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It’s December in Missouri. We endure short, dark, cold days now with ghostly winds and a heavy dampness. It is notably wretched. The problem with global warming is that it means different things to different people. Climate change is mostly frightening to those who have a good climate to start with – ergo the concern in California. Less so in Missouri frankly.

The new facility at 601 Morgan Oak St. has two massive heaters. I would imagine we will enjoy them thoroughly up to the first utility bill arrival of the new year. In the meantime, the house garage is too bitter to do much in and this has hastened our move down the street – where it’s pleasantly warm.

Of course, anything we need is down the street at the original garage.

This week, we do a bit on Positive Temperature Coefficient heaters. You would think you could buy a heater kit from a company that calls itself Canadian EV and do pretty well with it. They are, after all, in Canada. Doesn’t it get quite cold there?

NOT. The little system we put in Speedster Duh seemed like a true blue ribbon Champion when we installed it in July. In December, it’s pathetic. So we built our own replacing the ONE heater element in the “Canadian” version with three. Better. Not great. But better.

The Mini Cooper Clubman, conversely, is working quite beyond my expectations particularly in the realm of environmentals. We had replaced our convoluted but very effective cooling system with a combined loop containing our 4kw glycol heating system AND using that to cool the Rinehart Motion Systems controller and motor. This is an absurd concept – attempting to control the temperature of two different things by cooling one, and heating another, with the same loop.

Surprisingly, it is working quite well – at least in December. We DO get some heat from the drive train, though nothing impressive. And the controller and motor DO seem to be maintained at an operational level of cooling – at least no shut downs. My only explanation is that the two components live in two different temperature climates. In the car, we find 65C to be quite warm. In the controller and motor, they find 55-60C quite cool. And the difference is the temp drop across the heat exchanger. That this would work surprises me.

Call me still skeptical until July. But meanwhile, reasonably comfortable in December. It takes a bit longer to heat up this larger loop than we enjoyed previously. But once warm, we can often turn off the 4kw entirely and the motor and controller seem able to maintain the temperature reached with the heater for some time.

Having Speedster Duh back is great, and in any event, Speedster driving in December is a bit of an extreme exercise. You have to really love a Speedster to want to do that in this climate.

So we’ve taken it as a good time to revisit the original Speedster. We were surprised to learn how much more power we had on the dynomometer with the original Speedster than Duh. But it was really impossible to compare apples to oranges largely because we had gone to a different transmission on Speedster Duh.

The original Speedster used a traditional 3.88 ring and pinion in the VW transaxle. With the Netgain motor, first gear was absurd, reaching the RPM limit of the motor at about 10 mph. Second gear was somewhat better, but really unnecessary. And third gear, while higher, seemed to put no strain on the motor taking off from a dead stop.

So in practice, we drove in third gear in town and fourth gear on the highway. A two speed.

This actually works pretty well, particularly since we have no regenerative braking from the motor. The car rolls very freely and I can coast for long distances using no motor at all. PLUS I needn’t use the clutch to shift between them. Simply quit applying power and move the gear selector. The synchros are more than able to deal with the mass of the electric motor. A very tiny “pause” between the gears.

But it seems very amateurish to have a four speed transmission with two useless gears. It is a Speedster, and shifting is part of the game.

So we pulled all the cells and boxes out, tore out a lot of our now known to be useless monitoring wiring, and have swapped out the transmission on a 3.44 R&P like Speedster Duh, which makes effective use of all four. We’ll take this opportunity for a general makeover.

The aging Kelly Controller is going to be replaced by a brand new Soliton1 1000 amp model. We’ve been wanting to try this anyway, as we are going to use two of them in the Escalade. The Kelly was advertised at 1400 amps, and we rarely saw more than 540 battery amps out of it. We had little in the way of cooling or heat sink on the Kelly and if it got hot, it simply shut down. We could almost always recycle it by turning the ignition off and back on, even while rolling down the highway, and it would then go merrily on. This happened but rarely. So we didn’t mind it terribly. But the Soliton will do much higher voltages (up to 340volts) and we have some ideas about additional batteries.

