This week we are a bit late with the show. Worse, our audio is a mess. We’ve never mastered the wind with our little wireless microphones. It won’t sound like the wind to you of course. More like a freight train as it is amplified several dB. But we have it up to view.
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So what’s with kit cars and electric cars?
We were the only electrics at the event. I expected some horseplay from the petrol inebriated at this event, particularly because it tends to be a historic reflection on automobiles. This year’s “theme” was French cars and almost entirely French vintage cars of course. But there were some fabulous displays of old Saab’s and Volvos etc. I fell in love with a 1960 Saab 95 in a kind of dusky green color. Very peculiar looking little car.
With all that history, you would think we would draw some frowns with our newly contrived electric drive Porsche replicas. Not the case. Everyone was thoroughly interested and quite polite about it, a lot of very pertinent questions and they correctly went straight to the battery chemistry at the heart of it.
The Speedster Owners group from www.speedsterowners.com was in strong attendance this year – probably 80 people many with cars. A few Spyders among them. On Thursday night, we went on a “cruise” with this group and wound up eating at the Caddy Shack, a local golf course restuarant with really quite exceptional food. Vert friendly group of people who very nicely included us in their activities.
This group is kind of an oddity online. If you go to www.speedsterowners.com you will notice something very peculiar about their forums. They are kind of boring. The reason they are kind of boring is that they have a culture of being nice to each other online and there are none of the flamewars that seem almost a requirement for an online forum.
The reason there are none of the flamewars, and everybody is busy being nice to each other, is that they actually MEET in person at Carlisle and Morrow Bay and a couple of other venues about the country. Having met face to face, or perhaps about to, has a very subtle but strong effect on their online interactions. I have hopes we can recreate this type of online forum augmentation with our Electric Vehicle Conversion Convention (EVCCON) scheduled for later this year in September. My hope is that by actually meeting in person, they will then strive to simulate actual humanoids in the online forums.
We were gratified to see so many of our viewers at Carlisle. I thought this quite coincidental, until a couple of them told me they came to Carlisle specifically to see us. Perhaps we’ve missed a trick. We need to get out more.
I dislike travel intensely, which you will find a little odd in a guy with eight or ten airplanes in a hangar at the airport. But it is true. Everything becomes a task. A glass of tea is a project. A trip to the toilet becomes a journey to mecca. A cup of coffee takes group collaboration.
I guess the overall impression I had of the show was of a long enduring mature industry, suffering from having victimized itself over the years to the point of almost irrelevancy. There have been so many crooks in the kit car business it makes honest men look a little smarmy just by being among them. And the overriding theme seems to be to find someone who succeeds with something, and immediately copy it both badly and cheaply. Their belief system in stealing concepts and innovations from each other is deeply ingrained. The majority of them think it’s a good thing.
The contrast was interesting in places. We of course visited with Kevin and Carie Hines of Special Editions Inc and they were there in force with a Speedster, a Spyder, and their new Porsche 904 on display. I always struggle to describe these guys. They are Special Editions Inc., but they are also Beck Speedster, Beck Spyder, and Beck Porsche 904. Chuck Beck is a half century one man industry of innovation and entreprenurial activity and kinda/sorta partner in all this – I’ve never quite worked it all out. But they are careful to GIVE him credit for their cars. I gather Chuck doesn’t really enjoy the day to day grind of manufacture and dealing with customers. But their relationship has spanned many years.
Almost directly across from them was JP Motorsports. This guy generally finds an idea and copies it cheaply. I did introduce myself and he immediately explained to me that they had built the ULTIMATE electric car already using the best of everything and it was nothing but a golf cart and a joke. No doubt. He then ordered Brian to stay away from the cars and not look at them. What he was doing at a car show I cannot imagine, but the purpose he served best was to exemplify what being a bitter and hateful little man is all about when bringing this to the level of art form. It was so bad I thought he was kidding at first, kind of a Don Rickles routine. So I started to play along. If anyone knows how to BE an asshole, it would be yours truly. I’ve certain genetic advantages anyway and then of course there is the careful honing and study of the art over decades. But it appears he prefers to dish it out and is not very good at doing it as a back and forth banter type of gig.
Bruce Meyers was there. A kind of aging giant of the industry, he invented the Meyers Manx, a truly artistic and very avante garde departure in the 1960’s. You may know it better as a “dune buggy”. Even then, he had hardly sold a dozen when a fiberglass shower stall manufacturer down the street bought one of his creations and brazenly did a mold from it. Fifty years later, he is still visibly bitter about it. He actually left the industry for many years but this year he is back with a whole new line of these things and they were very attractive.
t was at Pismo Beach, CA that Bruce first became acquainted with “dune buggies”. These “water pumpers” were crude and heavy so Bruce took it upon himself to design a lightweight version that would be fun on the beach or in the wilds of Baja. After modifying a VW Kombi bus with wide rims (called “Little Red Riding Bus”), Bruce used his expertise in boat building to design the first fiberglass-bodied dune buggy, the Meyers Manx.
