Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I've finally arrived back in Arizona after having attended the first EVCCON (EV Conversion Conference) in Missouri.  I rented a car hauler from U-Haul, borrowed my sister's truck, loaded up the Z3 and then my father and I towed the car 1500 miles to Cape Girardeau.  For those of you unfamiliar with the convention, it was put on by the EVTV crew, Jack Rickard and Brian Noto.  The idea was to have the people that have adopted the use of, or are interested in EVs with LiFePo4 batteries, come together. 

To be honest, I simply had no idea what to expect.  My biggest hope was that there would be time to meet with the other attendees and exchange ideas and then see some of the cars up close.  The schedule that was printed up was pretty full and I was concerned there wouldn't be much of a chance for that.  The convention was scheduled to officially start around 10:00 AM Wednesday.  As it turned out, quite a people showed up on Tuesday and began descending on the EVTV shop.  We arrived at the hotel Tuesday around 4:00 PM and immediately ran into Mark Emon, one of the finalists for the EVTV $20,000 EV component give away contest.  Mark was getting ready to run down to the shop and said that we should come along and drop the car off.  We decided we'd follow along and do just that.

When we arrived, there were already 30 or so people gathered around looking at the E-Cobra that Jack and Brian have been working on.  Everyone encouraged me to unload the Z3 and then proceeded help.  I pulled the truck into the shop (a tight fit) and used one of the ramps inside to facilitate getting it off the trailer nice, quick and painless.  Once it was off the trailer, I opened it up so everyone could have a look.  There were certainly lots of favorable comments and questions, and it was fun answering them all.  Jack explained to me that people started showing up well before the appointed time (some as early as Monday morning) and took over his shop.  Though that clearly wasn't the plan, I think he was quite happy to have everyone there.  Around dinner time, someone showed up with several pizza's and we all sat around talking about EVs and sharing pizza and beer.   I don't know that it gets much better than that.  Before I left I asked Jack where he wanted me to put my car and he told me to just park it next to a couple of the others.

The Z3 has never been in better company, nor so thoroughly out classed.

Wednesday we arrived at the shop around 10:00 AM and found that it was already teaming with activity.  The previous day, they'd put the final pieces together in the E-Cobra and tried to drive it, but found it would not move under it's own power.  Motor spun, but in spite of the fact that the clutch was firmly engaged the car wouldn't move.  Six to eight guys were working on it and pulling the transmission to see if they could determine the problem with the clutch.  As the day went on, more and more cars arrived, each impressive and a joy to look over.  Sebastian Bourgeois' 911, Fred Behning's 1960 Austin Healey Sprite, Charlie and Tamera Rickman's 1973 Opel GT and Daniel Yohannes' Porsche Cayenne just to name a few. 

Fred Behning's Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite.  One of my favorites.

The back end of Sebastian Bourgeois' 911.  Yes, there are two motors in that space, one on top of the other. 

Eric Kriss' 356 Porsche replica.  An astonishingly beautiful build.

A peek into the back end of Duane Ball's Porsche 904 replica.  Another gorgeous conversion.

I can't express what a joy it was to talk to each and everyone of these great people.  Instead of the first two questions out of everyone's mouth being "How far will it go?" and "How long to charge it?", they were asking great questions like "How did you solve this problem?" or "Why did you choose that design?"  Starting off with a pool of people that already "get it" set the stage for some very substantial, entertaining and valuable conversations.  This was truly a fantastic day.

The next two days took place at Jack's hanger out at the Cape Girardeau airport and were comprised mostly of various speakers and eating (man, there was a lot of food).  The speakers lined up ranged from individuals that own and run conversion shops, suppliers of EV components (both sellers and manufacturers), industry analysts, with a couple of speakers on technical issues thrown in for good measure.  I had no expectations for most of the speakers and very high expectations for others.  As it turned out, each speaker was quite good.  A few stood out, having put together truly informative and interesting talks, but also delivering them quite well.  George Hamstra from Netgain motors gave two talks, both packed with information about where we, as a global community, are going in regards to oil usage.  Eric Kriss delivered a terrific analysis of why EVs make sense now and why and how that's come to pass.  Ryan Bohm of EVSource delivered a great talk about a variety of topics related to EVs including details of the new WarP-Drive controllers and safety concerns regarding EVs.  The latter made a big impression on everyone.  It was well stated and impassioned.

