With Brain’s return on Friday, we were able to shoot a quick video and get it up. But despite the lack of preparation, it wound up being somewhat lengthy for a couple of reasons.
We had received a request for a shop visit from a couple of guys in Tokyo Japan. Actually one of them lives in Palos Verdes at the moment. We are getting a lot of visitors these days but we agreed to meet with them. They came and stayed for three days over a weekend.
I was stationed in Japan on the USS Midway and for 44 months we were home ported in Yokosuka. The Midway is now a museum in San Diego and undoubtedly I should be as well.
Things have changed a bit in Japan as well over the past 35 years. The party arrived and were quite intent on examining every detail of our two 356 Speedsters. Eventually we took them on an hour long country drive in each of them. I was pleased they agreed with me on the better car – Speedster Duh.
Brain likes power and performance and the rebuild of the original Speedster allowed he and Matt Hauber to build a 150 mile car that would do 0-60 in 6.5 seconds at 2400 lbs. It allowed me to dynamometer an actual installation of a Netgain Warp 9 and the then newish EVnetics Soliton1 controller, so I was good with it. But the net effect delt to me as if we’d dropped a small block V8 in a Porsche. Greater torque down lower, and heavy. Yes, it accelerates very briskly – not Tesla style but it feels strong. But the car is a bit ponderous to my tastes. And the real Porsche speedsters, like the MG’s are made to dance at higher RPM’s – 4000 or 4500. They’re really quite poor performers at 2500-3000 rpm where the Soliton/Netgain combination shines.
So it never did feel “correct” to me.
Speedster Duh, on the other hand, is quite trim at 2040 lbs and with the Hi Performance Vehicle Systems package of their AC-50 motor and the Curtis controller, it actually DOES dance around up around 4000-5000 rpm and IS a little pokey at low rpms. I’ve grown very fond of this package for cars under 2500 lbs, but the 0-60 is more like 11 seconds – quite impressive compared to the specs of a genuine 1957 Porsche 356 Speedster, but not competitive with today’s super cars.
I guess I’m just not in that much of a hurry. Because the feel of the car and the feel of the road is so sensual, I kind of feel like Im running my fingertips over the road ahead – feeling every angle and every pebble as I drive. And so this is not only my favorite electric build, it is probably the best car I’ve ever driven in almost all respects.
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Environmentally, well it’s a Speedster from 1957. Creature comforts, air conditioning, bluetooth, and power windows just weren’t a thing with this car. If you wanted those, you bought a loaded Cadillac, at slightly less money at that in those days.
Fifty five years later, we have Speedsters and Cadillacs in the same shop and with the same relationship.
These two guys from Japan were forming a new venture specifically to market Speedsters to young drivers in Tokyo. They had already decided on the Speedster and had apparently surveyed every Speedster replica manufacturer in the book. They were already set on electric driver, but Tokyou DOES get hot in July and cold in February, just like Cape Girardeau really – very similar climate. And so they kept talking about rollup windows and hard tops and even rather firmly suggesting that we convert a coupe from JPS Motor Sports.
I finally told them we probably didn’t have a match. I’ve walked around this circle with the Speedster too many times. As soon as you start adding all of that stuff, the cost of the vehicle skyrockets and you really DON’T have a Speedster anymore. You probably would do better with a different car. We had met “John” of JPS Motor Sports at Carlisle and he presented an instant and heroically negative account of himself with essentially no prompting or cause. A kind of viciously rude and stupid man, he made an ass of himself at every opportunity.
So I told our Japanese visitors that I didn’t think we had a match and would not in any event have anything to do with JPS at even an arms length basis.
I thought that would be the end of it, but their response the next day was that they wanted to buy Speedster Duh, have a second shipped by November 1, and if they were able to detect any interest at all in Tokyo from those two demonstrators, five more immediately.
And so we are going to make a few minor changes in Speedser Duh, new seats, side mirrors and a more readable AH meter, and ship it by August 1. We’ve contacted Special Editions and were disappointed to find the pricing on their rollers has gone up dramatically , either with time or with our new found market for them, hard to tell. But we have provisioned a red Speedster of similar specification and they are being very accommodating about scheduling and working it in quickly. They’ve always been great to work with.
So I took a few minutes to do kind of a review walk around of Speedster Duh, and point out the things that had worked better than expected, and the things we’ll just have to do better on the next build, and it is kind of illustrative of the issues you run into with ANY electric car build.
It’s also brought us face to face with the realities of all of this and the central issues of the entire Do It Yourself electric car gig. The additional funds necessary to cover hired labor and a touch of profit just price this car almost out of reach. But more importantly, there is a loss of control. We had a viewer from Europe question whether he wouldn’t be better off with a Vintage Speedsters roller instead of the Special Editions Beck Speedster as it was 3000 euros less expensive. I really didn’t quite know how to respond. It misses the whole point of everything we do all day long seven days a week.
Can you replace the Beck Speedster with a Vintage Speedster? Duh YES. You can also replace it with a Corvair, a Saab Sonnett, a Karman Ghia, or a VW bus, a military jeep, a Volvo, or a BMW. For THAT matter you can replace it with a Glastron boat. It’s YOUR build.
By eliminating the profit margin, the coverage of very real shop overhead, and the paid labor from having an electric car built, it really does add up to a significant savings. A $65,000 car becomes a $45,000 car and a $45,000 car becomes a $25,000 car. It is the ONLY way we have found to beat the game a little on the premium cost of electric car components to get a working car at a cost you could conceivably afford.
