Sunday, January 01, 2006

My Background

So what prompted me to decide to build an electric vehicle (EV) based on this car? Well it pretty much goes back to 1994, when I had just finished a rather difficult first year of college and I was really struggling with envisioning a future for myself that didn't suck. On the drive home I stopped at a friend's house in Palo Alto who had built an electric Volkswagen Rabbit from a kit a couple of years prior. The fact that you could make a useable electric car conversion was news to me. I had always pictured electric cars as being little boxy things not much faster than golf carts. But here was a perfectly useable (if a bit pokey) car that could do 30-40 miles of driving on a few dimes' worth of electricity. Even though things haven't quite turned out as I imagined, the experience gave me some direction in my education and future career that I had been sorely lacking. Over the summer I convinced my parents that they should fund my "educational experience" and help me out buying parts and a car to convert. I found a really crappy 1978 Honda Accord hatchback and proceeded to try and shoehorn eighteen 8-volt golf car batteries into the thing, along with an 8" diameter DC motor and the associated control and battery charging apparati. That first conversion is what could charitably be called a learning experience, or less charitably a series of important mistakes. But I'll save that list for its own post. After deciding that the Honda was just too much of a piece of crap to try and salvage, I decided to go for a more interesting donor car in better condition. I found a 1979 Porsche 924 and managed to get a pretty decent start on it before I left college and headed off to work. The experience of having a full time job in a field related to (but only minimally overlapping with) one's hobby was not conducive to getting a lot done on the car. Work, as I once heard it said, is like having an early morning class and a late afternoon lab every day for the rest of your life. So the project kind of languished in the end as well. The upside of that job is that I learned a bit about the industry side (as opposed to hobbyist side) of the EV business. After a somewhat miserable year working and living the Los Angeles area, I moved up to Bellingham to do a one-year post-bacc program in Vehicle Design at Western. I not only learned a ton about cars in general, I also became more interested in the dark side (internal combustion vehicles). After playing around with a couple of diesel Rabbits and turbocharged all-wheel-drive Mazdas, I'm pretty well back in the EV camp as far as projects go. There is one other project I've worked on that's worth mentioning, my so-called Three-Wheel Dork Mobile. This stems from an idea a friend and I had back in 1996 of building a motorized skateboard with front and rear weight sensors controlling the motor. After years of thinking about how to put it together and a few false starts, I put one together a year ago that I've been riding around on ever since. Here's a picture of it in it's early stages. Basically I'm interersted in any kind of interesting or unusual drivetrain in a car, and building an EV is an especially accessible way of radically changing what powers a car. And the end result should handle a good half of the driving I do for pennies a day worth of electricity.


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