Back in the early 90’s I cheekily applied for an Arts Council grant to finance the building of a one-off electric vehicle, to ‘contribute’ to the then burgeoning EV industry from a Crafts perspective. This would no doubt have relied on chopping up an old milk float or similar and gaily sticking bits and pieces to it. My application was one side of hand written A4 and I imagine barely left its envelope at the other end .
25 years later and the EV industry has marched a long way past the 1970’s Enfield 8000’s and the 1980’s Sinclair C5’s that were inspiring me back then (for their vision if nothing else):
and now I find myself with a bit more of the wherewithal – a bit more experience, a bit more money, a lot less life left, etc etc, and it’s time to realise my dream.
My little Austin Special is one of my pride and joys, so I got to thinking about building an Electric Special. The Austin Specials came out of the 50’s and 60’s; men who couldn’t afford their own MG would hack the bodies off old Austin 7’s and build their own sports bodies on to the exposed chassis, (mine was done in the late 60’s). Colin Chapman of Lotus fame, started out building and racing them: before going on to develop such classics as the 1957 Lotus Super Seven, immortalised for me as a teenager by Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner: the fact that mine looks like a cross between this car and Noddy’s hasn’t escaped me.
I’d just finished doing up a 1947 Reliant girder fork van, and I had a spare chassis which I briefly contemplated using for my EV Special; I was doing a crossword at the time and the clue was “Reliant: ( Anagram)” and I thought Ooh! I could call my special whatever the answer is! Answer: Latrine. Perhaps not…
So the hunt was on for a small rolling chassis, preferably with a V5c document , and original parts such as axles, suspension, steering etc to maintain its status as (mostly) the original vehicle, to avoid future awkwardness with the DVLA. I will still be as nervous as hell when I take the car for its initial MOT and the bureaucracy that may be unleashed; at the moment my local MOT guy says it will be fine, but I won’t hold my breath. I imagine having to buy a small field just to drive it around in.
And here’s the chassis I bought:Originally it carried a 1937 Standard Motors Flying 9 body. Standard Motors were founded in 1903 (they bought out Triumph in 1945) and were responsible for some very finely engineered vehicles and airplanes (including the Sopwith Pup) until the 1960’s.
My first job is to go through the vehicle basics; new wheel bearings, king pin bushes, brake shoes relined, brake cables, steering joints, axle seals, suspension etc – some 2nd hand tyres will do for now and I might as well get the wheels powder-coated while I’m at it:
I’m not a speed freak, and I don’t want to drastically change the top speed or the handling characteristics of the original vehicle; I’m happy to tootle around town at the same speeds that I currently achieve in my other old vehicles, and a maximum required mileage would be the 45 mile round trip to the Six Bells at Chiddingly.
Here’s an early drawing of what I might like the front end to look like:
So with a rolling (enough) chassis, my attention is turned to its power train. I agonise over this-and-that forklift motor; read forums from people who have done fantastic conversions of existing cars (classics as well as modern); try to work out what I’m going to need, re: voltage, amps, top speed and distance, whilst all the time realising that I know absolutely NOTHING about electricity. I knew this already, but I really hadn’t realised the EXTENT of my ignorance. I needed advice.
A couple of years ago I had taken the number of Graham Martin at the Brighton Mini Maker Fair (http://electrobeatev.blogspot.co.uk/) who was local to me and had done a jaw dropping conversion on a Honda Beat. Forget your milk floats and your forklift trucks- this is ‘a proper job’. And suddenly I’m realising that if I want my conversion to be half decent, with as little embarrassment as possible when I pull away from the traffic lights, I’ve got to spend some proper money on my motor, its controller, and the battery pack.
And by-and-by, an AC35 motor (96v, 38kg, 63HP, 129 ft/lb torque) with a Curtis Controller pops up on eBay, needing removal from a previously converted Citroen C1 “Evie” in Colchester. Maybe I’ll regret not waiting for an AC50 motor, but this feels like a good start.
More help and advice is received from Jeremy of http://www.ev-support.co.uk in his Aladdin’s Cave; and a recommended £30 ex-Ford Escort MK2 cross-flow gearbox is picked up on the return journey.
Motor and gearbox now need ‘stitching’ together; I’m no machinist- I can turn simple things on my lathe, but when it comes to clocking and machining random holes from a fixed centre point, I lack the competence, equipment, and will to live; my pathological need to do as much myself as I possibly can, results in getting a steel plate laser cut with a 4.000″ hole in the centre (the size required for the motors shoulder) and then turning myself a 4.000″ disc to use as a guide, which slots onto the gearbox shaft and helps locate the laser cut plate centrally, so I can clamp and then drill the mounting holes for the gearbox. I know I know… an Electric Vehicle is all about keeping weight down… use aluminium not steel…. but at this point I was imagining using this plate to weld the engine mounts to, and steel’s my thing, not aluminium…. as it transpired, it could have been aluminium because I put the mounts elsewhere (although the jury’s still out a bit on that one) , but hey, I’m anticipating my gross weight to be less than the Citroen C1, and a lot less than the original Flying 9’s kerb weight, so what’s a few kgs? And anyway, I’m happy to backtrack in the future once everything is sorted, and change a few things.
