The Electric DeLorean Project

Building an Electric Vehicle

By Dave Delman

A few years ago I started thinking about building an electric vehicle. As time went on and gas prices started to climb, my thinking became more intense. I've owned a dinosaur powered gasoline engine DeLorean since 2002 and I thought an electric DeLorean would be a great project. My good friend, fellow DeLorean owner and electrical engineer, Tom Neiland and I set out to step "back into the future."

Electric DeLorean

The first challenge was to find a DeLorean with a seized engine. I didn't want to take a perfectly running classic like a DeLorean off the road and since I didn't need the gasoline engine anyway, I thought I would save some money. Tom called me up one Monday afternoon in July 2007 and said he found just what I was looking for just $6,000. I drove out to New Jersey, inspected the car and made the deal. Tom and I trailered it back to New York for its conversion.

Now to be honest, eD – or eLectric DeLorean, as we spell it – was not the first DeLorean in the world to be converted to electric power. I believe that honor goes to Carl Tilley about five years prior to mine. His conversion was surrounded by controversy because of the "black box" that he installed that mistakenly suggested that it was charging the batteries as it drove.

Tom and Dave

Tom and I immediately went to work and removed the engine, exhaust system, radiator, cooling system and fuel tank. This took about 500 pounds off the weight of the car. More weight would be added back soon!

With those parts out of the way, a number of decisions had to be made. What type of batteries to use, how many, where to put them, what motor and what motor controller to use?

We settled on using 13 Deka 100 amp-hour deep cycle AGM "Intimidator" batteries. These batteries are all connected in a series circuit and can provide up to 156 kilowatts of power. That's the equivalent of about 200 horsepower. The stock DeLorean came with a 130 HP aluminum V6. We are talking about 910 pounds of lead that had to be distributed and mounted. We chose to put five batteries up front under the "bonnet" and eight batteries in the back, above where the electric motor would be mounted. Tom was "the master welder."

Propulsion Pack

Now that we decided on the "propulsion pack", the next focus was on how to control the power going to the motor. The motor controller's job is to take the input signal from the "go pedal" (hey, you really can't call it a gas pedal any more) and feed the proper amount of power to the electric motor safely and reliably. Even though 156 kilowatts is a far cry from 1.21 jigawatts, it's still a substantial amount of power. Think about 1,560 100-watt light bulbs all lit up at once. To safely control this much power you need a motor controller. Tom and I chose the very best in controllers, a Zilla Z1K-HV (since replaced by a 2000 amp Z2K-HV). This unit does develop some heat, so it is water cooled. We used the existing stainless steel coolant tank as a reservoir for the controller coolant.

Motor Coupler

So what do you use to carry that much power? Really big wires of course! 4/0 gauge welding cable is what they used. The diameter of the copper conductor in these babies is half an inch! Even though it is a big, thick wire, it is remarkably flexible because it is made up of 2,052 strands of tiny 30 gauge wire.

Now to the motor itself. We used the WarP 9 series wound DC motor by NetGain Motors, Inc. The motor is air cooled, weighs about 175 pounds and is 9.25" in diameter and 16" long. Best of all, it's red, my favorite color.

I designed the motor to transmission adapter plate and the motor to tranny input shaft coupler, which was machined by a local shop. The shop owner was so intrigued by the project he came over to my house to hand deliver the coupler and check out the electric ride. When we first tried to slide it onto the motor shaft, it seems like it didn't fit. Fear turned into excitement when they realized that the coupler was machined so precisely that it needed to be perfectly aligned with the shaft before it would slide on. It fit like a glove! So now they had the motor connected directly to the input shaft of the stock 5-speed transmission. There is no clutch. With an electric car you really don't need multiple gears but the one gear you chose would have to be a compromise between acceleration and top speed. We wanted the best of both so they kept the tranny in and shift without using a clutch.

The first test runs were completed in December 2007 and really added to our excitement over this project.

Though the car is still a work in progress, Tom and I have taken it to various clubs and meetings, including several chapters of the Electric Automobile Association, the Power of DC meeting in Maryland where it won first prize in the "low voltage" (156 volts or less) quarter-mile drag racing competition, and Battery Beach Burnout 2009 in Florida. We were also special guests at Consumer Report's "Future of the Car" event. Our eD also won the prestigious "Charles Muffley award for Engineering Excellence" at the 2008 DeLorean Car Show in June 2008.

The initial cost of the car and conversion was about $18,000 – not including labor of course and it is indeed a labor of love for us. The cost of being able to "bypass the pump"... priceless!

So what does the future hold for the Electric DeLorean Project? A computerized dashboard and battery monitoring system is currently being designed.

Electric DeLorean Car Electric DeLorean Inside

Hopefully lithium ion battery prices will come down so we can boost the range from the present 30-40 miles per charge to 100-200 miles on a charge. It takes about two to three hours to recharge the lead acid batteries. The Electric DeLorean is actually quicker than a stock DeLorean and has a top speed of more than 85 mph. Remember the speedometers in the 1980s were only allowed to go up to 85.

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