The team qualified for the race by taking the car for a spin on the Daytona International Speedway; once it made the 32-car cut, the students set out from Orlando on July 9, 1990. From there, the team drove through Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and finished in Michigan.

“GM had made a big push to make sure everybody knew the cars were coming, so every stop we made … there were hundreds and hundreds of people, if not thousands,” said Williams.

Stephen Brady ’89 recalls one day when the team was arriving in Indianapolis amid a crush of commuters. “We used our Washington, D.C., rush-hour skills to get ahead and ended up coming in first place.”

The team placed a respectable third in the Sunrayce and earned a place in another race in Australia, where the car finished seventh. After that, the Pride competed in Japan, then retired from its racing days, emerging briefly to appear in the 1993 inaugural parade for President Bill Clinton.

The car spent some time in an automotive museum in Tennessee, then sat in storage at a campus engineering lab until 2002, when the space was cleared out and the team members returned to rescue and rehab it. Since then, the Pride has led the unsettled life of a vagabond. It stayed for a while in the engineering manufacturing building until a renovation led to its discovery amid construction debris. Then it parked at Brady’s parents’ garage in Gaithersburg before landing in 2009 at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, where it hung from the ceiling.

Returning to the museum in 2018, Brady was surprised to find the car had vanished from its spot. He learned that it was in a Baltimore Avenue building owned by the engineering department; again, he took the car back to his parents’ garage to spruce it up. In the spring, the Pride was featured at Maryland Day and will soon live in one of the Clark School’s buildings.

“We hope that those who see it will be inspired by the innovative design and engineering that went into building this car and build on the success of one of the first competition teams from the department and the college,” said Bala Balachandran, Minta Martin Professor and chair of the mechanical engineering department.

Williams also hopes the Pride will have a long life on campus. “We won’t let this thing die,” she said.

Solar car: Yoke-style steering wheel, which had to be removed with driver's entry and exit. High-efficiency electric motor. 2,300 aerospace-grade solar cells. Maximum power of 1,500 watts in peak sunlight. Length: 19.7 feet. Width: 6.6 feet. Height: 3.2 feet. 68 mph top speed. Weight: 350 pounds. Gross weight with driver: 550 pounds.

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.