Thursday evening, Chris Paine, director of "Who Killed the Electric Car" and "Revenge of the Electric Car" gave a talk.  It was an interesting talk, but largely about the concerns and issues surrounding making movies.  He is, however, clearly passionate about EVs.  After speaking for an hour or so, and madly texting and emailing his producer to get permission to show us "Revenge of the Electric Car" he had still not received the OK.  Ultimately he took the decision into his own hands and rolled the film.  It's set to come out October/November in different cities, so it was a great opportunity to see it early.

The film was basically an overview of four different groups, or in one case a person, working to bring an EV to the market.  It featured, Bob Lutz and his efforts at shepherding the Volt into production at Chevy, Elon Musk and Tesla's saga, Carlos Ghosn and Nissan's preemptive dive into the EV world, and finally Rev. Gadget and his attempts to put together a 120 mile range Porsche 356 replica conversion that he can market.  It was basically a documentary on the difficulties, setbacks and successes of each.  It was well worth seeing and very entertaining.  When it comes to your city, I think it's worth your time.

Later in the day on Friday, we all went out to the runways behind the hanger for some festivities with the cars, including weighing each, a drag race, and an auto cross set up by the local SCCA.  The Z3 came in at 3285 lbs, which is rather portly compared to several others, being that so many of the cars there were built from light weight sports cars, or replicas.  (A side note, and I don't remember the source, but the stock Z3 actually weighed more than a standard 2 door E36, BMW 3 series chassis.)  What I thought was odd was the weight was dead on identical to when I had it weighed after it hit the road a year and a half ago, but the weight distribution went from 52% / 48% front to rear weight bias, to 50% / 50%.  Can't explain that.

I've never participated in any sort of drag race.  Not the official sort on a track, or the race off the line at the local street light.  It's just not my thing.  But I have to admit, it was great to find out just how well the Z3 would perform in an official, measured way.  As it turned out, my car was the first weighed and the first at the line to run the 1/4 mile.  It took some time for the next car to get weighed and staged.  When we were all set, the lights on the tree (that's drag racing talk for a pole with lights on it) gave us the green to go.  I started in 2nd gear and screeched the tires like mad, much to the crowd's approval, but I knew that meant I'd lost time.  At the end of the run, I left it in 4th, which meant my torque was dying off, and I lifted just before the end.  Like I said, I've never done this.  But I realized right away I could do better.  So the first run was 19.2 seconds at 61.8 MPH.

I lined up to try again.  This time I started in 3rd and hit the power with a bit more care to be sure not to spin the tires.  When 4th was losing torque I went to 5th, and I could feel a bit more torque kick in.  That run was better at 18.9 seconds, 66.4 MPH.  All in all, in a field of 22 cars, the Z3 came in a respectable 9th.  Aside from Ron Adamowicz's purpose built Camaro drag racer (which was awesome) the top runner was Dave Hrivnak's Tesla Roadster that ran it in 13.1 at 88.2 MPH.  Later, Dave gave me a ride in the Tesla, for which I will remain eternally grateful.  He took me down the 1/4 mile run.  I don't think I've ever experienced anything so blisteringly fast.  I'm not even sure the magnetically launched roller coasters I've ridden accelerate that fast.  It was simply astonishing.

Having run what I thought was likely the best 1/4 mile I could, I went over to the auto cross.  I picked out a helmet and was given an instructor.  He explained to me how to read the course and how to attack various corners.  We set off on the first lap and I did fairly well finishing in the mid 50 second range.  But the instructor said "This car has a lot more to give, so I know you can do better."  I knew he was right since I hadn't caused the tires to squeal once.  Within a couple more laps I was down in the upper 40's.  I ran several more times trimming off a little more each time.  The car performed great!  I was throwing it into corners and driving it like it was meant to be driven.  The last big corner you hit at pretty good speed and I was nearly drifting around it, the back end just barely hanging on.  When it was all said and done, it got down to 44.7 seconds.  Not the best time, but in the top of the pack.  It would likely come as no surprise, but the Tesla set the best time in the mid 41's.