The first 12 cars produced were all-fiberglass, monocoque bodies that had a steel structural frame within the fiberglass that attached to the VW suspension and running gear (“Old Red” – #1 now resides with Bruce). These cars were expensive (for their time) and redundant in that so much of the VW was thrown away. Bruce redesigned the body to fit on a shortened VW floorpan, which ultimately reduced the price as well. As a result, the Meyers Manx took off. It took the country by storm when magazines like Hot Rod and Car & Driver featured the fiberglass car on their covers. This caused a rash of over 300 orders. Not able to immediately fill these orders, other manufacturers sprang up overnight and ended up producing over 250,000 look-a-likes and near look-a-likes. Eventually over 300 companies, worldwide, copied the Manx in one form or another – even the copiers copied each other. Bruce tried to stop the floodgate of imitations with patent infringement laws but failed to convince the judge that he had produced anything worth a patent. In subsequent years B.F. Meyers & Co. built 5,280 Manx kits, several hundred Manx 2’s, about 1,000 Meyers Tow’ds, a couple of hundred Manx SR’s and 75 Resorters – a total of nearly 7,000 kits.
Meyers closed the company in 1971, having spawned a mini-industry of copies that has gone on for nearly half a century.
Today, he is back in production with several attractive versions. We found the Kickout SS very intriguing.
Bruce has been contacted by the California CARB about doing an electric version of the vehicle and we discussed this with him a bit while we were out there.
And that appears to be the theme. Kit Cars provide a good platform for those building their own cars. They have none of the CANBUS/OBDII/ECU issues of a new modern car. They tend to be a bit spartan on creature comforts, but they are simple cars at reasonable prices. GENERALLY they are available as rollers if you don’t want to do the kit build yourself, but are often available at several levels of completion. You wind up with a NEW car and don’t have to face the rust and restoration issues of bringing a genuine classic back from the dead. And so we are seeing a lot of excellent builds coming from the kit car end of the spectrum.
We found another bit of interest at the show. The Autocross. The electric autocross is nothing new, but they tend to be a cone works in a really ugly back parking lot somewhere. At Carlisle, they have a beautiful little track for this and there is an elevated embankment to view it from. They dropped the ball quite horribly on it. There was no “leader board” announcer, or even an LED clock showing the last time run. But it was still fun to watch.
So much so, that I’ve asked Brain to make it so at EVCCON. We have an airport. But I want each car and driver announced over the public address, a clock showing the time as it runs, and a leader board showing who did what. I’m thinking this can be the Friday evening activity.
We did an interesting experiment with this. Brain took the powerful Speedster Redux on three runs of three laps each. Best time for this 156HP vehicle at 2385 lbs was 32.6 seconds. Next he did the Spyder. Right at 2000 lbs and 76HP. Best time, 29.4 seconds. That’s over 3 seconds difference or 10%. And it proves a point that Porsche actually made with the Spyder in 1955. Lighter weight and lower power will beat heavier cars with more power on a track = essentially 100% of the time. The only time the Spyder lost that season was when it didn’t finish due to mechanical difficulties.
A pound is a pound is a pound and worse for electric vehicle designers, it is a permanent pound forever. If you design it in, it will be with the car on every trip henceforth, and will effect each and every single application of the throttle from thence forward. It is cruelly omnipresent. A pound is forever.
I’ve spent the last six months hearing about how much more powerful the Speedster Redux is. I don’t race, but I have on almost all occasions mentioned to these guys that somehow the Speedster Duh just “feels” better to me. The ivory car picked up a seal leak from the right transaxle on the truck trip out, and we feared to put it in the autocross as the transaxle fluid was very low. That would have been interesting.
I don’t really have a “range requirement”. OF course, range is a defining issue in the talk about electric cars and so the “bragging rights” of a 150 mile Speedster are of note. But truly in designing a car, you simply do NOT want to design in a pound you don’t need, and that means a RANGE you don’t need either. I don’t really have a commute (ok, a block and a half) but my “use” for a Speedster is to take it out on the backcountry blacktop winding hilly roads we have so plentifully here in Southeast Missouri. You can go from about 40 up to 65 in places and you tend to vary wildly between those speeds. It will do that for two and half hours, which is about a half hour longer than I will. It is fun, but not so comfortable that I would ever do it for 3 hours.
And so the 2039 lb Speedster Duh feels right to me and is not overdesigned for range. Since it exceeds the performance of the 1957 Porsche Speedster in all respects anyway, I’m guessing it’s good enough for the job now. And it is truly fun to drive. We CAN make it more powerful. And we CAN make it go further. That’s not to say we should.
Something to think about with your conversion. What do you REALLY want it to do.
ME? I want an aluminum chassis, aluminum rotors, and a carbon fiber body. We’ll use LESS power and LESS batteries with that. Sometimes more is just more….