Welcome to EVCCON 2014


Our fourth annual Electric Vehicle Conversion Convention (EVCCON) opens with an icebreaker reception on Tuesday, August 12th at 5:00PM. I arrived at the shop Friday noon, August 8th all prepped and ready to shoot our weekly show only to find Paulo Almeida and Celso Menaia of Lisbon Portugal, Mark Weisheimer of Ohio and Jason Arnold of Ottowa had already arrived and started the convention without me. Bill from Tulsa Oklahoma rolled in a bit later in the afternoon. Oh well, go with the flow…

Actually, we had a ball AND accomplished some useful work. The Cadillac Escalade features a “reluctor ring” mounted on the crankshaft of the 6.2 liter gasoline engine. A small plastic sensor plugs into the block. The ring features 58 regularly spaced teeth and then a gap where a tooth might be expected. The inductive sensor produces a string of 58 pulses and a “gap” that gives the engine control module rpm and timing. This signal is very necessary for the way we run the electric Cadillac Escalade EXT.

Fortunately, the reluctor ring was available as a replacement part without the necessity of purchasing the entire crankshaft. So we got one and mounted it on the front of the pulley on the aux shaft of the front 11 inch Netgain motor. This pulley runs the air conditioning compressor and power steering/brake hydraulic pump. We mount the inductive sensor beneath the motor to pickup from this reluctor ring. And so we get motor rpm to the ECU.

The problem of course is that the signal is very weak and we have to have the sensor about a 32nd of an inch off the spinning ring. If it is at all misaligned, our tachometer swings wildly and unpredictably and our entire system, which does use the ECU, runs rough and erratically. Transmission shifting is random. If we have it mounted JUST so, it runs smoothly. Adjusting this sensor then becomes an art form and often dozens of attempts are made before it finally starts working.

We’ve replaced it with new sensors several times, mounted it a dozen different ways, but we never really have gotten it all ironed out. So to speak.

In about 12 seconds, Paulo Almeida of the Instituto Superior de Engenharia de Lisboa, announced that the sensor derived a good portion of its sensitivity from the focusing effect of having several hundred pounds of ferrous metal, the engine block, surrounding it. Hung out in the air the way we had it, it was not sufficiently sensitive to provide a stable signal. Paulo is on staff at the Instituto Superior de Engenharia de Lisboa in Lisbon Portugal. Its’ origins go backs to the creation of the Industrial Institute of Lisbon (Instituto Industrial de Lisboa) in 1852 – it’s one of the oldest engineering schools in Europe.

So I found a length of black iron gas pipe, and had Jesse mount the sensor inside the pipe with the pickup end just projecting a fraction out the end. Not only did it fix the problem, but the Escalade now runs noticeably better than it EVER HAS since conversion – more power, better acceleration, and smoother transmission shifts. Who’da thunk it?

We put a bit of effort into an array of technical presentations at EVCCON covering various aspects of converting an existing beloved car model to electric drive. We also have a series of hands on “events” where we weigh the cars, run them on the dynomometer, sport a little 1/8th mile “drag race” acceleration test, and with the SPCAA actually have an autocross course set up to do a maneuvering test. In this way, you can examine the various builds and build techniques, talk one on one with the guy who built it and why he chose the various components and techniques he did, and then actually see how they perform. There really isn’t anything like this done quite this way anywhere else in the world.

We had a little over a hundred people and 25 cars show up to the first event four years ago. And it has been a very strange ride since. It has NOT grown very much. We’ll have about 150 attendees and maybe 35 non-EVTV cars here this year. But we already have four or five guys here early Monday morning that have been to ALL the EVCCONs. The guys who came the first year tend to just keep coming back. From all over the world. Canada, Portugal, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, literally all over the world.

But like 150. I have mixed emotions about that. It would certainly be ego-gratifying if it had grown to 10,000 attendees and 400 vehicles by now. And I have to admit that I actually do know how to do that. We did trade shows/conventions for nine years in a previous rodeo.

