Share →

Wayne Alexander has probably the most ACTIVE EV conversion shop in all Christendom with EVBlue.  Wayne’s philosophy is “give the customer what he wants”.

I’m a little bit of a crank I suppose.  Were I to do a conversion shop, it would be more like “give the customer what you want them to have.”

We’ve had a bit of an epiphany here at EVTV largely deriving from the massive 598 page contest document we still wrestle with rather actively.  I’m anxious to announce the 10 finalists, but our sponsors are similarly finding their choices difficult.  Among the 955 entries, after all the winnowing in the world, there are a number of really good ones.

A common theme running through it is the largish percentage who don’t precisely want to build an electric car.  They want to build an electric car, and then ANOTHER electric car, and they want to keep doing that unto their departure from this world.   Some already DO have conversion shops, but it is clear there is a huge desire to do that.

My original interest was batteries, and video.  We propose to be the definitive niche video show for the genre.  I am not myself attracted to the idea of an automobile manufactory.  But I get it.  Now what to do about it.

If that IS the dream of a significant percentage or our viewers, we should be knowledgeable on the topic – what works, what doesn’t, what to do, what to avoid.  We can do some of that vicariously, and intend to.

But our concept of “journalism” varies somewhat from the norm.  We believe you publish best with a thorough and rigorous knowledge of the topic, and frankly we openly deride the chippy journalism taught in media school about how to ask incisive questions.  To my way of thinking, if you purport to report on a topic, you should know it thoroughly.  And of course, you learn by doing.

So how to simulate a conversion shop while not doing any of that?  An unsolvable puzzle, my favorite kind.

We were approached kind of separately by a Taiwanese electric railroad executive and a Kit Car manufacturer from the far southwest corner of Missouri with some apparently random questions all centering on the same car – the Shelby Cobra.

I have too main interests in cars – enormous land yachts and tiny sports cars.  The “muscle” car thing never quite worked for me.  But I will admit the Cobra is  a bit attractive and to some degree unique.  Kind of “sport car” sized but with a honkin big 429 V8 in it.  Kind of like putting a $10,000 hand tooled saddle on a $200 mule.  I like V12 engines.  I like MG’s.   Never occurred to me to PUT a V12 IN an MG, but out of the box thinking is always attractive to me.

Now an ELECTRIC Cobra?  And as I say, kind of a random thing.  How do you put a VW transaxle in a Cobra?  Could it be done with SLI batteries from WalMart?  etc.

As it turns out, the two separate streams of questions were really one.  A gentleman from Taiwan who wants to develop an electric Cobra for sale in China, and a 30 year veteran kit car builder from Missouri who, like Wayne Alexander, wants to give the customer “what he wants”.

At some point, somebody has to design something on purpose.  A collaboration where the builder picks one part, and the customer picks a second, and they continue like choosing up sides for a neighborhood baseball team, does not, to my eye, look like a formula for success.

I like a model where the customer defines the REQUIREMENTS ( goes 171.5 mph, accelerates 0-60 in 3.5 days, range of 22,000 telephone poles, etc), and the builder indicates expensive areas (171.5 mph) and areas that could easily be improved (0-60 in 2.2 days) and things that are in the category “are you sure” like 22000 telephone poles per hour.

Once that is all layed out, I would advocate you give the customer what you want him to have. Someone has to select components with a knowledge of:

1. What’s available.  You may have info on new products that just haven’t migrated to the body politic.

2.  What’s affordable – sure, a $34,000 UQM AC drive train is perhaps nice (haven’t ever used one frankly) but how nice is it at seven times the price?

3. What works well TOGETHER.  Random components do not a car make.

4. What works for THIS particular car choice.  These kind of cars have a history, a culture, and an expectation set built in.  If you are going to convert it to electric, you are already throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  But what holy icons do you NOT want to disturb.

And from there you move onto finer points like how much trouble it is to assemble, what would be like to MAINTAIN, what would it be like to maintain say at a distance of 8000 miles and across a couple of language barriers, etc.  If it takes a day and a lift to take some voltage measurements, probably not a good thing.

In any event, my first reaction was to send these guys back into the amorphous Internet from whence they came.  Oddly both persisted in some sincerety that they really wanted to do this car and wanted an excellent electric car to be the outcome.   So I took a closer look at the AC Cobra as a platform.

