©1995 Laurie Stone have always been adamant about not owning a car. I hated the thought of having to buy gasoline for a personal vehicle. I felt I could get anywhere on my bicycle or by public transportation. I remember as a child, being fascinated with solar energy. I said "I'm never going to own a car unless I can have a solar car." My family thought I was nuts.
Well, as I got older, reality struck. Sure, I could still get places on my bicycle, but the small mountain town in which I live made the winters tough. Public transportation never seemed to go or come when I needed it. Living in a small town forced me to travel to other towns in our valley for essential items. My laundry also seemed to be growing (more clothes as I got older, or just larger clothes, I'm not sure) making trips to the laundromat on my bicycle a difficult task. I felt like maybe it was time to mellow out on my idealistic purism and get a car. However, I was still adamant about not owning a conventional gasoline car. I wanted an electric car.
At Solar Energy International (SEI), where I work, we all liked the idea of doing an Electric Vehicle Conversion Workshop. Here was my chance to not only own an electric car, but actually participate in building it. We invited Mike Brown and Shari Prange from Electro Automotive to be the guest instructors for the workshop. They have been converting cars to electric power for 15 years.
I was excited about the prospect of having an electric car, but I definitely had my reservations.
Could I really do it? I knew nothing about car mechanics. I knew the underneath of a car hood like I knew the inside of my calculator. I had no idea how it worked, just that it does what I need it to do. I figured it would be a great learning experience. It definitely was.
I needed a donor car. I read Shari's Home Power articles about what to look for in a car. I called Shari and Mike quite often with numerous questions. I wanted a light weight car with manual transmission, room for batteries and a body in good condition. I knew that Mike and Shari convert a lot of VW Rabbits. They actually have a "Voltsrabbit" kit. I thought a rabbit would be a perfect choice. I finally found the perfect car. A 1983 VW Rabbit convertible which is (best of all) solar yellow.
Then came the task of getting it ready for the conversion. What a task that was. Pulling out the engine and the entire fuel system was much harder than I had originally thought. Fortunately, I have good friends who know about cars. They offered to help me out. Master Mechanic Brett Lundy and SEI Instructor Ed Eaton spent days with my little yellow car removing its internal organs. Brett labeled all the wires from the engine and transmission as he removed them so we would know what went where. We saved all of the original nuts and bolts as per Mike and Shari's instructions.
EV Conversion Workshop Then came the workshop. Ten people came from all over the country to learn from EV experts Mike and Shari, and to help me convert my little yellow car. We spent the first part of every day in the classroom going over the whole process of a conversion. We started with Basic EV Facts, Safety, Choosing a Car, and Removing the IC System. Then we went into the shop and worked on the car. Each day in class we covered the different parts of the conversion kit that we were going to install that afternoon.
The first day in the shop was the most difficult one for me. The day was spent cutting and drilling into my car to make room for the battery racks. It would be an understatement to say it was slightly disconcerting to see people going at my little yellow rabbit with a drill and a Sawz-All. Mike and Shari definitely knew what they were doing. Not a cut was made in vain.
Top: Batteries are added to the front of the VW. Center and Bottom: The rear compartment is modified to also accept batteries.
Top: Shari Prange applies the electric decal. Center: Mike Brown and Shari Prange Bottom: The SEI EV Conversion Class and the completed Voltsrabbit
The next few days were spent installing a medium Advanced DC motor, controller, potbox, batteries and vacuum brakes. The Curtis PMC Controller meters out the electricity to the motor according to demand, as signalled by the throttle pedal. The potbox is the interface between the throttle pedal and the speed controller. Electricity is stored in 16 Trojan six Volt 125 Amp-hour batteries. We installed a power brake vacuum system because disc brakes need a power assist, which relies on vacuum from the engine manifold. This vacuum source is lost in the conversion, but can be replaced by a vacuum pump and reservoir.