The Sears Point Raceway is now known as the Sonoma Racetrack. The twists of the 12-turn road course and the lightning-quick quarter-mile drag strip have hosted all of the biggest names and some of the most historic moments in racing history, and it is located in the gorgeous Sonoma County wine country north of San Francisco. To anyone doing events, the United States looks like nothing so much as a pair of parenthesis (). Two coasts with nothing in the middle. And for electric cars, there are more in California/Oregon/Washington than in the rest of the WORLD combined. And year after year, we host an electric vehicle convention in Cape Girardeau Missouri, almost defining the heart of “nowhere.” EVTV probably owns half the electric cars IN THE STATE.

What I can’t figure out how to do, is transplant that to Sonoma county, and retain what we have gradually come to call “shop time.” That is, hanging out in the EVTV shop with the clutter, the lifts, the tools, all the components to make electric cars, and two refrigerators full of beer. It would cost a million dollars to duplicate it even temporarily at Sonoma.

Its probably not necessary. It may not even be desireable. But it is part of EVCCON that the current 150 really enjoy. Usually Jason Horak’s car breaks enroute from New York, and everybody just kind of jumps it coming in and fixes it. We usually have a build going with the usual troubles and everybody kind of gang bangs that one as well. And I can’t quite describe what it’s like to have a “man cave” with 150 guys in it. Last minute tinkering and adjusting failures on their beloved cars akimbo. There’s just something about getting liquored up, playing with some high voltage, and going for a drive that is exhilarating.

I’m not sure I’m willing to give that up. And for me personally of course, the 150 size is something I can deal with and actually spend a few minutes chatting with almost everyone who attends. Indeed, as many of the same guys keep coming, I’ve come to know who they are and about their cars and so forth. Alzheimers being the joy that it is, it’s true I get them tangled and often swapped. But a good time is had by all. I’m loathe to fix it.

This year, Brain noted that we’ve had a full “kit” from Germany on hand for several years to convert the 2008 Smart 451 to electric drive. Why not make it a project? Well, they might not finish it. That would be a downer. But he announced a “build team” and instead of four or five attendees, he tells me he has 18 signed up for it and showing up early on Monday to start the project.

Well, great. But we had some more join us on Saturday. And some more on Sunday. And they wanted to at least LOOK at the kit. And the next thing I know, they’ve got 36 of our CAM72FI cells pretty much bottom balanced, the entire drive train out of the Smart 451 (four bolts actually) and the replacement ass end of the car sitting there assembled and ready to go in. I fear some of the “build team” arriving later this morning are going to be disappointed if they are already doing wheel burnouts in the street in front of the shop by the time of the 10:00 AM kickoff meeting.

Maybe I can get them to finish the Karman Ghia?????

I have been ditched by a number of speakers, including Edwin Black, Otmar Oebenhache, Eric Kriss, and now most disappointingly Damien Maguire. Damien’s receipt of the Better Place Renault Influenza pack is featured in the show I WAS able to cobble together this weekend. He resides in Ireland and his EV activities have actually directly led to very good engineering job in an Ireland that is a bit short on employment these days. They kind of picture him working seven days a week the next few weeks and so he had to cancel.

Those who know Damien might notice something in the above video. IT is more evident if you go back on YouTube and view his FIRST couple of videos and then this one. Is it just me?Or has EV builds and his videos caused a remarkable transformation in a young life here. He’s almost polished and urbane in this latest. What’s next? A bow tie and tails? And what ever happened to that European tradition of taking August off for vacation?

Fortunately, EVCCON has never been particularly speaker dependent. We have lots of sessions, but in truth almost all the attendees could be speakers. I was enthralled at Sunday dinner last night by Larry Mills, who had attended the first EVCCON and at the last minute decided to do this one. He’s done four conversions. Indeed his first electric car was a Vanguard Citicar in 1974. He just picked up a Ford Focus Electric for half price and just loves it. And he has a beautiful Corvair done previously that is quite a head turner.

