Retired autoworker converts early Saturn coupe to battery power

Click for a high res gallery of Bob's Saturn EV Coupe

Usually when I sit down at my laptop to write an article I find ideas after perusing my several hundred RSS feeds or the media sites from manufacturers, or going to a car show. Every once in a while they just sort of fall into my lap. Such was the case this afternoon when Bob Gurk pulled into my driveway. I was pulling the lawn mower out of the shed when Bob walked through my back gate and inquired if I was the person with the little Mercedes. It turns out he was asking about the Smart diesel that I had been driving a couple of months ago. After explaining that it was a vehicle I had been reviewing he asked if I wanted to check out his electric car. We headed out to the driveway and sitting there was a gold first-generation Saturn SC coupe from the early '90s. Bob and I started talking about the car and he explained that he decided to build it about a year ago after seeing "Who Killed the Electric Car?" Follow the jump to learn more about this conversion.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Bob retired after putting in thirty years at Ford and kicked off the project after doing some research by borrowing $6,000 and buying the Saturn for about $500. He chose the Saturn based on his belief that if someone is going to drive an electric car it should still be a nice looking and desirable car. He purchased the bulk of the parts started by pulling the original powertrain out. The conversion took about two months after being interrupted by surgery on his hand. He had help from his step-father and technical assistance Bob Batson at EV of America. Most of the original parts were procured from eBay, including a 9.1 inch DC electric motor.

The motor is rated at 76hp peak and 24hp continuous. Bob kept a 5 speed manual transmission without the clutch so combined with the electric motor torque, the performance is adequate. Electrons are stored in a dozen Trojan deep cycle 12V lead acid wet batteries mounted in the trunk and under the hood. The batteries require maintenance about once a week and Bob has to add a gallon of distilled water. Other components were purchased from suppliers like KTA in California. Inside, Bob has added gauges to monitor the state of the system including individual level meters for each battery. The complete car weighs about 3,400lbs.

The electric Saturn can cruise easily at 60mph although speeds higher than that are possible. Unfortunately, higher speeds put too much strain on the batteries. Bob has managed to get as far as 44miles after an 8 hour charge. Since the conversion was completed last year, he has accumulated over 1,600 miles on the car. The next task is to add a trailer hitch to the car to pull the smaller trailer that Bob has setup with a gas-powered generator creating his own extended range EV. All together he has about $10,000 in the car and seems very pleased with the results.

After our chat we went for a short drive around the neighborhood and the car performed remarkably well. Having the gearbox in place allows it achieve reasonable acceleration when started in second gear. Going up to 3rd and 4th and back down again is just a matter of backing off the accelerator and shifting. Bob explained that he needed a new vacuum pump for the brake booster. The current one is providing enough vacuum and the brakes require more effort than normal. Aside from that, the car was quiet and smooth in operation. As a short range around town commuter, it's fine as long as you keep the windows and sunroof open on hot days like this one. If you are in the Ann Arbor area next Friday, June 13, look for Bob and his car at the Ann Arbor Green Fair and say hi.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

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