Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Sun 9th Jan, 2011

Nothing to show off

Due to an interesting but otiose set of circumstances, the Canberra EV group got permission to have a stall at SummerNats - the yearly "more than a car show" festival at the start of January in Canberra. At first glance this appears a bit like inviting the Skeptic Society to a Church Fete; but there are many reasons that people have for converting vehicles to electric power, and fuel economy and helping the environment are but a few.

Take, for instance, the White Zombie, a 1972 Datsun 1200 that has been converted into an electric drag race car. This thing does 11 second quarter miles - well into supercar territory (quite a bit faster than a Holden HSV GTS). And because all of its torque is there from zero RPM, it takes off like a bullet - you can see in videos, it just doesn't accelerate much after the first six seconds, and that's because the controller is programmed to not ramp up the amps too fast. And that's not the fastest - here's a drag car doing a 7.56 quarter mile. Let's see any of the burn-out champions get anywhere near that.

Likewise, the TTXGP is bringing electric racing to motorbikes. In the year that I've been following this there have been at least half a dozen companies that are now putting out electric bikes both for road, sport and dirt. The dirt bikes are particularly attractive to run on electric motors as they get a lot of torque at low revs, something that dirt bikes are specially customised to do with petrol engines. The process of running these races and having electric drag cars is changing the minds of the racing and horsepower community.

So instead of talking about noise and exhaust emissions, we talked about torque curves and quarter miles. I also talked about customisation - one of the big things at SummerNats is that the people bringing along their cars are customising them and making something that is distinctly their own. I saw a customised Suzuki Mighty Boy (which was rad) - so even if it's not a fully blown 351 Chevy with triple weber carbies and a supercharger, someone can still get into customising it and showing it off. I think the scope for that kind of customisation is one reason for doing electric conversions - you can choose your motor, drive train, batteries, controllers, everything - and lay it out with the same care and attention that the high-end car audio system competitors do.

And a friend pointed out that there's another attraction. Every car made after about 1986 has to obey increasingly stringent emissions rules. This severely limits the amount of customisation you can do to a 2008 Nissan GTX or Holden HSV. That's why a lot of the cars at SummerNats are older: the scope is wider for modifications. But you could take a current muscle car with a dead engine and convert it to electric running, and you wouldn't have any emissions specs to look at. Maybe that's not a huge selling point, but it's an interesting thing to note.

I'm trying to avoid being judgmental about the people and cars at SummerNats. It's loud, and it's just not really the kind of place that I would normally hang out. When the burn-out competition started I could smell it before I heard it. But all in all the crowd was friendly; no-one came and trolled us, the people we talked to were all pretty interested in the possibilities one way or another, and they could see that we were passionate about our bikes and cars in our own way. The fact that we had a stall there at all is the big revolution. And who knows - maybe next year we'll have the electric go-kart ready to spin the wheels, or get the electric drag car that's being designed in Sydney down to show how it's done.

I haven't uploaded my photos yet but Tony has a set online. You can see me standing around in front of my bike in a few of them. The most interesting one to me is the second to last one comparing the different battery technologies. On the left you have a gel-cell lead-acid battery delivering 80 amp-hours weighing 32 kilograms - annoyingly heavy to lift. Next to it you have four of my cells, making a 12 volt, 60 amp-hour battery that weighs just over a quarter of that, at 8.8 kilos. The next yellow battery is another lead acid battery, capable of delivering as much power as my cells are, and only weighing a fraction more at 13.2 kilos - but it only has a quarter of the amp-hour capacity, at 15Ah. That's why we're going with Lithium cells.

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