I had another epiphany at dinner last night. About a dozen attendees joined us at the Rickard house for Sunday dinner. None of them are car guys. In fact ALL of them are really computer guys. IT, computers, engineers. Mike Brown travelled from THAILAND to be with us. He had a Master’s degree in Computer Science and a long career with IBM. And suddenly all these computer geeks have discovered cars. Indeed, in the nineties when the Internet “frontier” was in full swing, I cared NOTHING for cars. I’m not even sure what I was driving then. I know I couldn’t be bothered changing my own oil in those days.

And it occurs to me that 99% of the people I know doing builds are computer geeks/IT guys, NOT hot rod retreads or car guys. Personal computers and the Internet used to be an exciting new frontier. Now it’s industrial and kind of not something the average joe can make much of a dent it. It’s become a bit of a “job”. Nothing more. And suddenly, computer guys are discovering cars. That kind of describes me. But also almost all EVCCON attendees as well. Perhaps most of our viewers.

John Bishop was scheduled to be here this week with a gorgeous electric Morris Minor. He won’t be bringing it as it turns out. Instead he’s delivering my BRAND NEW 1960 AMC Metropolitan, one of the last made and the most desireable configuration. We of course badly need another project to join the six or eight we haven’t been able to get to yet.


Everyone dealing with electric cars views it from a slightly different position. For me, this is where it is at. Classics, converted to new life with electric drive. They are head turners. In truth, our Tesla Model S pretty much blends in with all the other “euro-style” sedans out there. We get a bit of attention from those who know what it is. But as I’ve said a number of times, I could get a crowd standing on the HOOD of the Model S just to get a better view of our Speedster or Spyder. I’m mobbed in the VW Thing. And I have to confess, albeit sheepishly, that I DO actually like the attention.

As we were shutting down Saturday evening, I went back into the stock area on the East side of the building to a clatter and rustle as four little feral black children, the eldest boy probably 7 years old and the youngest girl still proudly sporting her pacifier and fancy blue diapers, as they ran around in a panic at being discovered in the shop. The boy eyed me warily and then offered “Mon, dese here cars are TIGHT. Can I sit in one?”

There is no way this “chile” could even know what they were. The 1950’s for him might as well be the 1300’s. He’s never seen a Porsche of any year in this neighborhood.

I had to hoist the youngest, I suppose the youngest EVCONN attendee to date, in as she just couldn’t quite make it up over the door sill under her own power. “Yeah, you can sit in them for minute or so, but we’re closing down here you know”, I growled as fiercely as able through suddenly watery irritated eyes. They twiddled every knob on every dash, moved the steering wheels back and forth furiously, and made racing noises and shrieked and howled and carried on for some minutes in a fantasy race around the shop -spraying little feral kid germs in all directions no doubt. “Alright, alright. You kids beat it outta here. We’re closing down…now git.” Wide-eyed at the no doubt enormous old white ogre grouch, they raced for the door.

As I flipped the light switch off and closed the door to the street after them, I couldn’t help but think. “Yeah, mon. Dey tight…”

Tight enough I guess…

Jack Rickard

58 thoughts on “Welcome to EVCCON 2014”

  1. Count me among the IT crowd interested in EVs. Though, I have significant work experience in making car parts and doing metal forming and I do all my own car maintenance so maybe I’m a car guy too. In fact, I got into EVs by converting an antique car to electric drive. And, you’re right Jack, doing that attracts people like moths to a porch light. It’s crazy how much people really love converted antique cars.

    I’ll be seeing everyone tomorrow when I come into the cape. I should be there late afternoon.

  2. As my wife says, I know a little about everything and a lot about nothing… Growing up a little Red Around The Collar, I kind of split the gap between Hotrod guy and IT geek… The wife officially calls me a Hi-Tech Redneck (And that was before the song)…

    On any given weekend I could be found working on anything from a Cicso router to a 1930’s era Farmall Tractor. My best friend has an Model A that runs just well enough so that we can tow it back to his house in under and hour from where ever it stops. We keep the 4 banger on life support so he can finish his Flathead V8 conversion (1/2 of the parts are still in my basement). His cousin in literally one of the best Hotrod builders in the State of Georgia. His metal working skills make mine look truly amateurish. He has a cast iron English Wheel from the original Maserati factory and he actually knows how to use it…

    I look forward to seeing everyone tomorrow!!!!