I still need the ‘link’ between the electric motor’s drive and the gearbox’s splined input shaft, and there is no easy option; I have to ask my good friend Doug Owen (he who knows all) to lend a hand. This entails boring a lump of steel to 1 1/4 ” ID with a keyway in one end and the ability to bolt it to the Escort’s original clutch plate splined inner, on the other:
So….motor and gearbox are united and turning freely, and now need mounting in to the chassis. Careful positioning and clamping in place, and I can measure and weld up some appropriate brackets. I’ve gone for Land Rover Defender engine rubber mounts at the front because they were only £6. Sorry.
The gearbox mount is the original Escort mounting plate (with the integral rubber block), supported by purpose made brackets to where the original clutch mechanism used to be bolted to the chassis. I won’t need a clutch now of course, and more alarmingly, I won’t need a reverse gear either (it’s an AC motor), just a switch on the dashboard to change the motors polarity. (I might put a flip-up nuclear missile safety cover on that….).
I enjoy thinking ahead. Such as when I purchased the horn; I can imagine how I am going to blend this brass horn into the aluminium body, in its own recess:and here are some fine old eBay headlamps I’m going to utilise:
But for now, I have to face my demons. Those ‘other’ 96v electrics. The batteries I end up buying will cost a small fortune and I want to get everything as ready as I possibly can before shelling out.
Here are the gubbins laid out on the ground and labelled…. this may take a while….
…a bit later…So now I have cannabilised and generally modified the ‘black box’-
a) to make it fit a bit better in my chassis, and b) to do away with the odd couple of things that I don’t (hopefully) need, although one of these is the bits and pieces for a heater, which will be as much use to me as air conditioning. I’ve made a start on a sub-frame which will support this box and from which I can add other things to later on, using the original body’s mounting positions:
and now a dummy run of the electrical bits, to check it all fits:
and now….. I need to play a bit… this box might be visible through the top of the bonnet (the design of which is festering in the back of my mind) so I may as well humour myself for a couple of hours. I’ve got an old sheet of copper knocking about – that’ll look good! Fold it, using some clamps with sturdy angle-iron sections and a rubber mallet:
go on a bit of a guilt trip and spend a couple of working day hours making a tool to emboss the top surface (again – clamps and a big hammer…crudely satisfying):
and rivet on a little handle (just look at those unabashed hammer marks (as my metalwork tutor used to say to me):
put the kettle on and give it all a bit of a polish, whilst thinking up an excuse as to why I haven’t earned any money today….
I’m quickly realising that I can’t do the next job until I’ve thought about such and such and I can’t do, say, the front end sub frame without considering where so-and-so is going so suddenly I’m having to make things as finished products rather than just mocking things up, so…. quicker than I had imagined, I’ve made the frame to fit the floor pan to and adapted the remains of the original prop shaft tunnel; I’ve never been a fan of aluminium treadplate but for strength and weight it seemed a good idea – I can always cut some Paisley pattern carpet to hide it in the future. And suddenly I’m rolling some tube for the bulkhead, and working out how I’m going to adapt my early ‘concept’ (ahem!) design (that picture above that was drawn on the back of an envelope in Greece a year ago), to suit the proportions of this chassis and its original body mounts, and beginning to get some idea of the shape I want to achieve.
Use pieces of cardboard and lengths of steel wire/bar to try and visualise the shape that I think I want:
and I’ve decided to make the rear body taper into the spare wheel and use the original petrol tank support member to hold the wheel on:
Time for a little light relief and test out the essential Honk Honk horn, and make a pair of steps to assist my weary bones when I eventually climb in. Gone for a rather corny lightning flash shape again… I can’t help myself.
I’m rather pleased that so far I have only altered the original chassis by drilling 6 small holes in it, 4 for these steps, and 2 for the N/S gearbox mounting, but I will soon have to cut off the end of those outriggers above, and weld a new jacking point a bit further in.
