Some of the slickest fabrication and custom work we’ve ever seen comes from the DIY EV crowd. Tim Catellier recently shared a story about the fantastic time he had at EVCCON 2011 on his personal blog. This is just so good, we had to get his permissions to re-run it here. Why? You’ll see…
I’ve finally arrived back in Arizona after having attended the first EVCCON (EV Conversion Conference) in Missouri. I rented a car hauler from U-Haul, borrowed my sister’s truck, loaded up the Z3 and then my father and I towed the car 1500 miles to Cape Girardeau. For those of you unfamiliar with the convention, it was put on by the EVTV crew, Jack Rickard and Brian Noto. The idea was to have the people that have adopted the use of, or are interested in EVs with LiFePo4 batteries, come together.
To be honest, I simply had no idea what to expect. My biggest hope was that there would be time to meet with the other attendees and exchange ideas and then see some of the cars up close. The schedule that was printed up was pretty full and I was concerned there wouldn’t be much of a chance for that. The convention was scheduled to officially start around 10:00 AM Wednesday. As it turned out, quite a people showed up on Tuesday and began descending on the EVTV shop. We arrived at the hotel Tuesday around 4:00 PM and immediately ran into Mark Emon, one of the finalists for the EVTV $20,000 EV component give away contest. Mark was getting ready to run down to the shop and said that we should come along and drop the car off. We decided we’d follow along and do just that.
When we arrived, there were already 30 or so people gathered around looking at the E-Cobra that Jack and Brian have been working on. Everyone encouraged me to unload the Z3 and then proceeded help. I pulled the truck into the shop (a tight fit) and used one of the ramps inside to facilitate getting it off the trailer nice, quick and painless. Once it was off the trailer, I opened it up so everyone could have a look.
There were certainly lots of favorable comments and questions, and it was fun answering them all. Jack explained to me that people started showing up well before the appointed time (some as early as Monday morning) and took over his shop. Though that clearly wasn’t the plan, I think he was quite happy to have everyone there. Around dinner time, someone showed up with several pizza’s and we all sat around talking about EVs and sharing pizza and beer. I don’t know that it gets much better than that. Before I left I asked Jack where he wanted me to put my car and he told me to just park it next to a couple of the others.
Wednesday we arrived at the shop around 10:00 AM and found that it was already teaming with activity. The previous day, they’d put the final pieces together in the E-Cobra and tried to drive it, but found it would not move under it’s own power. Motor spun, but in spite of the fact that the clutch was firmly engaged the car wouldn’t move. Six to eight guys were working on it and pulling the transmission to see if they could determine the problem with the clutch. As the day went on, more and more cars arrived, each impressive and a joy to look over. Sebastian Bourgeois’ 911, Fred Behning’s 1960 Austin Healey Sprite, Charlie and Tamera Rickman’s 1973 Opel GT and Daniel Yohannes’ Porsche Cayenne just to name a few.
Hanging out & talking shop
I can’t express what a joy it was to talk to each and everyone of these great people. Instead of the first two questions out of everyone’s mouth being “How far will it go?” and “How long to charge it?”, they were asking great questions like “How did you solve this problem?” or “Why did you choose that design?” Starting off with a pool of people that already “get it” set the stage for some very substantial, entertaining and valuable conversations. This was truly a fantastic day.
The next two days took place at Jack’s hanger out at the Cape Girardeau airport and were comprised mostly of various speakers and eating (man, there was a lot of food). The speakers lined up ranged from individuals that own and run conversion shops, suppliers of EV components (both sellers and manufacturers), industry analysts, with a couple of speakers on technical issues thrown in for good measure. I had no expectations for most of the speakers and very high expectations for others.
As it turned out, each speaker was quite good. A few stood out, having put together truly informative and interesting talks, but also delivering them quite well. George Hamstra from Netgain motors gave two talks, both packed with information about where we, as a global community, are going in regards to oil usage. Eric Kriss delivered a terrific analysis of why EVs make sense now and why and how that’s come to pass. Ryan Bohm of EVSource delivered a great talk about a variety of topics related to EVs including details of the new WarP-Drive controllers and safety concerns regarding EVs. The latter made a big impression on everyone. It was well stated and impassioned.
A special, sneak preview
Thursday evening, Chris Paine, director of “Who Killed the Electric Car” and “Revenge of the Electric Car” gave a talk. It was an interesting talk, but largely about the concerns and issues surrounding making movies. He is, however, clearly passionate about EVs. After speaking for an hour or so, and madly texting and emailing his producer to get permission to show us “Revenge of the Electric Car” he had still not received the OK. Ultimately he took the decision into his own hands and rolled the film. It’s set to come out October/November in different cities, so it was a great opportunity to see it early.
