As EVs continue to infiltrate the mainstream automotive market, many drivers have their eyes on the specifications of makes and models. Enthusiast or not, everyone wants the most bang for their buck, and performance and range always seem to top the list of requirements.
And then there are those who like to push the envelope, like EV driver John Wayland. Founder of Plasma Boy Racing, John is most famous for his converted ’72 Datsun 1200, White Zombie. For nearly 20 years, John and the Zombie have been racing around Oregon on nothing but electricity and passion.
Today, though, John is at the starting line of a new project with a second generation EV1. With a range of 400 miles to a single charge, John’s Silver Streak, a Honda Insight fitted with EV1 parts, is being built to make anxiety a thing of the past. And we’re throwing this week’s Friday Five into overdrive with a front row seat:
1. How did you get your start with EVs?
- I was about seven years old, standing behind the family station wagon as my mom was leaving to go to the store. As she stepped on the gas to pull away, I choked on the exhaust and my eyes burned – it was bad stuff to breathe. I went inside to play with my battery-powered toy cars and trucks and thought to myself that big cars should run on batteries, too. Trips into downtown Portland in the early 60s while inhaling the fumes from the diesel buses and all the cars crammed between the buildings made my throat get tight. Even as a young kid I knew that all those cars, trucks and buses made the air stinky and unhealthy.In my teens and getting into cars, my brothers and sisters had fast muscle cars – I learned to drive in a hot ’65 V8 Mustang with dump tubes and cheater slicks My first car was a tricked-out ‘55 Chevy with a six cylinder I hopped-up that made more power than the V8s of the day… but I never stopped thinking about electric cars. I gravitated to small cars and fell in love with the early ‘70s Datsun 510, but due to my muscle car upbringing it had to be quick and fast! I turbocharged it and forced 300 horsepower out of the Datsun four cylinder!When the baby brother to the 510 debuted, the little Datsun 1200, I felt it would make a perfect electric car because of its compact size and light curb weight, but it wouldn’t be until 1980 that I would find a beat-up blue ’72 with a failing engine that I could buy cheap and convert to electric power. On a shoestring budget, a surplus aircraft starter/generator became its motor, fed by 8 golf cart batteries at 48V – Blue Meanie was born. Serving as a test bed, there have been many variations with ever-increasing power levels, and after 33 years of electric power, it’s still on the road. Blue Meanie is once again being reconverted – this time it’s 500 pounds lighter (just 1950 pounds) thanks to a 20 kilowatt-hours (kWh) lithium pack with just 275 pounds of cells that should provide 90-100 mile range. With a high-revving AC drive packing 130 horsepower, the Meanie will sprint 0-60 in under five seconds and top out at 135 miles per hour!
2. What inspired you to make White Zombie?
- A race in 1994. I wanted to show the public that EVs could be fast and fun, and the local EV club thought it would be fun to put on an all-electric drag race on a cordoned off street in downtown Portland. The problem was that most of our members’ cars were anything but, with tepid pack voltages of just 72V – 96V and curb weights in excess of 3000 pounds due to heavy 6V golf cart batteries. The light weight Blue Meanie was pretty snappy with its 132V battery pack (11 Optima 12V Yellow Tops), 400 amp Curtis controller and 9 inch DC motor, but this was supposed to be a drag race! I had another Datsun 1200, a white one with a heavily modified gas engine that became the donor for the electric drag car project. Instead of a heavy lead acid battery pack, seven, used but still serviceable, 25V aircraft NiCad starting batteries went into the trunk to make a 420-pound, 175V power supply, and a 9 inch DC motor coupled to a five-speed tranny supplied the torque. With a curb weight of just 1850 pounds and a binary speed controller – a diesel starter solenoid, the car smoked its tires at will and wowed the crowd!A battery pack swap to 15 Optima batteries pumped up the power a bit, and in 1996 the car became ‘White Zombie’. Today’s version is powered by a 355V lithium pack, a custom Siamese nine motor (twin nine-inch DC motors mated together), and 2000 amp Zilla controller – the 0-60 run is vaporized in 1.8 seconds!
3. How will Silver Streak achieve 400 miles of range on one charge?
- Efficiency and lots of kilowatt-hours (kWh)! At 60 mph, GM’s 3000-pound EV1 had an efficiency of 168 Watt-hours per mile and could go 160 miles on its 27 kWh NiMH battery pack. If it had the same 71.5 kWh LiPol battery pack as I am installing to my Honda Insight, the EV1 would have gone 425 miles at 60 mph. Silver Streak’s coefficient of drag (cd) isn’t as wind-cheating as the EV1’s .19 cd, but tweaks to the still excellent .25 cd will get that number lowered a bit.
On the plus side, Silver Streak will be about 200 pounds lighter and has a more efficient inverter while having the exact same AC motor and super light squeeze-cast rims. It also has better rolling resistance numbers due to narrower 165 section LRR Bridgestone tires compared to the EV1′s 175 section LRR tires. I am projecting 175 Watt-hours (Whr) per mile @ 60 mph, but at 55 mph that should drop to about 165 Whr per mile for a possible 433 miles under perfect conditions… thus that 400+ miles figure I’m tossing out. With real life being what it is – hills, wind, temperature, rain, etc., we’ll just have to go for a ride to find out
4. Which OEM EV model is your favorite and why?
- While I am a fan of the new Model S and I commend Tesla for designing and building such a remarkable car, it’s just too big for my tastes. I still prefer the sexy, small and fun Tesla Roadster… the lines of a Lotus with induction power is pretty alluring! Salivating aside, the Fiat 500E and my love of small cars with an attitude, has me wishing for a week behind the wheel of the electrified Cinquecento
5. When I drive electric, I feel ________.