And STILL the bank manager hasn’t rung me to find out what on earth’s going on, so I simply can’t resist tack-welding a couple of brackets on the front and checking out that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang influence:
I’ve adapted the original headlamp brackets with some forged stays to support the mudguards, which I assume I might need for road use and the final scrap of copper sheet will make a nice dashboard area:
I’m possibly slightly regretting buying these cheap plastic over-sized rear lights,
but as ever, necessity being the mother of invention, I thought I would conceal them somewhat in some stream-lined cowls. I could pretend that its because I want to make the vehicle more aerodynamic – that would be a very grown-up thing to say, instead of “when the brake lights come on they’ll look like little jet rockets on the back end of the batmobile!”.. no, no, that would be far too childish…
I bought a little English wheel 18 months ago, and initially practiced on some 1mm steel sheet making this “Watt’s in his head” but now I need to use it ‘properly’, to shape my 2mm aluminium. When I say properly, if I did what I am doing in, say, the Jaguar factory, I would be unceremoniously escorted off the premises and probably set alight; but fortunately I love the streaky marks and texture that my amateurism results in.
I’m secretly rather proud of these initial attempts at the bodywork.
All together now! Da-da-da-da da-da-da-da-da-da-da da-da-da-da-da ***man!!
There’s no stopping me now, I’m on a roll….front wings streakily shaped and temporarily bolted together (I’ll rivet the panels onto the frames once the latter have been powder-coated). A couple of bulges also required, to allow a bit of extra foot room for the accelerator pedal and linkage.
I’ve had to consider the type of batteries I’m going to use to make sure I leave enough space to mount them. Originally I was intending going for a Lithium Cobalt (NMC?) option because of their light weight, but the more I read up on them and considered the fact that they can explode if you don’t know what you’re doing (I don’t), I’ve been scared off, in favour of a Lithium Iron Phosphate option – a lot heavier (thanks to the Fe bit in the LiFePO4 mix), but possibly safer in novice’s hands. So.. if I’m happy with approx 50 miles round trip between charges I will require 28 of these 3.2v 100Ah cells:
which will take up a total of 0.26 sq.m of boot space – loads of room, and I will make some gull-wing doors for ease of access, replete with a few old fashioned louvres for ventilation (or to let the flames escape).
Once the steel framework has been powder-coated I will copper rivet the aluminium panels to it, but as I’ve made these doors out of strips of aluminium (partly because it visually reflects the method of fabrication at the front end of the car, and partly because I knew I would make a mess of the louvres if I attempted to pierce them through the middle of the aluminium sheets), I can go ahead and copper rivet the sheets together now: Copper and aluminium are pretty close on the reactive table so there wont be much if any galvanic corrosion (and I don’t intend ever intentionally getting the vehicle wet), and I just LOVE the contrasting 2 metals together when they’re polished up. In fact I love them so much I will make a louvred copper “air-intake” panel out of the off-cuts in the scrap bin:
…made with the same alacrity, cranky rubber mallet and unabashed hammer marks…:
I’m getting dangerously close to having to think about seating arrangements; I guess they’re not superfluous ….
A little later: In considering a seating arrangement, it is with increasing annoyance that I realise function is going to have to win out over form; there really isn’t enough room for my backside, especially if it spreads any more as I accelerate through the back end of middle age. As the great Rowland Emett said, “The first principle in science is to invent something nice to look at and then decide what it can do.” Unfortunately, ergonomics wins on this occasion and will necessitate removing the drivers side and remodelling it, involving some slightly tricky (for me) Aluminium shaping. A few failed attempts later, even by my standards (imagine!) and the arse-bulge is a-bulging and the honk honk horn is pleasingly accommodated:
I’ve made a fold-down aeroscreen – (if it folds down you don’t need windscreen wipers for the MOT); I could have bought a Brooklands aeroscreen, but the curved lines of mine are much more appropriate (straight lines? get outta here!), and I get to make some chunky ‘dogs bollocks’ wing nuts.
I’ve cut the ‘glass’ out of an A3 sheet of 5mm Lexan polycarbonate (£11), which being virtually unbreakable and flexible, pulls into the shallow curve of my frame nicely.
Remaining jobs for the bodywork stage include mudguards, seats, and a 2mm polycarbonate ‘bonnet’ to sit under the main grille (just in case I get caught out in the rain and flung from the vehicle by electric shock or something whilst trying to look cool at the traffic lights). Then, after a bit of fettling, I think I’m ready to dismantle the whole thing and get the steel framework sand-blasted, hot zinc sprayed and powder coated, before finally riveting the aluminium in place. I will also do the basic wiring for the 12v system and drill/hole-saw required fixing holes for switches etc (including a little Christmas eBay present, hopefully on its way from Athens as I write, a VDO speedometer which I can’t wait to instal in my copper dashboard):
Ho-hum….little things…but there’s a steep learning curve fast approaching now – the 96v side of the electrics; I find myself getting a little excited and gasping in wonder at my own ignorance. Again.