by John Bryan
Recent high-profile developments being made in the electric vehicle (EV) industry by the ajor auto manufacturers might lead one to believe that they are something new, but high-performance EVs have been around for decades, thanks to the efforts of hobbyists converting cars to electric power in their home shops. John Wayland has been building hot rod EVs in Portland Oregon for nearly two decades, and his craftsmanship, creativity, and ability to integrate the newest technology into his projects has made his EVs unique and exciting.
In 1980, John converted his '72 Datsun 1200, now known as 'The Blue Meanie', to electric power, and endowed it with startling performance and a rockin' stereo. Other EVs of the time were Spartan range-oriented types that were cumbersome and heavy, but John's light weight EV was focused on acceleration, handling, and plain fun! Using a simple contractor speed controller, golf car batteries, and an aircraft starter/generator for propulsion, though primitive by today's standards, the 1800 lb. electrified Datsun featured regen braking, and had enough power to lay rubber and hit 80 mph! For many years, John experimented with several different battery packs including aircraft NiCads, but the little Datsun was always on the road, always being used as his primary mode of transportation.
In the search for more power, John redesigned the Meanie and equipped it with a bigger and more powerful Advanced DC 9 inch motor, a solid state Curtis speed controller, 132 volts of Trojan batteries, and an upgraded sound system. The car was also designed with a unique motorized rear battery tray, where at the push of a button on the remote key, the batteries emerged from their hidden location and moved smoothly into the trunk area for inspection and service. Another button push retracted the pack, leaving a fully usable trunk. With its fresh violet pearl over royal blue paint job, all-new interior, lowered stance, mag wheels, blasting stereo, and higher 90 mph performance, the car was faster and more fun...it began to shatter the image that all EVs were slow and boring. John received a lot of his inspiration from the car audio field, with their use of gold-plated battery hardware and advanced lead acid spiral-wound Optima batteries...trick looks, no corrosion, and high current power...perfect for the Blue Meanie! In a move to blend his interest in electric cars with his passion for car stereo, the Blue Meanie's audio system was redesigned again, this time pumped-up with four amplifiers and 14 speakers to compete in the wacky world of auto sound competition. The car was a huge hit as it became the world's first competing electric vehicle in the car audio wars and went on to be featured in 'Car Audio and Electronics' magazine. In 1995 the car underwent yet another upgrade to 156 volts of prototype Optima 'Yellow Top' sealed deep cycle batteries and a high performance Auburn 'Kodiak' motor speed controller. The combination of the high current Optima's, the torque 9 inch motor, and the powerful Auburn controller launched the car from 0-60 with squealing tires and propelled it to 100+ mph...a new level of performance, one that would be considered 'state of the art' to this day. The Datsun 1200 makes a great EV for a number of reasons, but John's interest in them is such that he decided to convert another one for a different kind of competition. Instead of sound and show, the 'White Zombie' was built for drag racing! Stripped down to a bare minimum, the earliest version of the be-stickers Datsun sedan had 180 volts, binary speed control (on and off via Kilovac contractors), and smoking drag slicks! As with the Blue Meanie, Wayland's race car is in a continual state of development, and currently the Zombie is running 336 volts of Hawker 'Genesis' batteries with a monster 'Kostov' motor and one of Otmar Ebenhoech's killer 'Godzilla' controllers. Electric drag racing really started to take off in a big way when John and other charged-up racers formed the National Electric Drag Racing Association (NEDRA) in 1997. The fledgling organization was created to provide a safe place to push the EV potential and to promote EVs in a positive light as a powerful alternative to gas-powered vehicles. At last year's Woodburn Drags, Dennis 'Kilowatt' Berube's electric rail dragster handily defeated a fire-breathing V10 Dodge Viper in the 1/4 mile! If the first season is any indication, EV drag racing is destined to become the auto sport of the future. John has worked with other EV enthusiasts on joint projects as well as