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Our fourth annual Electric Vehicle Conversion Convention (EVCCON) opens with an icebreaker reception on Tuesday, August 12th at 5:00PM. I arrived at the shop Friday noon, August 8th all prepped and ready to shoot our weekly show only to find Paulo Almeida and Celso Menaia of Lisbon Portugal, Mark Weisheimer of Ohio and Jason Arnold of Ottowa had already arrived and started the convention without me. Bill from Tulsa Oklahoma rolled in a bit later in the afternoon. Oh well, go with the flow…

Actually, we had a ball AND accomplished some useful work. The Cadillac Escalade features a “reluctor ring” mounted on the crankshaft of the 6.2 liter gasoline engine. A small plastic sensor plugs into the block. The ring features 58 regularly spaced teeth and then a gap where a tooth might be expected. The inductive sensor produces a string of 58 pulses and a “gap” that gives the engine control module rpm and timing. This signal is very necessary for the way we run the electric Cadillac Escalade EXT.

Fortunately, the reluctor ring was available as a replacement part without the necessity of purchasing the entire crankshaft. So we got one and mounted it on the front of the pulley on the aux shaft of the front 11 inch Netgain motor. This pulley runs the air conditioning compressor and power steering/brake hydraulic pump. We mount the inductive sensor beneath the motor to pickup from this reluctor ring. And so we get motor rpm to the ECU.

The problem of course is that the signal is very weak and we have to have the sensor about a 32nd of an inch off the spinning ring. If it is at all misaligned, our tachometer swings wildly and unpredictably and our entire system, which does use the ECU, runs rough and erratically. Transmission shifting is random. If we have it mounted JUST so, it runs smoothly. Adjusting this sensor then becomes an art form and often dozens of attempts are made before it finally starts working.

We’ve replaced it with new sensors several times, mounted it a dozen different ways, but we never really have gotten it all ironed out. So to speak.

In about 12 seconds, Paulo Almeida of the Instituto Superior de Engenharia de Lisboa, announced that the sensor derived a good portion of its sensitivity from the focusing effect of having several hundred pounds of ferrous metal, the engine block, surrounding it. Hung out in the air the way we had it, it was not sufficiently sensitive to provide a stable signal. Paulo is on staff at the Instituto Superior de Engenharia de Lisboa in Lisbon Portugal. Its’ origins go backs to the creation of the Industrial Institute of Lisbon (Instituto Industrial de Lisboa) in 1852 – it’s one of the oldest engineering schools in Europe.

So I found a length of black iron gas pipe, and had Jesse mount the sensor inside the pipe with the pickup end just projecting a fraction out the end. Not only did it fix the problem, but the Escalade now runs noticeably better than it EVER HAS since conversion – more power, better acceleration, and smoother transmission shifts. Who’da thunk it?

We put a bit of effort into an array of technical presentations at EVCCON covering various aspects of converting an existing beloved car model to electric drive. We also have a series of hands on “events” where we weigh the cars, run them on the dynomometer, sport a little 1/8th mile “drag race” acceleration test, and with the SPCAA actually have an autocross course set up to do a maneuvering test. In this way, you can examine the various builds and build techniques, talk one on one with the guy who built it and why he chose the various components and techniques he did, and then actually see how they perform. There really isn’t anything like this done quite this way anywhere else in the world.

We had a little over a hundred people and 25 cars show up to the first event four years ago. And it has been a very strange ride since. It has NOT grown very much. We’ll have about 150 attendees and maybe 35 non-EVTV cars here this year. But we already have four or five guys here early Monday morning that have been to ALL the EVCCONs. The guys who came the first year tend to just keep coming back. From all over the world. Canada, Portugal, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, literally all over the world.

But like 150. I have mixed emotions about that. It would certainly be ego-gratifying if it had grown to 10,000 attendees and 400 vehicles by now. And I have to admit that I actually do know how to do that. We did trade shows/conventions for nine years in a previous rodeo.

The Sears Point Raceway is now known as the Sonoma Racetrack. The twists of the 12-turn road course and the lightning-quick quarter-mile drag strip have hosted all of the biggest names and some of the most historic moments in racing history, and it is located in the gorgeous Sonoma County wine country north of San Francisco. To anyone doing events, the United States looks like nothing so much as a pair of parenthesis (). Two coasts with nothing in the middle. And for electric cars, there are more in California/Oregon/Washington than in the rest of the WORLD combined. And year after year, we host an electric vehicle convention in Cape Girardeau Missouri, almost defining the heart of “nowhere.” EVTV probably owns half the electric cars IN THE STATE.

What I can’t figure out how to do, is transplant that to Sonoma county, and retain what we have gradually come to call “shop time.” That is, hanging out in the EVTV shop with the clutter, the lifts, the tools, all the components to make electric cars, and two refrigerators full of beer. It would cost a million dollars to duplicate it even temporarily at Sonoma.

Its probably not necessary. It may not even be desireable. But it is part of EVCCON that the current 150 really enjoy. Usually Jason Horak’s car breaks enroute from New York, and everybody just kind of jumps it coming in and fixes it. We usually have a build going with the usual troubles and everybody kind of gang bangs that one as well. And I can’t quite describe what it’s like to have a “man cave” with 150 guys in it. Last minute tinkering and adjusting failures on their beloved cars akimbo. There’s just something about getting liquored up, playing with some high voltage, and going for a drive that is exhilarating.