Ultimately I had to stop because I was running low on charge.  That was the most fun I've ever had in a car, and that includes a few memorable nights in high school and college ;)

Saturday, we wrapped up at the hanger and then all of the cars drove down to a park in the middle of town for an EV car show.  Each of the cars was on display and each builder was available to answer all the normal questions posed by people just seeing EVs for the first time.  It was a great crowd and there were a number of people from the media there to film and photograph the cars as well as interview the drivers.  We left the park in a police escorted parade around Cape Girardeau.  Here is a fantastic video put together by one of the participants.  He highlights each car and puts some information up about each (though he did get a few facts wrong on mine, it has an 11 inch motor!).

At the end of the parade, all the cars were gathered in the parking lot of the hotel, parked and arranged ever so carefully for some photos.  First the cars by themselves, and then all the owners went and stood by the cars.  Sadly, I did not have may camera.  I'm hoping that one of the kind people that has a copy will send one to me.

It's difficult to put into words, but that was a profound and powerful moment.  I think everyone felt it and knew it was important.  There was something palpable in the air.  The sense that this was the beginning, the beginning of something big.  Sure manufacturers are going to begin producing EVs for the public.  But I, and I think everyone there feels that a big part of the future of EVs will be conversions.  We were there to bare witness to the beginning of a movement that will change the world. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cool Air

I took the Z3 down to the shop today to have the A/C lines evacuated and charged.  I had to explain to the technician that was going to drive the car into the service bay how to operate the car.  I wanted to make sure he was comfortable.  There really is no trick to starting and driving it, but the lack of noise can throw people off.

After an hour and a half or so, the service rep came out to ask me if the oil that ships in the compressor has any dye in it.  "Why, are you seeing dye?"  They weren't, but he explained that the system was not holding a vacuum and they couldn't pin point the location of the leak.  So they were thinking of putting some refrigerant in system to see if they could see the leak when it spit out colored stuff.  The thing is, it's the oil in the systems they use that contain the dye when they want to track a leak, but we can't contaminate the MasterFlux system with standard oil for A/C units because it uses a special type of oil.

I asked them to do what they could to find the leak and moped back to my seat dreading having to take the system apart again.  About 45 minutes later, the tech that drove the car into the service bay came back and asked me how much refrigerant they should put in the system.  He explained that they'd put just under 2 lbs. in and it wasn't quite as cold as they like to see.  Uh, what?  I thought it wasn't sealing properly?  He explained that it didn't under vacuum, but once they put refrigerant in the system, it seemed to be holding pressure just fine.

No one seemed to really know why this would be the case, or how something like this might happen.  But the service rep hazarded a guess.  He was thinking that the seals in the system may simply have been allowing air into the system when they were drawing the vacuum down because they'd dried out from the system being empty for so long, but once they turned the compressor on and the oil started flowing around the innards of the system, it may have lubricated the O-rings and helped them seat.  Since no one had a better idea than that, we decided that must be it.

They put a thermometer in the vent and let the system run for several minutes to get a temperature reading of the out put.  It read 60 °F.  That is on the high end of normal.  He noted that the high pressure side of the system had lower pressure than they're used to seeing.  While I don't know this to be the case, my suspicion is that this system, which is designed to run between 120 and 420 VDC is operating at the low end of the scale in my car at only 160 V.  So my guess is that it simply doesn't have the voltage behind it to drive it hard enough to get higher pressures.

In any event, the drive home was very pleasant.  The compressor is pretty quiet.  Standing over it while it's running, you hear a tick-tick-tick-tick sound, but its not particularly harsh or disturbing.  Inside the car, I can feel it more than I can hear it.  Well I can't really hear it from in the car, but I can feel it in my feet.  Without it being mounted on those rubber bushings, I'm sure it would be very shaky indeed.  All in all, I'm pleased.  I would have liked another 10 °F temperature drop, but this is so much better than no A/C, I'm not complaining.  I will be keeping an eye on it over the next few days, weeks, months to see if the output changes.  I'm not convinced there's no leak just yet.