If we could get our voltage up to 144 volts, I think the Soliton will turn the Netgain into a screamer.

Since we have to remove the motor to change the transmission, we might as well try the NEW Netgain model. It is supposed to have better brushes, better cooling air flow from an improved internal fan design, larger terminals, stronger brush springs, some RPM monitoring options, etc.

We were stung by battery box sizing using the bulky Canadian EV adapter. We actually combined TWO different adapters for the Speedster Duh. We liked the Canadian taper lock coupler design and the EV Source adapter plate design which took up much less room, weighs less, and looks better. We had Cape Precision Machine basically combine the features of both into a third and new adapter design for VW transaxles and it worked out very well, allowing us larger rear battery boxes in the Speedster Duh. We need those in the original Speedster.

We actually fitted 16 180AH cells in the front compartment of Speedster Duh using an aluminum box Special Editions engineered for us. But they missed the measurement slightly and it was a problem. The cells also are perilously near the hood latch. So we are going to devise an EXTERNAL aluminum box, cut the fiberglass floor out of this compartment entirely, and lower and level the floor thereby. This should allow our 16 larger cells quite comfortably and we’ll use Eric Kriss’s layout therein.

We’re also going to attempt 11 additional 180 AH cells by use of a 3 inch thick tray that will mount between the cross members directly under the seat. This will comprise about 138 lbs of cells, plus maybe 30 lbs of aluminum tray VERY low in the car and directly under the seats. This should dramatically lower the center of gravity and reduce the polar moment of the car at the same time.

And then we are going to attempt ten cells in each of two boxes – one on each side of the motor. This BARELY worked with Speedster Duh and the AC-50 motor is actually slightly smaller, with much better terminal arrangement than the Netgain. I don’t know how this is going to go at this point frankly. We may have to lose two cells there.

So we should wind up with 47 cells total for 157 volts or 45 cells for 150. The larger number would give us 28260 watt hours for a theoretical very max range of 125 miles. With the additional weight, and with a more powerful drive train, we may not quite achieve that. But we should in any event wind up with a TRUE 100 mile vehicle in all driving regimes and with adequate margin to maintain our cell cycle life handsomely.

We’re planning some other upgrades with a Speedhut gage upgrade with a true GPS MPH Speedometer and a tachometer and fuel gage. We’ll add components for the EVWorks ZEVAII fuel gage driver and the daughter mode we worked out on Speedster Duh. We’ll probably keep the EVision display because Brain did such a marvelous job of incorporating that in the VDO combi gage case we had originally. And of course we’ll add our little Roving Networks box to drive our EVu software on the laptop.

We’ll do a 3 element PTC heater under the dash as well just as we did in Duh.

The result should be longer range, higher power, even than Duh. Blue Sky is the Soliton works out better than we hope and we actually have a tire burner on the dyno. We’ll have four smooth gears to deploy it.

And we continue to improve it.

The St. Louis Auto Show is scheduled for January 27-30 at the Convention Center in St. Louis. One of the things they have planned is an ECOCITY with alternative fuel vehicles. They have invited Gateway EV to provide some electric cars for attendees to test drive and ride in on an indoor track through ECOCITY. I’m not sure what ECOCITY is frankly. But we’re hoping to take two Speedsters, the Mini, and the Spyder to this event and get a feel for people’s reaction to them. I have to constantly remind myself that but a handful of people, including all our viewers, have ever actually ridden in one of these vehicles and felt what I feel every day. After over a year of weekly videos, it’s hard to imagine this is a secret, but in a very odd way, it is.

I have developed a deep and abiding affection for this pleasure car. I say that because I don’t actually consider it an automobile. The Mini Cooper is an automobile. It has air conditioning, heat, bluetooth, Sirius Satellite Radio, heated seats, power windows, garage door openers. The Speedster is a minimalist toy car. But it is great fun, and an iconic design.