his own. One that inspires all who see it, is a 1965 Ford Mustang EV. This beautiful conversion was featured in 'Mustang Illustrated' magazine and is a real show stopper with it's original Springtime Yellow paint topped off with an awesome platinum pearl finish. The 'Stang took EVs into an area where they hadn't previously been, good old American hot rods, and it attracts a crowd of admirers whenever it is shown. John also helped in the creation of Dick Finley's tire smokin' Renault, a battery powered car that routinely dusted off V8 powered vehicles. In the summer of '97, Dick 'hotrod' Finley sold the 'Rocket Renault' and asked John to help him convert a '95 XtraCab Toyota truck into a very long range EV, capable of traveling more than 100 miles at freeway speeds. John successfully drove the 'Red Beastie' from Portland Oregon to Seattle Washington and back for a total of 440 miles, only stopping twice for opportunity charges reroute! Just recently, John helped in the design and conversion of a blazing fast '85 Toyota MR-2 in preparation for the NEDRA drag Races. He has also helped editor Bruce Meland convert three motorcycles to electric power, Kawashocki 2 as well as Yamashocki 1 and Yamashocki 2. Getting back to his car stereo competition roots, John converted the most unlikely of all possible vehicles to an EV for audio competition...a garden tractor! The 'Heavy Metal Garden Tractor' is bright red with purple-tinged yellow flames and runs on six Optima Blue Top batteries. Equipped with a cassette deck, 10 disc CD changer, pod mounted speakers, 144 watts of amplifier power, and a subwoofer for the driver to straddle, it pumps out major tune age while towing electric race cars and broken-down gassers! John entered the tractor in a sound off competition, but when he drove it up to the sound quality judges with the stereo jamming away, they outlawed it from the competition due to the fact that it was a single seat vehicle, thus ensuring perfect sound imaging (ruled an unfair advantage)! The newest electric projects in progress at the Wayland shop include 'Purple Phase', a '66 Datsun mini truck that is being built around a 1000 watt stereo system that will be able to blow out the windows if pushed to its limit. The slammed machine will feature a direct drive rear mounted motor and batteries beneath its electric-tilt bed, leaving the entire under hood area available for what else?...an unreal sound system! Twin Phoenix Gold amplifiers powered by twin 'baby' Optima Yellow Top batteries, backed by twin custom-made Todd voltage converters will feed power to kick panel speakers and....get this.... 8 inch Phoenix Gold subwoofers enclosed in a precision V shaped cabinet vented to the cab. It will truly be a 'V8' powered mini truck! Another project slated for completion in time for the upcoming '98 season of EV racing at Woodburn Drag strip, is a '68 Datsun mini truck that will again be pushing the latest technology to the limit. Using large prototype group 31 Optima's that can crank out a staggering 1400 amps, 'Baby Blue' will have a DCP 1200 monster controller to feed all that power through the electric motor to smoke its fat tires as it blazes down the track! With the environment on everyone's mind, transportation at the turn of the century will continue to evolve and electric vehicles will play a huge part in the evolution process. Millions of automobiles on the road today are great candidates for conversion to electric propulsion...the ultimate form of recycling! As they are converted in increasing numbers, the people who push this technology are true pioneers. John Wayland has been an inspiration to many who convert existing gas cars to electric power, including myself. His vision of how electric cars can be "fun, exciting, and better in many ways than they were before conversion" is helping many others to realize their dreams in a world moving to electric propulsion, one car at a time.(Comments by Jesse James of SunBelt Battery)
Dennis has recently installed a set of Johnson Control's "Inspira" batteries in his dragster and in his first test session with the new setup, at Phoenix's Firebird Raceway on Friday night (7/9), became the first electric dragster to break 10 seconds, running 9.70 seconds at 129.90MPH. This is over a half second better than his old record of 10.23 and clearly raises the bar for anyone trying to win his standing offer of $1000 for any electric vehicle able to beat him in the 1/4 mile. There may be slight pause as Dennis now upgrades his existing NHRA license to the sub-10 second level.... Jesse