I also had them align the front end so that it has 0° toe-in.  Normally cars are aligned with a slight 1 to 2° toe-in for tracking purposes.  Without that, cars will tend to wander about the road, potentially following cracks or grooves in the pavement.  Not a desirable trait really, but neither is an EV that uses more energy that in needs by scrubbing it off with the tires.  As it turns out, they didn't have to adjust it much, and like I said yesterday, I really don't know if it's had an impact yet.  On that note, I did receive the new 1/10 pre-scalar today, which will allow me to measure energy in and out again.  Now I get to begin the long, arduous task of disassembling the passenger side dashboard. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On the Road Again

All Willie Nelson references aside, the Z3 is back on the road.  There's a lot to tell, and I'm sorry I haven't posted more as I was working, but as most of you know, I have a deadline that I had to make.  This made for some very long days and nights in the garage.  I'll touch on some of the highlights, good and bad.

The controller for the MasterFlux compressor comes as a circuit board with an aluminum heat sink anchored to one side and all the components open to the world on the other side.  You don't have to be a computer expert to know that probably ought to be protected from the elements.  I started looking for a project box big enough to put it in and would fit in the space I had picked out for it, but found none.  It wasn't long before I realized I was going to have to build my own.  Well, I figured that would be fun.  My material of choice would be thin sheets of aluminum, but I don't have a press break, or access to one.  There was no way I was going to be able to build a nice box out of metal with neat edges.

OK, that meant plastic was the material of choice.  I found someone on eBay selling sheets of PVC plastic, so I ordered a 2'x4' sheet.  I was able to cut it quite easily with a utility knife and a metal straight edge.  It was clearly formed with a PVC foam-like material rather than the type used to cast PVC joints for plumbing.  But on thing was certain, it would glue the same.  I very carefully cut sheets the proper size, planning on two sheets per side, sandwiched together, with staggered edges so I would have more surface area to make sturdier lap joints at the corners.

My plan to build a box around the controller was going well.  But then my dad had a great suggestion.  He noticed that the heat sink is a bit larger with the edges sticking out beyond the edges of the circuit board, so he suggested making that one side of the box and simply enclose the circuit board.  Brilliant!  I was able to do just that and build a secure mounting system and put it exactly where I had hoped I would be able to.  This had the added benefit of leaving the heat sink open to the outside air for cooling

Notice the fins of the heat sink facing the front of the car between the two battery packs.  Right next to that, to the left, is a little project box that holds a large diode and two relays.  The diode is to prevent current from the capacitors on the controller board from flowing back into the car's traction system should the voltage in traction system drop below the voltage stored in those capacitors.  Apparently this was a common problem with the MasterFlux units that they've decided to overcome by recommending you buy an extra $25 part.  The relays work like this: the on/off switch on the car's dashboard for the A/C system triggers one relay, which provides power to the fan mounted on the condenser at the front of the car, and to the second relay.  That second relay simply makes a contact that will allow the 5V signal back to the controller turning it on.

(By the way, notice the nice new braided connectors between the batteries.  Nice huh? )

All of this should work flawlessly.  In theory.  You see, I tested what I could before hooking everything up, but there was no way to test all of it as one system after it was hooked up, until all the batteries were in.  Plus, I have no idea if it's even safe to run the compressor before the system has been evacuated of air and charged.  In fact, I've been trying to reach Revolt Electric (the resellers of MasterFlux products) to ask them about this and a few other things but they have been, how shall I say, less than diligent about returning emails or phone calls.  Part of being a reseller is living up to the responsibility of offering end user support, and they're falling short at the moment.

Tomorrow morning, I'm taking the car into a local BMW shop to have them evacuate the system and charge it.  First, they'll put a vacuum on the hoses and pump all the air out.  They'll leave it like that for a couple hours to be sure it holds the vacuum.  If it does it's good to charge.  At this point I have no idea if it will.  I can't express how much I hope it does, but there's no telling.  Since one of the new joints in the system had a brazed fitting, I think that one will be fine.  The other one was still an accursed compression fitting.  I give it a 50% chance of holding a vacuum.

If it holds up they'll charge it and I get to turn it on for the first time.  I'm not worried about incorrect wiring and/or damage to the system, but there is the distinct possibility that it simply won't work for some reason which I can't conceive of at the moment.  I'm about 90% sure that will go well.   Whether I drive out of the shop with A/C tomorrow, only time will tell.