There IS no other car, I am convinced, that is more of a head turner than the Speedster, unless it were the Spyder. I truly believe I could line people up standing on the HOODS of Tesla Roadsters to get a closer look at this car. What is even more surprising, is that kids and young adults here in Cape Girardeau just LOVE the look of the car. And they have no point of reference. They don’t know that it’s from the fifties and they don’t know even that it is a Porsche. But they still like it. The basic shape is just an iconic design from the house of Karmann. It will ALWAYS be a head turner. Year in and year out, generation after generation, regardless to the fashion dictates of the automotive industry. It is timeless. It has no year. It has no brand. It is a shape.

The Special Editions Inc and Vintage Speedsters have been VERY careful to reproduce these vehicles with utter fidelity to the original Speedster. It is the heart of their business and the better they can simulate the original, the happier their customer base is.

I’m not sure that applies in this case. We don’t make the original sound. We don’t drive like the original Speedster. We may be a new thing. And maybe we should let go of the old a little bit.

Where is all this going? We have broken into violent agreement with Special Editions repeatedly. They want to do the car. We want them to do it. But they have concerns about being on the hook for the battery pack. And in fact, their workers are a little bit afraid of TOUCHING the battery pack. There’s quite a learning curve on the electronic components, and particularly when we depart from off the shelf solutions such as the Canadian EV heater kit, and start having to fabricate our own. Instrumentation remains an issue. We haven’t got it all worked out yet frankly.

I said we would never produce the Speedster. And we won’t actually. The idea of Brain and I manufacturing cars is somewhat absurd. We’re media guys.

But we have changed the nature of the conversation with Special Editions. There IS a constant level of inquiry from people who want to just BUY a built Speedster. And we need a reply. At this point, I’m wondering WHAT it would look like if we built a few, say 12 a year. After visiting Bremen, I liked the look and feel of the father/son shop there, and the obvious pride they took in hand making cars.

Young Hauber has come to do an Escalade project. But he’s worked out well and seems happy here and he has a dream of building electric cars.

Special Editions meanwhile is striving for more control of THEIR process. They’ve had new molds made and are moving the body buildup and paint to the U.S. And in the Spring, they plan on introducing a new car – the Roadster.

A Roadster is actually a more deluxe Speedster. It has a taller windshield, more luxurious seats, a better top, and best of all, rollup windows. It’s a little heavier, and a little more expensive.

So we’ve been talking about what an electric Roadster would look like.

The first thing we need to improve on the Speedster is a lighter vehicle. When I ran the concept of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) past Carey Hines, he was lukewarm to the idea. But he warmed up to it a bit. It would save about 300 lbs over the traditional fiberglass, but would add some $15,000 or perhaps $20,000 to the car.

We then talked about other weight savings and he did allow that some Arkweld/Wilmot aluminum brake components were available that would save 127 lbs, but were likewise expensive at $2500.

He started getting with the program and noted that really the frame COULD be done with aluminum, and would save another 400 lbs if we did so. More, it could be made to accommodate the IRS axle.

The Speedster uses the older and more traditional swing axle transmission with torsion bar for suspension. This is basically what the original Speedster WAS. But Volkswagen introduced a new independent rear suspension (IRS) system in about 1967 that really was an improvement in handling.

And the picture that emerges in my mind, and very nearly nowhere else, is of a 150 mile range Roadster that handles better than the Speedster, is 500 lbs LIGHTER than the Speedster, has more comfortable seats, roll up windows, more headroom with the top up, and of course, using the HPEVS drive train still accelerates better because of the lighter weight. We are also expecting some Curtis controller improvements in the next year, hopefully to BOTH a 650 amp and a 144 volt ceiling. Indeed, if we could put down a 90kw, 1500 pound, carbon fiber aluminum Roadster, it would be a thing beyond.

Of course, it would cost $80,000 freakin dollars. For a “pleasure car”. A wine country fair weather convertible. And so we could be in the car building business, without having to build very damn many at that price I would bet….

And so this is the stuff of dreams…. but as drive components and batteries improve, so does the dreaming….

Jack Rickard