Thursday, June 28, 2007

Nuts 'n Bolts

I was just talking to someone about the "nuts 'n bolts of life," probably inspired by my electric car conversion. There is the idea of having an electric car and cruising around town and feeling all "green." Then there is the process of putting the thing together, the occasional screw-up, the frustrating delays, etc.
I wanted to get started on some of the installation this weekend after retrieving a large pile of parts from EA. I went through the instructions for installing the pot box and controller and realized that I don't have the little bag of nuts and bolts to attach the parts to the car, or the paper templates to tell me where to drill holes. Without those, I can't put anything in. Shari assures me that she will send them down shortly.
In the meantime, I notice in the manual that I will have to remove the two seats from the car to get access for that installation. So I at least have a project for this weekend which will be to remove the two seats. I'm hoping it's not that much harder than removing the hoods and engine compartment. I believe there is a how-to in the Haynes Manual and I'll try to get some pics and add the removal as a technical post while I wait for the nuts 'n bolts.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Second Driveway on the Right

So I headed up to Electro Automotive yesterday. The idea was to get some of the parts so I could get started on the project and to make it a nice road trip. Sometimes I forget just what an aesthetically unpleasing drive 101 can be from here to Salinas. It is a windy, desolate strip of highway that offers little in the way of sightseeing. We decided to stop for lunch in Soledad, so that we could see their Mission. After a few wrong turns and a break for lunch, we did finally find it. It is a quaint little mission. For those of you not from this area, there are a string of missions along the California Coast, each within a day's ride by horse and carriage from the next one along a trail that was (and is) called El Camino Real. We have our own mission right here in San Luis Obispo.
Electro Automotive is north of the city of Santa Cruz, so the fastest way to get there is to cut through Castroville, a town which I now know has it's own claim to fame: Artichokes! Apparently, it is the "Artichoke Center of the World," an honor which may or may not involve a lot of competition from other artichoke-based towns. I used to fear the artichoke in my youth, but I have now come to terms with this amazing, three-dimensional geometric creation and we were tempted to stop off for a some fried artichoke hearts, but miles to go...
Eventually, we hit Route 1 and the trip became more scenic as we cruised north along the Pacific Coast until, of course, we hit the narly traffic of Santa Cruz. Electro Automotive is about 10 miles North of Santa Cruz (off Bonny Doon Rd. for those who know the area). It is in the mountains along a scenic twisting road, through forests that have a few scattered Redwoods. It is a nice drive up there. When we arrived, I realized quickly why things move a little more slowly than I might like.
This is quite the "Mom and Pop" place in the country. There is no sign indicating that you are arriving at a business. The only clue is that there are several cars of various levels of wear and tear parked out front. The "mom" is Shari, who greeted me at the door. She was casual to the point of barefeet and I was instantly envious of their little place out in the country. Shari was busy with one of their two employees putting my parts together, so in the meantime I was introduced to the "pop" of the mom and pop, Mike, who gave me the "nickel tour." Here are the two of them in Mike's office: The place is small, constituting two rooms and the small office where Mike has his computer. Mike handles the technical side and Shari the business side from what I could gather. I spoke with Mike for awhile. He is originally from Nebraska and came to this area in 1964. He worked as an auto mechanic for Volkswagen for many years. He chatted about Volkswagens for awhile. He was a fuel injection expert and I told him about my crazy old '72 Volkswagen 412, a strange car that never really took hold in the U.S. He informed me that the Porsche 914 has a very similar engine. I once took that 412 across the country, running into some trouble in Minnesota, where the Volkswagen repairman said he hadn't seen or worked on one in 10 years. I kept it my parents' garage for a year while I was in medical school, until my father called me one day and said "get that piece of crap out of my garage." I finally sold it.
Mike went into the electric car business in '79, and has been in 3 different locations in this general area since that time. He explained that one of the primary functions of the business is to create interface plates between electric motors and the transmission of just about any car. He uses a high quality digital photo and CAD software to design this for the transmission and was working on a transmission while we were there. If you want to convert a standard car to an electric engine, this is crucial. Mike is a bit of a pioneer in the field of electric cars and I doubt there are many people more knowledgeble on the subject. He noted that they have been swamped with orders of late. I don't get the impression that this is driving them to expand the business or hire more workers (I don't know where they'd find them out there). They seem content where they are and don't seem to be pushing for more customers. They both seem very passionate about electric cars and they really want to put together a good quality product, but expect some delays...
Shari got all of the parts they had ready for me (I might have to make a second trip later this summer for the rest unless I'm more patient and willing to wait for them to ship). This should be enough to get me rolling on the project.
On the way back, we decided to go further down Highway 1 to Carmel before getting back on 101. I was tempted to cruise the Big Sur Coast, but it was getting late and I know from experience that it isn't much fun cruising that highway in the dark, so we stopped in Carmel and had a nice Italian dinner, then took a walk to the beach.
Hopefully, I can get started next week on the installation. I will start with the controller and pot box and I will explain more about those in another post (when I figure out what they are).