The film was basically an overview of four different groups, or in one case a person, working to bring an EV to the market. It featured, Bob Lutz and his efforts at shepherding the Volt into production at Chevy, Elon Musk and Tesla’s saga, Carlos Ghosn and Nissan’s preemptive dive into the EV world, and finally Rev. Gadget and his attempts to put together a 120 mile range Porsche 356 replica conversion that he can market. It was basically a documentary on the difficulties, setbacks and successes of each. It was well worth seeing and very entertaining. When it comes to your city, I think it’s worth your time.
Later in the day on Friday, we all went out to the runways behind the hanger for some festivities with the cars, including weighing each, a drag race, and an auto cross set up by the local SCCA. The Z3 came in at 3285 lbs, which is rather portly compared to several others, being that so many of the cars there were built from light weight sports cars, or replicas. (A side note, and I don’t remember the source, but the stock Z3 actually weighed more than a standard 2 door E36, BMW 3 series chassis.) What I thought was odd was the weight was dead on identical to when I had it weighed after it hit the road a year and a half ago, but the weight distribution went from 52% / 48% front to rear weight bias, to 50% / 50%. Can’t explain that.
I’ve never participated in any sort of drag race. Not the official sort on a track, or the race off the line at the local street light. It’s just not my thing. But I have to admit, it was great to find out just how well the Z3 would perform in an official, measured way. As it turned out, my car was the first weighed and the first at the line to run the 1/4 mile. It took some time for the next car to get weighed and staged. When we were all set, the lights on the tree (that’s drag racing talk for a pole with lights on it) gave us the green to go. I started in 2nd gear and screeched the tires like mad, much to the crowd’s approval, but I knew that meant I’d lost time. At the end of the run, I left it in 4th, which meant my torque was dying off, and I lifted just before the end. Like I said, I’ve never done this. But I realized right away I could do better. So the first run was 19.2 seconds at 61.8 MPH.
I lined up to try again. This time I started in 3rd and hit the power with a bit more care to be sure not to spin the tires. When 4th was losing torque I went to 5th, and I could feel a bit more torque kick in. That run was better at 18.9 seconds, 66.4 MPH. All in all, in a field of 22 cars, the Z3 came in a respectable 9th. Aside from Ron Adamowicz’s purpose built Camaro drag racer (which was awesome) the top runner was Dave Hrivnak’s Tesla Roadster that ran it in 13.1 at 88.2 MPH. Later, Dave gave me a ride in the Tesla, for which I will remain eternally grateful. He took me down the 1/4 mile run. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything so blisteringly fast. I’m not even sure the magnetically launched roller coasters I’ve ridden accelerate that fast. It was simply astonishing.
Having run what I thought was likely the best 1/4 mile I could, I went over to the auto cross. I picked out a helmet and was given an instructor. He explained to me how to read the course and how to attack various corners. We set off on the first lap and I did fairly well finishing in the mid 50 second range. But the instructor said “This car has a lot more to give, so I know you can do better.” I knew he was right since I hadn’t caused the tires to squeal once. Within a couple more laps I was down in the upper 40’s. I ran several more times trimming off a little more each time. The car performed great! I was throwing it into corners and driving it like it was meant to be driven. The last big corner you hit at pretty good speed and I was nearly drifting around it, the back end just barely hanging on. When it was all said and done, it got down to 44.7 seconds. Not the best time, but in the top of the pack. It would likely come as no surprise, but the Tesla set the best time in the mid 41’s.
Ultimately I had to stop because I was running low on charge. That was the most fun I’ve ever had in a car, and that includes a few memorable nights in high school and college. ;)
Saturday, we wrapped up at the hanger and then all of the cars drove down to a park in the middle of town for an EV car show. Each of the cars was on display and each builder was available to answer all the normal questions posed by people just seeing EVs for the first time. It was a great crowd and there were a number of people from the media there to film and photograph the cars as well as interview the drivers. We left the park in a police escorted parade around Cape Girardeau.
At the end of the parade, all the cars were gathered in the parking lot of the hotel, parked and arranged ever so carefully for some photos. First the cars by themselves, and then all the owners went and stood by the cars. Sadly, I did not have may camera. I’m hoping that one of the kind people that has a copy will send one to me.
It’s difficult to put into words, but that was a profound and powerful moment. I think everyone felt it and knew it was important. There was something palpable in the air. The sense that this was the beginning, the beginning of something big. Sure manufacturers are going to begin producing EVs for the public. But I, and I think everyone there feels that a big part of the future of EVs will be conversions. We were there to bare witness to the beginning of a movement that will change the world.
You should totally check out Tim’s blog now, because he has all kinds of pictures and videos like this one.
EVCCON looks like it was a great time. Definitely an event we’d like to attend one day. What about you?