But it is STILL expensive in a sense to embark on such a project, and it should very much be a car YOU want to own and drive when you get done. Ideally one you would want to own and drive for YEARS. But that is a singular advantage to all of this YOU pick the car and you can pick PROVEN winners that you are already familiar with and love. I have no interest in a Chevy S10. But it’s an easy conversion and for some, it is the ideal electric vehicle. It will carry more batteries than you can pay for, and so gain as much range as you want – 200 miles is easy to build, just not easy to pay for all those cells. It DOES offer environmentals such as heat and A/C and rollup windows. All weather vehicle. With the manual transmission a very easy conversion. Can’t recommend it highly enough, it’s just that I don’t WANT one.
Different strokes…. Similarly Beetles. If you are A Beetle fan and into the Beetle thing and have Beetle memories from high school, its great. I personally think anyone who has ever had sex in the back of a Beetle is suspect. But Beetlemania goes far beyond Rock and Roll. It is a cult car with a BIG cult. And many many electric conversions.
Truly truly, today’s components make it really pretty easy to get into an electric car if you do it yourself. The choice of a donor, like the choice of any car, is a deeply personal and varied choice. If you stick to pretty basic cars with manual transmissions, it is just not hard to do. I would guess two guys, equipped with a LIFT, could easily work on such a thing nights and weekends and have a thoroughly done car in a month. It never happens that way because of the waiting for parts issue, which has always plagued us. We’re trying to cut some of that out with our online store, succeeding but partly.
But the point is, it is all about you. The actual act of doing the conversion, as I’ve said many times, is simply a series of small problem solving exercises. If you are patient and have sufficient mechanical ability to change your oil, you can do this.
So here’s WHY to do this:
1. You can have an electric car at a lower entry cost than buying a purpose built electric car from someone else.
2. You get to select what kind of car it is. A Mercury Cougar. A Ford Mustang. A Corvette. An MGB. A Beetle. A small pickup. A jeep. All have been successfully done many times. From the exotic to the ordinary.
3. You get an enormous level of satisfaction in the process of doing the conversion, selecting the components and fitting them to the car. IT is cleaner work, different from working on ICE cars. After you get rid of the ICE that is.
4. The personal satisfaction on that first drive of having succeeded in the conversion process. The initial EV grin is just something you have to experience to believe. I cannot give it to you nor describe it adequately to you. It can be among life’s most thrilling and satisfying moments.
5. The ongoing satisfaction of driving an electric car – you don’t go to gas stations. You don’t buy gasoline and motor oil. You just don’t DO any of that.
6. Mystery removal. By the time you get done, you’ll know and understand batteries, controllers, motors, adapter plates, DC-DC converters, fuses, cutoffs, and cabling. On your car, you will be INTIMATELY familiar with where all that is and where it is hooked up. You will no longer be a victim, wondering why your car quit. At the point where it quotes, you’ll already have a pretty good idea and often, it was something you THOUGHT you could get away with and as it turns out, you didn’t. You kind of know before you really roll to a stop.
7. Celebrity. Yes, if you drive an electric car, and especially if you BUILT that electric car, you are viewed pretty much as an authority on them, and as it is a better of interest to the exact degree that the price of gasoline rises, more of a celebrity all the time. Perfect strangers you would otherwise never meet or tolk to will stop you in store parking lots to pick your brain on what it is, how it works, how much it costs, what’s involved in living with it, etc., etc., ad nauseum. Some days you will actually tire of it, but most days it is nice to meet new people and have new conversations you might otherwise never have had.
8. The end of Victim status. There is largely a feeling, at the pump usually, of being the victim of larger forces in control that may not have your best interest at heart. Middle eastern governments, large corporations, your OWN government, all seem engaged in a massive conspiracy to treat you as chattel = serfs on their Fiefdom, and milk you for exactly the last and final ducat they can get away with. Even OEM electric car offerings with “proprietary” battery packs or recharge schemes. There’s probably a reason you feel that way. We HAVE to get around. We HAVE to get to work. We HAVE to have transportation. And we have NO choice.
Except if you build and drive your own electric car, you DO have a choice. And you have chosen it. It’s kind of like having a four foot long middle finger and knowing how to waive it. YOU are not a victim any more. If you drive an ICE car, you CHOOSE to. ANd when you choose NOT to, you drive your electric car. And there’s really not squat they can do or say about it because you did it yourself in your own garage. “I AM NOT A VICTIM so BLO ME!”
So yes, this is very much a political statement. You drive a clean car, with no emissions, and no gasoline, and really nobody can object to that in any way. IT is a peaceful civil disobedience Mahatma Ghandi would applaud. Self sufficiency. Weave your own cloth. And to see even little BITS of it happening causes fear in the status quo. Deep fear. And imagine what would happen to all those holy forts of immense resource, if it caught on, and others started doing it as well. If it got to be a “thing.”
And so I don’t see any of this going away or diminishing with future adoption and introductions by OEMs of very nice cars. Already many of our viewers ARE Leaf and Tesla and Volt owners. They not only still have their own conversions, in some cases they have three or four of them.
And so what IS the payback period for an electric car.?? Our buddy at St. Michaels Winery claims it’s 6.5 seconds – one zero to 60 acceleration. What’s the “payback period” on your big screen tv, or your wife (they’re expensive) or your kids (more expensive yet).
For myself, what price freedom? I was paid back many times over with the first drive. ANd every breath since has been about sharing the experience and encouraging others to make the same statement.
We do talk a bit about chargers and instrumentation and the work of Josh Stilwalt at RechargeCar. I think the introduction of Macchina is both seminal and disruptive.
We intend to use it to tame the Tiecheng Charger. WE may use it for more as we go.