    1. Jeff has basically agreed to take on the conversion of the Aristocraft boat, which will be on display at the AC Brase arena this week, for us. I keep taking on more projects, without ever quite finishing any, and so we are starting to farm them out. We intend a Coda UQM drive train and the new CAM80FI cells for the Aristocraft and Jeff will be fabricating all that post EVCCON.

      Meanwhile, we’ll be able to put THING vs THING in the 1/8th mile and autocross and dyno this week. By the way, I have the temperature current limiting problem solved Jeff. We’ll be at full power this week so bring your A game.


  3. I’m sorry I won’t be there this year. It came down to the money to finish my truck or to go to EVCCON. I’m happy to say the truck moved under its own power yesterday. Another EV grin!

    The Smart build sounds fun. I was at AirVenture this year and they built a kit airplane in 7 days, starting with opening the box on Monday at 8am. They taxied it on Sunday, day 7. Got an inspection on Monday and it flew on Tuesday. 2500 volunteers had a hand in it (I pulled one rivet) but a core group of 20 or so really made it happen. So I think 18 working on a Smart that’s 80% already assembled should be able to make a good go of it.

    1. Rick:

      EVCCON kind of got away from me again. It started Friday noon, instead of the following Tuesday evening. And the Smart was pretty far along by the time of the kick-off meeting at 10:00 AM yesterday. But the day was just a HOOT with probably 40 guys in the shop by the end of the day. They fixed a small problem with my condenser fan on the Escalade and were working furiously on the Smart all day. Turns out the battery box, originally fitted for the 450, wasn’t quite as ready for the 451 as thought.

      In the MIDDLE of the day, Mark Webster, general manager of SmartUSA for Daimler Mercedes Benz, called in response to my letter to explain why the replacement battery for our $28,750 MSRP SmartED costs $30,000. His explanation failed the woof test rather badly but it was an interesting conversation. But he has more or less agreed to provide the CAN message IDs and data formats for the BMS, as soon as he can find out what I’m talking about. We’ll see.

      In any event, you made a poor choice between Airventure and EVCCON to my way of thinking. I do hope you’ll be among us next year.

      Jack Rickard

  4. IT geek guilty as charged. Thirty five years with IBM starting in typewriters and passing through office systems and PCs on my way to a terminal focus on UNIX servers. Oh, and always had a rusty British sports car (is there any other kind?) leaking oil on my driveway. Tonight I’m halfway to Cape G in a motel in Texarkana – it takes one day to get out of Texas and another day to get where you’re going. The evTD is hitched to a half ton rental truck, and that irony doesn’t escape me. I’m also anxious to see everybody tomorrow afternoon.

  5. Damn and Dash!
    This will be the last EVCCON that I will not attend.
    I came late to ISPCON and it seems the pattern will be repeated that my first will be EVCCON 5.


    Steve Stroh, survivor of Broadwatch.

    1. A delight to hear from you again Steve. Mr. Stroh was actually a contributing editor to Boardwatch by the end. You of all people Steve. Yes, you should have known from the FIRST EVCCON that you would wind up being interested in this field before it was over. And yes, this is where IT guys go when IT is no fun anymore and just a day job. When Dvorak finally wakes up and shows up, we’ll know we’re all onboard and ready to roll.

      Programming multicontrollers is just like PC’s in the 80’s. Arduino is the new CPM. And you get to drive it. Entirely silently and on electricity from the wall. I have a guy in the shop this moment that used to be an ISP.

