An internal combustion engine is a vastly complex system with a basic outcome - to turn wheels. Though electric cars have been around just as long as their fossil-fuel powered counterparts, it's only in recently that they've resurfaced as the logical progression of personal transportation. Thanks to companies like Tesla, well designed EVs are now a reality, but cost and exclusivity are still limitations.
Always interested in cars, but never possessing more than a superficial knowledge of their inner workings, I've recently started penciling in ideas on how I would learn more through a hands-on approach, while respecting where they've come from. My first car was a 1985 BMW 325e, of the iconic E30 model designation. (My second car was a Saab but I don't want to talk about it, the pain is still too near). With the right balance of simple design, tight packaging, solid build quality and clever engineering, the little E30's are easily found and cheaply priced, but with the predictably high mileage one might expect from an almost 30 year old car.
The goal is to find the right test car, (preferably a late-80's 318i), proceed to remove engine, radiator, fuel tank, exhaust pipe etc, and replace that all with an electric motor and bank of lithium-ion batteries. Let's face it, combustion engines are becoming as arcane as the fuel that powers them. EV conversions are becoming increasingly feasible, and rightly so, because the 'affordable' new options are cars like the dorkishly designed Nissan Leaf or Mitsubishi i-MiEV (one of those i's stands for 'innovative', enough said). Simply put, I'm interested in breathing new life and new value into something old and well made, not unlike the cafe-racer/custom bike culture. Producing a repeatable conversion method makes sense, hence choosing one make and model to experiment with. Fun stuff would include telltale exterior design details such as badging, exposed charge-points, Gattaca-style green headlights, and interior details like nice displays and UI for the electric system diagnostics.
There is a growing desire for craft, quality and serviceability and I hope in some way this contributes to that movement. While batteries in and of themselves are not clean, nor is the production of most electricity, I fully believe there are ways to overcome this. Charging an EV from a solar-powered home for example is a step in the right direction, and this already ties into another project of mine.
So here's to drawing peaceful relations between the past and the future...at least until the BMW purists come crashing down the door with torches and pitchforks crying heresy, at which point I'm hoping I've got a full charge.
(original photo via flickr)