Off the track, he polished his plan: He'd assemble a car for a few thousand bucks, race it on the circuit and recover his investment within months. If he happened to wreck that car in the process, he'd just pull a spare Colt off the lot and return to the drawing board, where he designed the special air-filter system that was the key to his plan.
"Imagine a roll of toilet paper," Bill begins.
Now picture the air filter in your car. Holding both images in your head, unroll a long sheet of toilet paper, wrap it around the filter, then attach it back to the roll, kind of like a pulley system.
"Think of it like a typewriter ribbon. Same principle."
Now imagine that the paper on this roll is actually a special air-filtering paper (think coffee-filter paper), and that the roll has been designed to turn in perfect unison with the transmission of your car (using a speedometer cable), so that every time you hit the gas, a clean belt of paper loops around the air filter.
"Think of it like a typewriter ribbon."
No more replacing dirty air filters every few thousand miles. No more tinkering with the carburetor. No more worrying about passing smog checks.
"It would keep your car running clean, and everything would run smooth," he says. "It would improve the overall efficiency of the engine -- power, the gas mileage -- and there would be less air pollution, too. It would be just a great deal."
A deal he designed, built and installed on a '76 Dodge Colt coupe at his workshop off Brighton Boulevard. He tested the device under different driving conditions, eliminated the quirks and kept a careful record of the results. "It worked perfectly," he says. "So well that I thought some automobile manufacturer would be beating down my door."
Instead, city hall came knocking.
In the early '90s, the city decided to crack down on parking scofflaws during Stock Show season. Up until then, Bill had parked his prototype under the I-70 overpass across from his warehouse, in a spot where his landlord had told him to park. But one day when he arrived at his workshop, his prototype was gone: The city had towed it and three more of his cars to the impoundment lot. When Bill tried to get them back, the parking attendant couldn't find them. Bill's Colts were lost -- and along with them, his air-filter invention
"They stole my prototype," he says. "I spent a year's work and over a thousand dollars, and suddenly it was gone. It was a real heartbreaker. Nobody knows what happened to them. The city investigated but could never find them. I think some sheriff's deputy took my cars and sold them."
Bill sued, and the city settled out of court. He walked away from the ordeal with $1,400 and a piece of advice: "If you really want to do this inventing stuff," a city official told him, "then go out to an I-1 industrial zone to do it."
So Bill did. He sold his bookstore and bought a century-old two-bedroom house on Clarkson Street that had a big garage, two large lots, and neighbors who didn't seem to mind a little hammering, welding and Colt stockpiling.
"I thought if I moved to an industrial zone like they told me, I'd be able to do my inventing and the city would leave me alone," he says. "Wrong!"
Bill unfolds a sheet of yellow legal paper and sets it on the table. To prove he's a serious inventor, he's itemized the following short list of original creations:
A) Light-Rail Nerf System: "I designed a bumper for a light-rail car that would push people out of the way rather than hitting them -- Nerf them out of the way. It was a fiberglass thing mounted over a frame. I also designed a portable barrier to set at busy intersections to prevent cars from going on the tracks. This is serious. It could save lives."
B) Hitchhiker Kit With Reflective Sign: "I'd see these guys on the road, and I'd figure they could use a sign made out of glass-bead-reflecting board that they could cut out and wear around their necks and say 'Utah' or whatever. People are more apt to stop if they know where you're going."
C) Cannabis Purée: "This was in the Sixties. I found out that everyone was making brownies with marijuana and eating them at concerts, but it was always a gritty, nasty thing. I was going with a girl at the time, and we wrote a cookbook called Pot for the Pot. We found out that by using a mortar and pestle, you could grind the marijuana into a fine powder. And if you mixed it with brandy, you could make a paste. Then you would use the paste to make cakes and things. This was in the '60s, you understand. I also made a marijuana-leaf stencil that I got patented."