      What you missed in ISPCON by showing up late was the early small ones where it was intimate, everybody knew everybody, I actually got to sit and chat with everyone who came, that’s what we’re doing this week. We have 131 registered and 36 cars coming. We have one session track (instead of 22 simultaneous tracks). Really more BBSCON days frankly. The EV thing is not nearly as far along as everyone thinks.

      I look forward to seeing you back in harness. It is indeed a blessing to get TWO such rodeos in one lifetime. But I’m doing the same thing, same garrulous way, new frontier. We have 131 this week just as passionate about electric vehicles as you guys were about interconnecting the world. You won. You can win again.

      Jack Rickard

  6. Hey Jack and fellow EVCCONer’s

    I’ve been high-jacked by work for the next two days however I was able to extend my stay at the hotel through Monday, so the Smart might be done before I get there but I’m hoping to race it against the Ghia by Monday afternoon. Brain, have the tools ready…I think we can take em.!

    See everyone sometime Thursday.


  7. Loved the anecdote about the kids. Hope you told them YOUR cars run on batt’rees. Nothin’ like an old alpha-male growling at you (and stifling a chuckle) when you poke your nose somewhere it’s technically not supposed to be — to spark an interest. Happened to me when I was digging through the stacks of IBM systems-programming manuals after my shift, way back when I was really supposed to be a lowly tape-mounter. And so it goes. Worth a few kid-germs to be sure.

  8. I really enjoyed this year’s EVCCON and being able to talk to everyone I did. I’m a kind of shy person but it was nice to be able to talk in person with all the people I’ve communicated with online.

    Congrats to the Smart build team. Congrats to everyone who managed to take a car to the convention. Thank you Jack for putting on this convention. It was a really nice time.

  9. Jack,

    The St. Louis detachment of the EV Army (myself, Dale Friedhoff, Dennis & Marcy Pestka, and Wayne Garver) showed up this year with 4 cars and had a great time as always. Thank you to you, Brian, and your entire staff for hosting this fun event. I’ll happily drag my EV Ranger down next year (hopefully it’s finally operational at that point) for a chance to learn and mingle with like-minded folk.


    Keith Meyer

  10. Thanks to all once again for another great EVCCON. Thanks also to the attendees discount on parts I have pretty much cleared my US dollar funds back to zero. Apparently a GEVCU (a box with an antenna) a loop of wire and a bunch of battery straps, looks pretty threatening on a TSA xray screen eh Wayne? Next years EVCCON dates are perfect for me so I will see you all again then.

      1. We’ve had a bit of a disappointment. The Parks and Recreation made a mistake and scheduled us for the week of the fair, instead of the week after. We have August 15th or September 29th to pick from and I’m leaning toward September 29th. My favorite week of the year here weatherwise is the first week of October.

        Jack Rickard

    1. Yes, our baby has arrived @EVTV !

      She was meant to be there for EVCCON, but it was such an EV jam packed week of greatness that I really did not have the time fret over the fumbling trucking Co.

      Since coming back I’ve been watching shopcam like a hawk though 🙂

      1. Oh no! Your baby got beat up by dock workers. I hope Jack can find someone to do repairs that match the quality of workmanship that was so evident in your videos.

      2. Jack,
        don’t trust the transaxle. If it was “accidentally” hit by a forklift just to prevent you from silently driving, beltdrive like in silent submarines …

        Turning the axle with a motor before doing anything expensive might be an idea. I hope I am imagining things but the tsa is a reality and that they can be a pain is a reality too.

        Jack is right. I guess it was a good idea of the fine boat to come late for EVCCON.
        Wish I could have been there.

        Peter and Karin

    1. EVCONN 2014 was great fun. I really enjoyed talking with fellow EV builders and checking out the great builds. The boutique whiskey and Stag beer helped keep my parts lubricated and was much appreciated, Jack, along with the great food. The EVTV crew did an excellent job managing the event. Many thanks to Jack, Brian, Richard, Deidra, and the rest of the gang.

      September 29th would be great for next year IMO.

