Wednesday, August 6, 2008

An Adventure To Remember

My search for a vehicle chassis also known as a donor car got into full gear in mid July. During time off on vacation, I decided to take a ride up to a community named St. Lin (80 km away from my home) to see a Ford Ranger pick-up truck that was for sale by a young man named Patrick. Deep down in my heart I did not really want to convert a pickup truck because it only seats 2-3 people and I really wanted a car that would seat 4 (myself, my wife, and our twin boys). I remember driving up there and thinking to myself "why am I even waisting my time....". Nevertheless, I drove out there, saw the car, and was not very impressed by its condition. It looked much better in the picture posted on the for sale ad. As I prepared to leave, Patrick asked me in french what I was going to do with the car. I hesitated, smiled at him and said "well, you'll probably laugh if I tell you" and he replied "no, no, not at all....." and so I answered "it is to be converted to electric". At that moment Patrick replied with excitement and said "want to see a car converted to electric by my brother-in-law ?". He called out his brother-in-law to tell him that I was looking for a car to convert to electric. We walked down the driveway towards the back of the house where I met Sylvain. He was fiddling around with a paraglider motor that needed repair. There was a bunch of stuff lying around everywhere (used golf carts, mechanical and electrical parts, etc). It looked like Sylvain was a mechanic of some sort working on various projects at the same time. Sylvain shook my hand and showed me an old Volkswagen Passat that he was experimenting with. He put in an electric motor that he bought on ebay which was connected to a Kelly controller and foot pedal accelerator. He had removed the clutch alltogether and adapted the motor directly to the transmission. He was using a series of used 8 volt Trojan batteries commonly used in golf carts. We exchanged thoughts about different EV parts and then Sylvain decided to start reconnecting some wires to power up the car. It was like something out of a movie. I never expected to stumble into such a situation. I could'nt wait to tell my wife and kids about this adventure. Sylvain had forgotten to tighten down some battery connections and we saw a lot of sparks and smoke a few times when he attempted to power up. He even melted one of the battery posts during this whole process. Finally, he managed to power up the electric passat and back it out of the driveway. He asked me if I wanted to go for a ride and I accepted. I entered the vehicle and cautiously sat in the passenger seat. There was an emergency cutoff switch with a huge red button/nob sitting between the driver and passenger seats next to the hand brake. St. Lin is a rural area and Sylvain took us for a ride on a quiet partly gravel road. I was amazed. It was my first ride in an electric conversion car. Even with a sub par motor, old batteries that were not fully charged and running at approximatley 72 volts, the car was able to reach 60-65 km/hr in third and fourth gear. Wow!! I thought to myself, perhaps I really was destined for such a project. Sylvain told me that his dream was to someday drive in an electric car along with his wife and kids to the cinema to watch a movie. I exchanged contact information with Sylvain and told him I would keep in touch with the progress of my car conversion. A few days later, I sent Sylvain some documentation by mail about the motor that I purchased with a note thanking him for the ride in his electric car.

The search for a car continued and I inquired about many different cars in the compact category until I finally settled to target a Mazda Protege. I liked this car because it was small yet had a very roomy trunk with decent space in the engine compartment and could comfortably seat four people. A good friend of mine Chris introduced me to an independant car dealer named Jimmy who very generously assisted me in searching for a car. He went as far as allowing me to accompany him to a local Montreal car auction held weekly only for dealers (not public). We came close to landing a good deal a couple of times but came up short. Nevertheless, I remained confident that I would find something soon so that the work can get started.


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