What I found was indeed a vehicle with a following.  It’s one of the most popular kit cars on the ground with numerous small firms producing these vehicles.  Typically with a comically over strong Ford 9-inch rear end, a T5 five speed transmission, and almost always a V8, choice of small block or heavy breather, big tires, enormous side exhaust pipes.

But often not weighing a lot more than our Speedsters.  LOTs of legroom.  And kind of a huge amount of space for batteries.  The flanks of this beast have those sensuous feminine curves I confess I have a weakness for (Speedster, Spyder, MG).  And then kind of a raw quirky WWII aircraft dash board with a speedometer that turns BACKWARDS.

Hmmm.  And the gentleman had aspirations to sell these in modest quantities in China under the name Aptima Motors.   Hmmm….  I was gradually developing an attachment to the vision.

So I told them to send me the car.  We’d make it an EVTV project.  And build the best one we knew how.  I can’t tell them what will go in it because I don’t know yet.  I spend a lot of time with a measuring stick and a cellphone calculator around here already.  And usually if I scratch my ass and pick my nose furiously enough for a few days, we come up with a plan.   So far, they’ve all worked out surprisingly well.  120 mph range…..  0-60 in 6 to 8 seconds…..  120mph top speed….. that’s a bit of a challenge from all directions.  This lazy car is going to want an 80 mile range, a ten second 0-60 and top out at 95 mph.

But the Ford rear end has an endless array of ratios.  There are endless transmission options.  And there’s a lot of space when you DON’T have a 429 in it.  And with about 800 LED’s in the front scoop it WOULD look a little like a flame thrower.

This week Brian Anderson of B&B Manufacturing  in the greater Granby Missouri metropolitan area  brought his creation, a very unusual “Turnkey Minus” of his Cobra kit car to EVTV.  Brian has built 2500 of these over the past 30 years.  This one is kind of special in that it has been seriously “lightened” to a scant 1360 lbs.  An eggregiously strong X member that is kind of his hallmark on his version of this car has been removed.  And in this week’s show Brian gives us a walkaround of the vehicle – our first up-close look.

So we’ve been scratching and picking ever since.  The vehicle comes with a 3.25 rear end which I’m kind of attracted to.  But we’ll probably replace it with limited slip.  We looked at automatic transmissions for this, but we have ordered a Tremec TKO-600 monster from Mike Fortes, who does a lot of tranny’s for the Cobra crowd and seemed knowledgeable on the surprisingly large bevy of piece parts and options that you have to deal with with one of these transmissions.  The TKO 600 is nominally a 600 ft-lb transmission.  My sense is we need some power for such a vehicle, and my sense is since I’m sitting next to the transmission, I don’t want it to do the Claymore mine simulation when we first apply it.  I admit it may be overkill.  After our recent experience with a 9inch Netgain and a Soliton in Redux, blowing a Stage II Kennedy clutch, I guess I think overkill is appropriate.  We’re going to use a hydraulic clutch with an 11 inch disk.

I think one interesting thing we can do with this project is change it from a four wheel car to an eight wheel car.  I’m going to spring for some lightweight narrower wheels and some Michelin Energy savers.  It currently has some very wide, very sticky wheels and tires on it that look very Cobra.  I can only imagine the rolling resistance.  So we are going to have two sets of tires and wheels, and we’ll pick out a circuit and demonstrate for you just specifically what difference rolling resistance makes in your energy usage – to several decimal places.

Given the space, I am inclined to attempt a 240 volt pack of 160 or 180 or even 200 AH cells.  I don’t have that all quite layed out yet.  But that’s a goal.

Beyond that, we’re pretty open on a drive train and etcs.  We’ve kind of had some success in the past with our very knowledgeable viewers bailing me out of assorted mayhem and mistakes.  So before I order a random sampling of parts, this would be a good time to tell me what I SHOULD have done, that is before I do it.

And finally, I have to acknowledge that the somewhat ironic reversal has some appeal.  IT would be kind of an interesting turn if a very small manufacturing company in Southwest Missouri wound up producing electric cars for export to China.  So we want this prototype to be something special.


Jack Rickard