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100 hours + $8,000 + 15 batteries = electric car

Ken Albright started with a lifeless ’86 Volkswagen and ended with a car that needs no gasoline
Monday, November 27, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:56 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

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Ken Albright checks under the hood of his revamped 1986 Volkswagen. He converted the car to run on electricity because of environmental concerns.

(MAGGIE RIFE/Missourian)

After turning off the lights and kissing his kids good night, Ken Albright has one more chore on his list: plugging in his car.

Albright began gutting his 1986 Volkswagen Scirocco GTX last December. The car sat empty and untouched until June, when Albright and his son began working on it again. After about 100 hours of work, the lifeless vehicle was resuscitated.

Its new organs require no gasoline, only electric power.

Except for the “Electric” metal nameplate that Albright has added to the back hatch, the car looks like any other gas-guzzling vehicle. Underneath the hood, however, there are five batteries and another 10 in the back. All together, the batteries generate 120 volts of power to make the car go.

Albright undertook the project because he worries about the environment. The idea occurred to him as he was driving about town. “I was sitting in traffic one day, surrounded by huge cars putting out pollution,” he said.

“I usually complain,” he said, but this time there was a problem he could do something about.

As soon as the converted car could make it out of the garage, Albright took it onto the streets.

“The first drive was just around the block,” he said. “At first I thought to myself, ‘Is it going to blow up? Is it going to run away?’”

But the car ran just fine. Everything worked, including the radio and the heater. Albright said he’s yet to have a problem with it.

“It goes as far as I need it to go,” he said.

It took time, energy and money to get to this point. Although Albright acquired the Volkswagen virtually for free, it took about $8,000, including $1,200 for the 15 batteries, to convert the automobile.

“It definitely wasn’t cheap,” Albright said. “I have calculated it out, and I’m hoping that it will pay itself back in four years.”

It costs him about 3 cents per mile to run the vehicle.

Albright said he had considered buying a hybrid vehicle, which runs on a combination of gasoline and electricity. There are two types of hybrids: One requires constant energy from the combustion engine while moving, and the other can run solely on electricity when the batteries have stored enough energy.

The Ford Escape Hybrid is known as a full hybrid because it can run without gasoline when fully charged. Another advantage is that it doesn’t need to be plugged into an electrical outlet.

“It actually charges itself off of the brakes,” said Heath Connell, a sales representative for Joe Machens Ford. “It’s better when it is driven in the city because the batteries are being charged every time the driver stops.”

Still, even the Escape Hybrid needs fuel from time to time. Albright noted that his electric Volkswagen puts out no emissions at all when running, although generating the electricity does produce some emissions. In the end, he decided against any sort of hybrid.

“They’re not doing much for the environment,” Albright said. “Besides, I wouldn’t have a project to work on,” he added.

Albright said his Volkswagen is not only economical but also easy to maintain, having no need for oil changes or air filter replacements. Once a month, he checks the water in the batteries, which have to be replaced every three to five years at a cost of about $80 per battery.

With other drivers paying $2 or more for a gallon of gas, Albright finds the idea of an electric car appealing. But not everyone may be ready for such a radical shift.

“You kind of get the feeling you’re in a science fiction movie,” Albright said.


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