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Waiting for something to happen is just not my style. Rather than sit around hoping for a package of parts to arrive in the mail, I've decided to head on up to Electro Automotive in Santa Cruz and get the parts myself. It's also an excuse for my wife and I to take a road trip up to Santa Cruz, which should be a nice 3 to 4 hour drive. I'm also curious to see the mythical Mecca that is Electro Automotive and I will try to take some pictures. Stay tuned...

Thursday, June 14, 2007


I e-mailed Electro Automotive again yesterday and finally got a reply, so it looks like I might be in business soon:

I apologize for my lack of communication. We got slammed with a load
of orders just as my office assistant went out of town for two weeks,
and my packing and shipping guy just stopped showing up.

I will get a load of parts packed up for you tomorrow, which will
include suspension, adaptor, motor mount, controller, DC/DC, potbox -
most of the major components. I am still waiting on racks and boxes
from the fabricators.

I am also getting backordered on the Netgain WarP 9 motors from the
factory until mid-July. (I am hearing similar stories from all my
suppliers - they are buried in orders.) I can get the Advanced DC 9"
motor (which was the standard in the kit until recently) more
quickly. I wanted to let you know the situation and let you decide.

I have a feeling that the movie "Who Killed the Electric Car?" is causing a bit of a rush for this stuff, when they used to only get the occasional order. Anyway, that e-mail sounds promising, so I hope I'll get the stuff in the next week or so. I'm not sure about the engine change and wrote back asking if there was a substantive difference between the two. If not, I'll switch. Anyone know anything on this subject? If so, leave your opinion in the comments or e-mail me.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Out on the Yard

Since it appears from what I'm reading from other electric vehicle builders that Electro Automotive is in no hurry to deliver my goods, I'm trying to catch up on my yard work. After 2 years away in New Zealand, I returned to a veritable jungle last year. My "dwarf" lemon tree was 12 feet high, the rosemary bushes had overwhelmed the front yard, etc. I really spent much of the last year just hacking away and now I'm trying to set up something that isn't so high-maintenance. I'm using mostly drought-resistant plants and ground cover that can also choke out weeds.

Here's the left side of the house. I'm going for a kind of "desert dream" effect.

Things need to grow in more before I can tell whether I am pulling it off, but I think this is a good start.

Here it is from back to front. I recently added some solar powered lighting which makes it visible at night, mostly in a kind of shadow effect as the lights are not overly bright.

I'm staying with a desert motif on the other side, but more of a mediterranean/desert look.

I just planted some Giant Bird-of-Paradise plants that get 10 feet tall next to the palms (The big leafed plant you can barely make out behind the brown flax). As the palms get tall and more distant from the rest of the landscape, I think these will keep a tropical feel to it. I got the idea from the prison where I work. The landscaper there has a real talent (I'd take some pictures, but of course they aren't allowed). The bougainvillea against the wall is starting to make a comeback. A lot of it died off in unusually cold spell this winter. I'm planning to put a wall fountain between the two cacti. I'm thinking a Mexican tile fountain, but I haven't found anything that I like. Maybe I'll make my own, but that's yet another project...