WEST SPRINGFIELD -- The Scuderi brothers can sit around a table like any group of siblings, teasing one another about who's the best looking or the smartest of the bunch.
But in between those good-natured jabs, there's lots of serious talk about their plans to ease a mounting concern of American motorists: What to do about skyrocketing gas prices.
Their idea to get the most out of a gallon of gasoline centers around an unusual family heirloom, a concept inherited from their late father that the brothers call the Scuderi Engine.
Like any engine that powers a car or airplane, the Scuderi device is an internal combustion engine. But the design drafted a few years ago by Carmelo Scuderi rejiggers how that model works, resulting in increased fuel efficiency and reduced emissions, they say.
Internal combustion engines are only 33 percent efficient, meaning that about one-third of the gasoline going into an automobile is converted into energy.
But the Scuderi Engine, which is in prototype production, has the potential to be up to 43 percent efficient, according to computer simulations done by the Southwest Research Institute, an independent research and development organization that specializes in engineering technology.
That means a car outfitted with a Scuderi Engine could get up to about 30 percent better fuel economy, the brothers say.
''Dad wanted to improve the heart of the engine," said Stephen Scuderi, 54, Carmelo's oldest son and the lawyer for the West Springfield-based Scuderi Group. ''He wanted to improve on how an engine converted chemical energy to mechanical energy."
The Scuderis have no intention of building engines. Instead, they want to license their technology to the world's 800 or so engine manufacturers.
The design has attracted attention from the automobile industry, and although they say they are precluded from naming any names, the brothers say they are being evaluated as a potential licensee by a major defense contractor for potential military applications.
''We think this will change how engines are built down the road," said Sal Scuderi, 52, president of the Scuderi Group.
But their claims also draw skepticism. John Heywood, a professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Sloan Automotive Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the creation is almost certain to fail, although he admits he has not reviewed the project.
''I doubt that any kind of internal combustion engine is ever going to get 30 percent better fuel economy," Heywood said. ''I've done enough of this to know it's very, very challenging to come out well ahead of the game."
Still, the idea has attracted enough interest from US Representative John W. Olver, Democrat of Massachusetts, who is pushing Congress to give the Scuderis $2 million to help fund their prototype. ''Since we have such serious problems with our transportation system and oil prices, even a 10 percent improvement in fuel efficiency achieved by a technological advance would obviously be extremely valuable," Olver said. ''The potential gain for such a small investment is enormous."