David Heacock's 1985 Avanti EV Conversion (In Process)

Donor Car
Updated 9/13/09.

In selecting a donor car the conventional wisdom normally leans toward a lighter weight vehicle with a low drag coefficient along with not exceeding the gross vehicle weight rating once the vehicle is complete. Conventional wisdom being what it is, I finally decided on a vehicle I had always wanted to own and thought it would be fun talking to others about once it was converted to an electric vehicle.

Before I decided on the Avanti I was going to turn my 1981 Fiat X 1/9 into an electric. It had many of the good practical features for an electric and I felt I would be able to keep the batteries out of the passenger compartment. However, as I get older it is harder to get myself in and out of a small sports car. Another down side was that after installing batteries and components there probably would not be much room for anything other than a passenger. But if you check on the web you will find a Fiat X 1/9 which obtained over 140 miles on a single charge.

I then found a 1993 Geo. This car was in good shape (after some repair work), had a lot of modern up grades and you can basically buy kits for conversion. After driving it for some time and getting up to 44 mpg and normally not less than 30 mpg I decided it wasn’t the vehicle I wanted to keep or talk about with others. This is a very practical car and could be made into an electric with some room for golf clubs or stuff from the grocery store.

With the Avanti I knew I was in for some real challenges because this is a big heavy car. The wheel base is some 108 inches and when I had it weighed at the local scale it weighed about 3500 pounds. Here again the conventional wisdom says you might be able to remove about 15-20% of the weight in gas components. With a little research and discussion with others I figured the V8 engine and automatic transmission might weigh in at about 700 pounds or more so up front I was at the 20% reduction figure. As I took parts off the car I discovered that other gas components could easily weigh another 200 plus pounds so it is a good idea to weigh various parts as they are removed. My design goal is to keep the total weight to 4000 pounds which will be about 500 pounds below the GVWR. Another goal is to rebalance the vehicle so the power steering can be eliminated and the car will be more in line with a 50 –50 split in weight, front to rear, which is basically what is printed on the identification tag for the car at the GVWR. Once I get the rolling frame moving again I plan to weigh it to see how I am doing. When I add the body back to the frame I plan on having it weighed again.

I have been interested in building an electric car since at least 1980 when I purchased a set of plans for the Urba Electric shown in Mechanix Illustrated. I have also had a thing for Studebakers since my first car when I was 16 was a 1953 Studebaker coupe. The Avanti was always of interest to me but the cost of these vehicles was always way more than I could afford. However, in April 2006 I found a 1985 Avanti on Ebay and ended up with it, sight unseen. At the time it was just barely running and needed a ground up restoration. Removal of the gas components made me realize how complicated a gas car can be and how much weight and materials could be removed as unnecessary for an electric vehicle.

One of the reasons I have always liked the Avanti has been because the instrumentation gives the feel of an aircraft cockpit. For an electric vehicle the interior seemed to be a natural for someone who wants lots of gages, lights and switches. Not shown in the picture below are four rocker switches located overhead in the middle of window frame. My goal is to keep the interior as stock as possible while being able to monitor the various aspects of the EV.

Another interesting statistic about the Avanti is that from what I can determine the drag coefficient is about 0.3. So I figured that once I was able to get it up to speed, with my goal of being able to drive it on the freeway, the wind resistance would be reasonable. Then the problems would be keeping the weight down and limiting the rolling resistance. The side view gives a feel of the curves of the vehicle.

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