KIM’S ELECTRIC CAR PAGE
The electric car started life as a 1966 Fiat 1500. It was always my favorite of a long string of old Italian cars, but come overhaul time the engine and transmission were too thoroughly worn out for me to justify the necessary expense, considering that I already had a running gas car. I had toyed with the idea of making an electric car several times in the past, and this time circumstances worked out so that it was possible. A major contribution to my decision was the availability of another electric car. While too small for me and suffering from some non--electrical problems, this car was available inexpensively and yielded up most of the necessary parts for the conversion.
ELECTRIC CAR PERFORMANCE WITH 8 BIG MOTOR BATTERIES (96V SYSTEM):
Top Speed (Level Ground, Full Charge): 65 MPH
Range (Freeway or Local Driving): 45 MILES
This is the present configuration I am running.
ELECTRIC CAR PERFORMANCE WITH 10 BIG MOTOR BATTERIES (120V SYSTEM) (TESTED):
Top Speed (Level Ground, Full Charge): 75+ MPH
Range (Freeway Driving): 55 MILES
Range (Local Driving): 40 MILES
ELECTRIC CAR PERFORMANCE WITH 10 SMALL MOTOR BATTERIES (120V SYSTEM) (ESTIMATED):
Top Speed (Level Ground, Full Charge): 75+ MPH
Range (Freeway or Local Driving): 30 MILES
I will try this configuration when it is time to change batteries, since my one way commute is 23 miles with charging before the return trip.
At present the acceleration performance is more limited by the controller characteristics than by vehicle weight, batteries, or motor. There is room for improvement by means of controller ‘speed ramping’ adjustments which have not been successfully made yet. With the present configuration of 8 big batteries, vehicle weight is approximately the same as in gas configuration (estimated from suspension height and component weights – I haven’t gotten around to weighing it yet), while acceleration is significantly worse.
It is interesting to note that acceleration and range did not change much when I went from 10 to 8 big motor batteries. It is as if the work of toting around the 130 pound weight of the extra two batteries ate up all of the additional storage capacity they provided. 10 batteries does provide a significant increase in top speed however, enough to make the car a bit more comfortable to drive in fast Florida freeway traffic.
ELECTRIC VEHICLE COMPONENTS:
Motor: Prestolite MTC-4000
Controller: Curtis 1221B (400A max)
Batteries: Trojan Deep Cycle 225SCS (weight 66 pounds each)
Optional Small Batteries: Trojan Deep Cycle 150SCS (weight 50)
These are conventional deep cycle lead acid batteries
Charger: Phazor DV (this is a nice small charger, but no longer made)
Instruments: Amp meter, State of Charge meter (a modified voltmeter), Engine and
Controller temperature gauges, Cyberdyne electronic speedometer, battery hydrometer.
Heater/Defroster: Electric resistance heater in the old heater enclosure
Conversion complexity and cost:
Welded parts in the conversion: 2
Machine shop parts in the conversion: 1
Aside from these parts (engine to driveshaft adaptor, engine mount, and battery frames welded to the car frame in the engine compartment), the balance of the conversion could have been done with common hand tools.
The project took about three months of spare time, not very intensive work.
Total investment (not counting donor car, including new battery set):
Approximately $2000 (batteries $1000, other parts $1000) (Without an electric car to cannibalize, investment would have been about $3500--$4000.)
Gas car parts which will never trouble me again (because they are gone):
Engine (contains dozens of moving parts which can break)
Transmission (contains dozens of moving parts)
(most electric conversions retain the transmission)
(I do not recommend removing the transmission in hilly country)
Clutch, Pressure Plate, Throw Out Bearing
Radiator, Generator, Regulator, Starter Motor, Starter Solenoid
Gas Tank, Fuel Pump
Oil and Oil Filter (no more oil changes or old oil to dispose of)
Instead, we now have the following new electrical parts which replace the above and can potentially fail:
Moving parts: 1 (the motor armature)
Motor Brushes (estimated life 60,000 miles +)
Batteries need water level checked and water added weekly
Batteries do have a limited life, estimated at hundreds of cycles
with proper maintenance.
Other potential failure items which can make you a pedestrian:
Charger (which has failed once from being connected during a
Controller (fairly expensive, but also well protected against
damage in normal use) (can be damaged by a
misconnection or wiring short)
Main Contactor: (cheap and easy to repair or replace)
MUCH lower maintenance
Negligible fuel cost (have never noticed the effect on my home
electric bill, charging for return trip from work funded by
Cool, quiet operation
Zero fuel use and emissions in stalled traffic
Popular with environmentalists (BUT, see the note on
environmental impact below…)
Attracts a lot of favorable attention
Essentially limited to a fixed, known route (If you let yourself run out of charge, you are screwed – you can’t even walk to the gas station, you will have to tow it to an electrical outlet. In 10 battery configuration, a 220V outlet is required.) (Some people tow a generator for long trips, essentially creating a hybrid vehicle.)