They are also going to align the front end to take out all the toe-in.  I never had it re-aligned, so it will be interesting to see how much of an impact this has on energy consumption.  Sadly I won't know right away because the new meter I put in isn't working.

Actually, the meter is not the problem, it's the original pre-scalar I was using with the Link-10 meter.  When I put power to the system yesterday, I turned on the meter and started running through the various menu setting to set it up for the car.  When it was done, it read that the system voltage was 68.8V.  Wha...  I double checked that I'd selected the 1/10 pre-scalar knowing full well that I'd never seen a 1/4.3 setting that would be necessary to see 68.8 Volts.  Eventually I pulled the meter out of the console and actually measured the voltage on the wires coming from the pre-scalar.  I found that it read 6.88 volts.  Well how about that.  Apparently while the car sat doing nothing over the past 4 months, the pre-scalar developed some sort of problem that renders it useless.  I have no idea how, or why, but a replacement unit is $54.  *Sigh*  A new one is on the way. 

Astute readers will have noticed in the picture of the motor bay that the big red slap switch I had in the prior builds is gone.  "Where did it go" you ask?  Well after I pulled it out to start the work in the area, I noticed something peculiar about one of the contacts on the positive terminal side.  Take a look:

You can see in the top right side what the contact pads should look like.  They are little silver pads soldered on the copper bar.  However in the bottom frames, you can see that one of them has completely melted away.  The bottom left picture is the bottom bar in the contact, and the bottom right picture is it's mate above.  At some point, there was some serious arcing in there that, for all intents and purposes, destroyed this switch.  Well there was no way I was going to put it back like that, and I see no reason in replacing it with a like one as there will now be the possibility of sending even more current through it.  Nope, I need to find some other safety disconnect.  But, that will have to wait for later. 

I finally added an expansion tank for the coolant used to keep the Zilla cool.  Finding a location for it was a challenge. The fact is, it's on the opposite side of the car from where the pump is.  As a result, there are coolant hoses running all over the place.  The underside of the car is, quite frankly, a bit embarrassing now.  It's just too crowded with stuff and it all looks a bit thrown together.  Such is life.  The cooling system does seem to work great though.

Yesterday after putting everything back in and together, I was working near one of the batteries while touching the chassis of the car, and I grazed a battery and felt an unmistakable shock.  What the!  My mind raced.  I got out my meter to check and sure enough, there was continuity between the chassis and the battery pack.  I stood there cursing, wondering how the hell that had happened.  I disconnected the positive most terminal and started looking to see what had happened.  Eventually I isolated the problem to the motor.  My first though was that as I'd lowered the battery pack on top of the motor, I must have crushed one of the lugs and it shorted out to the motor's housing.

There was no way around it, that pack was going to have to come out.  Mind you, this is coming less than an hour after I'd put the final bolt in holding everything together.  What a bitter pill that was.  Rather than take the pack out as a whole, I decided the best thing would be to dis-assemble the first row of batteries and remove them so that I could see the terminals which are under them and if I'd crushed a lug.

What I found was no crushed lugs, but one was clearly wedged in there and under pressure.  I as able to get to it and get it out.  I found that the plastic boot on the terminal had what amounts to a pressure wound on top of it and was actually pierced, ever so slightly.  The heat shrink tube underneath it looked intact, but I cut if off and could clearly see a hole you could fit a pencil lead through when I held it up to the light.  There it was, that was what had been touching the chassis.  I found a less risky path for that wire and bolted all the wires back in place.  I checked and there was no continuity.  Problem fixed.  Whew!

This morning, I re-assembled the rest of the system, put power to the system, dropped the car to the ground and carefully drove out of the garage.  I took off down the road cautiously and found that the car was driving perfectly.  Furthermore, the wobble that was in the drive line before it went up on blocks was now completely gone.  The Warp 11 motor was perfect again.  Finally, on the road again.

Tomorrow is my appointment with the shop, which I'll report on.  The rest of the week will be spent replacing that pre-scalar, and getting ready to trailer the car and tow it to Missouri for EVCCON.  I am genuinely looking forward to that.