I’m not sure I’m willing to give that up. And for me personally of course, the 150 size is something I can deal with and actually spend a few minutes chatting with almost everyone who attends. Indeed, as many of the same guys keep coming, I’ve come to know who they are and about their cars and so forth. Alzheimers being the joy that it is, it’s true I get them tangled and often swapped. But a good time is had by all. I’m loathe to fix it.

This year, Brain noted that we’ve had a full “kit” from Germany on hand for several years to convert the 2008 Smart 451 to electric drive. Why not make it a project? Well, they might not finish it. That would be a downer. But he announced a “build team” and instead of four or five attendees, he tells me he has 18 signed up for it and showing up early on Monday to start the project.

Well, great. But we had some more join us on Saturday. And some more on Sunday. And they wanted to at least LOOK at the kit. And the next thing I know, they’ve got 36 of our CAM72FI cells pretty much bottom balanced, the entire drive train out of the Smart 451 (four bolts actually) and the replacement ass end of the car sitting there assembled and ready to go in. I fear some of the “build team” arriving later this morning are going to be disappointed if they are already doing wheel burnouts in the street in front of the shop by the time of the 10:00 AM kickoff meeting.

Maybe I can get them to finish the Karman Ghia?????

I have been ditched by a number of speakers, including Edwin Black, Otmar Oebenhache, Eric Kriss, and now most disappointingly Damien Maguire. Damien’s receipt of the Better Place Renault Influenza pack is featured in the show I WAS able to cobble together this weekend. He resides in Ireland and his EV activities have actually directly led to very good engineering job in an Ireland that is a bit short on employment these days. They kind of picture him working seven days a week the next few weeks and so he had to cancel.

Those who know Damien might notice something in the above video. IT is more evident if you go back on YouTube and view his FIRST couple of videos and then this one. Is it just me?Or has EV builds and his videos caused a remarkable transformation in a young life here. He’s almost polished and urbane in this latest. What’s next? A bow tie and tails? And what ever happened to that European tradition of taking August off for vacation?

Fortunately, EVCCON has never been particularly speaker dependent. We have lots of sessions, but in truth almost all the attendees could be speakers. I was enthralled at Sunday dinner last night by Larry Mills, who had attended the first EVCCON and at the last minute decided to do this one. He’s done four conversions. Indeed his first electric car was a Vanguard Citicar in 1974. He just picked up a Ford Focus Electric for half price and just loves it. And he has a beautiful Corvair done previously that is quite a head turner.

I had another epiphany at dinner last night. About a dozen attendees joined us at the Rickard house for Sunday dinner. None of them are car guys. In fact ALL of them are really computer guys. IT, computers, engineers. Mike Brown travelled from THAILAND to be with us. He had a Master’s degree in Computer Science and a long career with IBM. And suddenly all these computer geeks have discovered cars. Indeed, in the nineties when the Internet “frontier” was in full swing, I cared NOTHING for cars. I’m not even sure what I was driving then. I know I couldn’t be bothered changing my own oil in those days.

And it occurs to me that 99% of the people I know doing builds are computer geeks/IT guys, NOT hot rod retreads or car guys. Personal computers and the Internet used to be an exciting new frontier. Now it’s industrial and kind of not something the average joe can make much of a dent it. It’s become a bit of a “job”. Nothing more. And suddenly, computer guys are discovering cars. That kind of describes me. But also almost all EVCCON attendees as well. Perhaps most of our viewers.

John Bishop was scheduled to be here this week with a gorgeous electric Morris Minor. He won’t be bringing it as it turns out. Instead he’s delivering my BRAND NEW 1960 AMC Metropolitan, one of the last made and the most desireable configuration. We of course badly need another project to join the six or eight we haven’t been able to get to yet.

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Everyone dealing with electric cars views it from a slightly different position. For me, this is where it is at. Classics, converted to new life with electric drive. They are head turners. In truth, our Tesla Model S pretty much blends in with all the other “euro-style” sedans out there. We get a bit of attention from those who know what it is. But as I’ve said a number of times, I could get a crowd standing on the HOOD of the Model S just to get a better view of our Speedster or Spyder. I’m mobbed in the VW Thing. And I have to confess, albeit sheepishly, that I DO actually like the attention.

As we were shutting down Saturday evening, I went back into the stock area on the East side of the building to a clatter and rustle as four little feral black children, the eldest boy probably 7 years old and the youngest girl still proudly sporting her pacifier and fancy blue diapers, as they ran around in a panic at being discovered in the shop. The boy eyed me warily and then offered “Mon, dese here cars are TIGHT. Can I sit in one?”

There is no way this “chile” could even know what they were. The 1950’s for him might as well be the 1300’s. He’s never seen a Porsche of any year in this neighborhood.

I had to hoist the youngest, I suppose the youngest EVCONN attendee to date, in as she just couldn’t quite make it up over the door sill under her own power. “Yeah, you can sit in them for minute or so, but we’re closing down here you know”, I growled as fiercely as able through suddenly watery irritated eyes. They twiddled every knob on every dash, moved the steering wheels back and forth furiously, and made racing noises and shrieked and howled and carried on for some minutes in a fantasy race around the shop -spraying little feral kid germs in all directions no doubt. “Alright, alright. You kids beat it outta here. We’re closing down…now git.” Wide-eyed at the no doubt enormous old white ogre grouch, they raced for the door.

As I flipped the light switch off and closed the door to the street after them, I couldn’t help but think. “Yeah, mon. Dey tight…”

Tight enough I guess…

Jack Rickard