  11. michel bertrand

    Hi Jack and Brian ,Thank you for EVCCON, I had a great time ! It`s amazing how much everybody pitches in to help when there is work to do. Martin helped build my donkey box (aux battery pack)for Sikeston ,Nathan was a great tire man on race day ,Dusty rescued me in the Drury inn parking lot and towed me to the airport. The verdict on the auxiliary battery pack is that the excess weight actually slowed me down by 3 tenths of a second at sikeston.
    Anyways here`s is a link to youtube showing the belt drive in action on the road going thru the gears.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRsVIICBD0Q

  12. Jack, Brian, Deidra, et al: I had a terrific time at my first EVCCON and look forward to many more. Meeting so many of the folks who were only faces and names on the Interwebs made the experience that much more interesting. I took the advice of some of the EVCCON veterans and chatted with as many attendees as possible; I’m still on sensory overload (I’m sure my colleague in my lab at work has tired by now of hearing my EVCCON stories!). I’m watching this week’s show and am feeling a bit shaken at the carnage that was the delivery of Jack’s boat (“kinda got raped”…apt description, Jack).
    To quell my nerves and add some needed comedy, I spotted the brilliantly evil Michael de Salvo’s Toyota EV conversion on my way back to Atlanta. Naked and unattended. Sucking down some amps at Duck Creek RV Park in Paducah, Ky. I unplugged it.


    -Bob K.

  13. As an aside and outside of Jacks remit but it had to happen.
    An electric bike is expected to beat all comers in Craig Vetters real road eco runs.
    The road course was “75 miles of interstate freeway at 70-80 MPH, 37 miles of straight back roads at 60-65 MPH, then some tight mountain roads.”. Anyone who dropped behind the judging vehicle ended their run at that point.
    Convincing people one at a time was the old motto 😉

    1. Andy:

      There is one central reason we dont’ spend more time on the topic of electric bicycles and motor cycles:

      1. They don’t need us. They’re already so far underway and make so much sense, there is nothing for us to do to make the case. There are easily 20 million of them in operation now worldwide.

      Jack Rickard

  14. Heat and the Karman Ghia

    Just an idea, insulating our i-MiEV helped a lot. We need the heater less often and it consumes less power when we do.

    We used the same “styrofoam plus alu foil” material that is used in the attic of our house. We did all four doors and the lids back and front. The lid helps keeping the vessel for the cooling fluid warm. Other people did insulate the vessel and the heater with mostly the same results.

    Other benefits, as long as we keep the windows closed noise from outside is reduced dramatically. Side effect we got two tickets for speeding now. Climbing a hill and running down the other side, you dont hear when the car passes the sound barrier.

    Maybe we should go for speed not torque with the pedal. Would get us a nice picture at traffic lights and would get us the same grin on our faces Anne had during his videos. Rubber on speed cams would help to lenghten their life and the life of our wallet.

    Peter and Karin

    1. I like the idea of adding insulation, especially to an older car. Adding insulation to my GT40 replica had a radical effect on noise and perceived smoothness. Insulating a liquid heater must surely help too

  15. Point taken Jack.
    The internet via the BBS; getting people “in”, driven by their imaginations of enablement and saving some money was the trunk for many branches of what it became.
    Comparing this run with plain, bare, vanilla electric bicycles?
    Oh hum, your blog 🙂

    1. This run was also your usual “hyper-mile”, efficiency seekers. I have been following Terry with his cross country runs, but as far as making huge leaps, I didn’t see it making spashes outside this group. People like John Metric, EV West and Anne’s boating ventures, are the ones turning heads and opening the eyes of people who hardly have heard of Tesla or even know that OEM’s have electric cars available.

  16. Somewhat off topic Jack, I was wondering on the status of your new PV setup on the roof. Is there a website that gives your panels output data in real time that an interested party could check out? Hope its all working well….congrats on getting the big check for it.

  17. Michael Hibbard

    Can someone please provide a link the the Masters Thesis of the student which back-engineered the CAN bus and BMS system of the Electric Smart car that you mentioned in the video?

    Michael Hibbard

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