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My journey to DrivingElectric has a lotta electric bicycles, and a conversion electric car
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My journey to DrivingElectric has a lotta electric bicycles, and a conversion electric car

How did I come to join DrivingElectric?  Especially to join this site as a staff member?  It's been a long journey, beginning with a dream 15 years ago, but prefaced by an electric bicycle I built in 1995. 

The dream?  It happened in 1998ish, I was on my way to the Solar Living Institute to take a class on building a small scale hydro-electric system.  The idea is that for an off-the-grid homestead that's next to a year-round creek, the homesteader could put a dam on the creek, run pipes downhill, and build a small generator using an automobile generator.  Quite ingenious really.  A couple nights before the class I had a dream in which I took an old school VW Bug, took off the outer body, took out the gasoline engine stuff, added in electrical wiring and an electric drive system, then put a racing car body on the car.  I didn't think much about it until after the class was over, and browsing the book store at the Solar Living Institute I found a copy of Mike Brown's book "Convert It".  This was 1998 when that book was still new, and lead-acid batteries were still relavent, but leafing through the book I realized "hey, this is what the dream showed me" so I bought the book and was avidly reading it on the way home.

The idea of recycling cars and making them electric was really compelling.

But, at that time the only electric vehicle building I could get into was electric bicycles.  They're a lot easier on the pocketbook and toolchest to build than is an electric car conversion.  Over the years I've built a half dozen electric bicycles, a couple electric scooters, and even an electric motorcycle.

Then a couple years ago I had the opportunity to buy the car I now drive.  It is a beautifully restored 1971 Karmann Ghia, and when I found the car it had already been converted to electric.  But the conversion was low powered using the Wilderness Electric kit.  The motor was pitifully underpowered for the car, and it barely could make it to 50 miles/hr, and the conversion used these huge 150 amp-hour flooded lead acid batteries that barely gave 10 miles range.  It was depressing to have such a beautiful car saddled by such a deficient electric conversion.

Fortunately I know a few things about EV conversions, and there is very few differences between the motorcycle conversion I built and a typical car conversion.  I set about finding the parts for a higher powered conversion, and while the car now performs much better it could be better still.

The conversion as it stands (see ekarmann.com for details) has a 14 kilowatt-hour lithium-iron-phosphate thundersky pack, with a BMS supplied by Lightning Motorcycles, a Kelly controller, and a Netgain Impulse 9 motor.  The motor is a 9" brushed DC whose potential is barely tapped by the rest of the system.  The downside of the thundersky pack I have is that it doesn't support a high enough power rate to let me enjoy high acceleration.  But as it is, the car can merge with almost any traffic pattern, can easily hit 60-70 and if conditions are right the car can hit 80.  The driving range is 50+ miles depending on terrain and other factors.  I have a high powered Manzanita charger that provides up to 8 kilowatts charging rate, for a relatively fast charge time.  In all it has become an excellent car.  Also, it has won "Best Classic Conversion" two years running at the EAA SIlicon Valley EV Rally.

Now... coincidence time .... the Karmann Ghia is essentially an old school VW Bug with a racing car body. 

Along the way I learned a bunch of stuff about Peak Oil .. Climate Change .. etc .. I helped to launch Transition Silicon Valley .. etc ..

I'm seriously interested in promoting electric vehicles.  One thing I learned a few years ago - those of us who buy electric vehicles accidently or on purpose win for ourselves a job along with the vehicle.  We may have thought we were just buying a car or a bicycle, but buying an electrified vehicle in this time era is out of the ordinary and there are a zillion people who are curious but cautious.  So the job we buy along with our vehicle is evangalist.  Because people will come up to us in parking lots or anywhere.

Last night I'd been at a movie shown by Transition Palo Alto -- leaving the site of the movie, I was in my car, the car turned on, headlights on, backing out of the parking space, and this guy walking down the street .. realization slowly dawning on his face that there was an old school VW driving by, but not making a racket.  He eventually asked me - "Is that electric?" - "Yes" - "Did you convert it?" - "Yes" - "COOL!" and then I drove off.