Acceleration and top speed performance of this particular conversion does not equal gas car standards, but some other electric conversions are better in this respect.
Recharging takes 6-8 hours (3-4 hours if you are willing to compromise battery life)
Environmental considerations: Here in Florida, most of our electricity comes from coal. Because I have not yet implemented solar charging (working on it, but a large array of solar cells is required to achieve reasonable recharge time), pollution is produced at the power generating station when the car is charged. Under these circumstances and in terms of absolute numbers, this car actually produces more pollution than a well tuned late model gas car. It certainly produces significantly higher pollution levels than any current hybrid vehicle. This situation would be improved considerably (likely bettering regular gas car pollution rates) if your electric utility makes extensive use of natural gas fuel.
Why I don’t like a hybrid vehicle: A major part of my motivation to build an electric car (aside from the fun of the project itself), was to reduce the amount of maintenance and difficult to find replacement parts required and to increase the reliability of this funky old car. Now, in a hybrid car you have TWO systems that both have to function properly to get you home. The hybrid has all the parts of a gas car, PLUS all the parts of an electric car, PLUS the control and connection components (both mechanical and electrical) required to tie the two systems together. If either the gas or the electric system fails, you can NOT limp home on the other system (2006 update – some commercial and some modified hybrids can now run on the electric system alone, either to get you home in the event of an engine failure or for short trips without running the engine). For this reason, I regard the hybrid as at best a marginal interim solution to vehicle pollution problems until fuel cell technology is perfected.
For electric car construction pictures: http://www.falconlabs.com/ELECCAR/carpix.htm
Two good suppliers of components, conversion kits, and advice:
Electric Vehicle of America Wolfeboro, NH USA 603-569-2100
KTA SERVICES Upland, CA USA 909-949-7914
At the end of 2005 I sold the electric car to another Fiat enthusiast who has a different route to drive which is more suitable for this car as-is. His route does not entail freeway driving and is on one of Florida’s west coast islands where there are no hills. A summary of my experience over the life of this electric vehicle follows:
-- Total miles driven: 24,300 over about 26 months
-- Fuel cost: negligible – I was never able to see any change in my electric bill, even when driving the car 4 or five days a week through an entire billing period. The variation due to changing use of the heat pump air conditioner far overshadowed any consumption for charging the electric car.
-- Electric component failures: charger wiped out by lightning due to carelessness in not unplugging it during a storm and/or inadequate surge protection
-- Mechanical component failures: it was necessary to replace some front suspension components which were no doubt already well worn when the conversion was done. The extra weight in the front when running 10 big batteries finished off the already weakened king pin bushings.
-- Battery life: batteries were in very serviceable condition when I sold the car, with estimated at least 80% of original storage capacity remaining (based on specific gravity at full charge compared with new and corrected for temperature). Two batteries failed within the first two months by having one cell in each refuse to accept a charge they were replaced by the Trojan dealer at no charge.
-- Times it left me stranded: twice because of trying to push the range during early testing, plus once when the controller got wet in a heavy rain storm before I added adequate shielding against rain blowing into the engine compartment while driving. In the last case I was able to get home by bypassing the controller and switching the main contactor on and off. The car ran normally the next day after everything dried out
-- Recommendations: do not eliminate the transmission (the clutch and flywheel add extra weight and complexity and are not needed if the motor is switched off during shifting). Even in this relatively flat terrain, a lower gear than 4th (equivalent to my direct connection of the motor to the driveshaft) would be beneficial for reducing power consumption while starting and to provide better acceleration from a standing start, especially against a hill. An overdrive gear would be advantageous to allow a higher top speed using an eight battery pack. What is really needed is a simple two speed transmission with two gears roughly equivalent to third and fifth in a normal transmission. Such a transmission could be made out of a single planetary stage from an automatic transmission by someone with extensive machine shop skills, but the magnitude of that project would equal that of the entire rest of the electric car conversion. I believe that eliminating the ability to use a lower gear for started accounts for the lower range this vehicle achieved compared to other conversions using the same motor, batteries and controller. Those other conversions usually report 60-75 miles range, but I have no ideal how optimistic they are, while my figures are hard data obtained under a variety of actual driving conditions of speed and ambient temperature in the mild Florida climate.
-- All in all this was a fairly successful first attempt, and the car is still in use by the new owner, though his driving conditions are not quite as taxing as my daily commute. I will do another conversion sometime in the near future, making use of what I learned from this project.