We added batteries and motor and removed the the IC engine.The final car ended up weighing about 880 pounds heavier. We replaced the struts, shocks, and springs with heavier-duty versions because of the extra weight.
We also installed a DC/DC converter because the electric car still uses a 12 Volt battery to power the lights, windshield wipers, horn, etc. Since there is no alternator to keep this battery charged we use the converter to tap off of the full battery pack. This eliminates the uneven discharge from the tapping-off of two six Volt batteries.
Three gauges were installed in the car. The ammeter gives a continuous reading of current usage. A state-of-charge gauge measures the voltage in the main battery pack. The voltage meter monitors the charge level of the 12 Volt battery.
We spent the last day installing the K & W 110 volt battery charger, connecting the batteries, and putting on the 'electric' graphics. According to Mike and Shari, a good charger is crucial to electric vehicle performance. While a 220 volt charger will charge the pack faster, it is bulkier and heavier. Plus, 220 volt outlets are less available. A 110 volt charger will charge more slowly. We used the 110 volt charger because it's small, light enough to be mounted on-board, and I can charge anywhere there is 110 volt power.
All of the above items that we installed in the car are part of the Voltsrabbit kit. Mike and Shari also provided me with a hydrometer so I can check my battery electrolyte level, a battery filler to help me add distilled water to my batteries, extra cable, shrink tube, and the miscellaneous parts I need to keep my car in top condition.
Now, the only thing I need gas stations for is to fill up my tires with air. I stuck to my ideal of never owning a gasoline car. Although I still use fossil fuels, EVs actually produce only one-tenth of the pollution emitted by a gas burning car, even figuring in the emissions from the power plant. They don't rely on foreign oil, produce exhaust, or noise. EVs don't waste energy while at stoplights or stalled in traffic.
Most conversions that use the Voltsrabbit kit have a range of 60 to 80 miles. Since I live in a hilly area, my range is usually around 60 miles. Going 55 mph isn't a problem. That's plenty for my needs.
I haven't realized my childhood dream of owning a solar car, but it isn't too far in the future. We hope to eventually install enough PV panels at SEI's office for a charging station for my car and the electric motor bike that we also converted in the EV Workshop. Solar charging would take care of one of the main controversies of electric vehicles. Many people believe that recharging EVs off the electrical grid just shifts pollution from city streets to electric power stations in outlying areas. However, when I charge my EV I am using existing generating capacity. A study by Southern California Edison indicated that the utility could absorb 600,000 EVs without increasing capacity. Nevertheless, it is possible to charge up your EV with your wind turbine, hydro system or PV panels. Then you have a truly clean, renewable energy car.
Right now, the US has the highest number of passenger cars per capita. There are approximately
145 million personal vehicles used regularly in this country. Over 90% of these cars are driven less than 25 miles per day. Think of the incredible change if we were all driving renewable energy-powered EVs.
I'm very happy with my electric car. I learned that converting a car to electric is not that difficult. Sure, I had a lot of help. Mike and Shari's kit has easy to follow manual, with step-by-step instructions.It was easy, even for a novice like me. When I'm driving my silent, exhaust free car people ask, "Where did you get your car?" I say, "I made it!"
Author: Laurie Stone, SEI, PO Box 715, Carbondale, CO 81623-0715 • 303-963-8855
Publication: Convert It, Michael Brown and Shari Prange, Electro Automotive, PO Box 1113, Felton, CA 95018-1113, 1993.
Build Your Own Electric Vehicle, Bob Brant, TAB Books, Blue Ridge Summit, PA 17294-0850.
Conversion Services EcoElectric Corporation, P.O. Box 77100, Tucson, AZ 85703. (602) 887-9449.
Electro Automotive, P.O. Box 1113, Felton, CA 950181113. (408) 429-1989.
Solar Car Corporation, 1300 Lake Washington Rd., Melbourne, FL 32935 (407) 254-2997
Solectria Corporation, 27 Jason St., Arlington, MA 02174.(617)894-6670
Was this article helpful?