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bennelson 01-28-2008 11:02 PM

Ben Nelson's Electro-Metro Build thread
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(THREAD NOTE - ADDED 12/4/2009: Many of the original photos were posted through a .MAC web page. Later, Apple changed the name of their service to "Me", which wrecked everyones .Mac web pages, and broke many of the photo links early in this thread. Later photos were posted through other services and not effected.)

(EDIT: Note Added Sept. 23, 2010.
After all the work I put into this car, I decided to distill down everything I learned into an instructional DVD. If you are interested in building your own electric car, please support my open source, DIY projects by purchasing a video at

OK- It's official.

I am starting a build thread for my next electric vehicle and I am doing it here.

The premise is this.
I am going to build an electric vehicle based on converting a street-legal four-wheeled automobile to run on a DC electric motor and battery pack. I need to do this as an ecological/economic project

The plan is to buy parts as I can, with cash, and only when I can find good deals. Recycled/Reused is highly encouraged.

The motor will come from a forklift and be over-volted as much as I can for a resonable, but not high top speed. The vehicle will be used for local travel, errands, and short commutes.

When finished, it will be something that neither I, nor my wife would be (terribly) embarassed to drive.

I will start off using free/existing controller, batteries, and other parts. When I know what I am doing, I will upgrade to either a purchased, or specially home-made controller. I plan to really look around to see what is possible for batteries. I will check with power utitites, firealarm companies, etc, to see if I can get used/surplus batts.

Planned vehicle will be a two seater. Most the time it will be driven by only me, but occasionally will have a passenger. I never plan on using it for four people.

I am thinking that either a compact car because of its light weight and small cost, or a light pickup truck for ease of work and repair, and battery-carrying strength.

I am only in the really early stages on this. I am currently working on buy the forklift which will supply the motor and other parts.

Next will be to decide what vehicle will work best, and then start looking around to find the deal on it.

Right now, please feel free to suggest what you think would be the best donor vehicle. Let me know why you think it would be best.

Thanks in advance,


bennelson 01-28-2008 11:12 PM

Wow, I just put this up and I have something to add already.

I got a response from Jim at High Torque Electric.

He said that this forklift has a good motor, but the brushes and commutator are relatively undersized, thus it would be best for only a smaller vehicle.

Looks like if I use this motor, the vehicle will have to be more like a Geo Metro than an S10 or Ford Ranger.

All I really want is a roof and more wheels on the pavement than the electric motorcycle gives me.

I may end up going with a different motor than the one from this forklift. I am still planning on buying the forklift because it's such a deal and includes a BIG charger with it.

bennelson 01-29-2008 10:54 PM

I just starting poking through Craigslist for good cars with bad engines.

I found a 9 Neon for sale:
Craigslist link

Looks pretty good, only one little bit of rust on back. Price is right and it doesn't have a million miles on it. I don't know if it is stick or automatic.

What would you think of a vehicle like this one for an electric conversion?

I am guessing that it has two more doors than I need. An Neon owners out there that can comment?

SVOboy 01-29-2008 10:58 PM

Nice poking so far! I've finally understood your forum nickname, :p. I didn't get it before.

Anyway, what kind of stuff are you looking for in the car in terms of handling and sex appeal?

MetroMPG 01-29-2008 11:09 PM

Cool! Another EV build thread. I'm going to enjoy this immensely!

Since you're limited to a smallish car by the motor size, and you only need two seats, my first choice in superlight cars would be a CRX or Metro convertible. In normal light cars, a Toyota MR2 would be fun, or maybe a Miata. For cool, old & still relatively light: how about a Karmann Ghia or old Bug. Rabbit convertible?

I enviously eyed a dead Miata in a local junkyard shortly after we started working on the Metro...

However since you're operating on a strict budget, you may have to just choose
whatever comes up. But - get a car with a manual transmission (or one that you can replace with a manual from a junk yard).

I stopped over @ diyelectric car and read the good advice that Jim Husted provided. Man, that guy deserves a medal for all the help he gives people like us!

On the question of the charger, being an industrial machine, do you know if it needs a 120v or 240v hookup?

MetroMPG 01-29-2008 11:14 PM

What kind of performance are you going to be looking for? What are your minimum acceptable range & speed goals?

My suggestion: think about doing a 72 volt conversion. That will permit you to use a series/parallel setup with the 36v forklift controller for smooth, lower speeds @ 36v (2 strings of 36v in parallel mode), and switch to 72v (2 strings in series) for speed.

It'll also let you use your 36v charger - you can charge both strings in the pack in parallel mode.

Very exciting. :)

bennelson 01-29-2008 11:15 PM

I don't know if the charger needs 120 or 240. It was buried behind a bunch of other things - I could only get the view I did when I snapped a photo.

Friend of mine said it looked like a decent one.

Over at my parents house, there is a 240V jack in the garage for a welder. My gargage has a 100 amp fuse box it it. My garage is also in crumbly condition. I am hoping to rebuild it this summer. If I do, I plan on getting an electrician in there to wire up for anything I could ever want.

I talked to a guy a while back who had a forklift motor for sale. He also has several Miatas and about 8 Cub Cadets in his garage.
Maybe I could talk to him. A little electric convertable would be sooooo cool.

MetroMPG 01-29-2008 11:19 PM

Woo, Miata!

BTW - 72v worth of floodies is probably at the edge of GVWR limits for most small cars, and about the limit you can get away with before absolutely needing a suspension upgrade (stiffer springs), at least in a Metro.

bennelson 01-29-2008 11:23 PM

You are right on with 72 volts.

I figure, use what ya got.

This charger has a lot of amps, but only 36 volts.

I have been told that a forklift motor can easily have its voltage doubled or tripled.

Controller costs seem to jump up above 48 and above 72 volts.

72 volts seems like a reasonable way to go.

I would like to do 45 or 50 mph. I would like a 50 mile range, as one place I often work is exactly 25 miles each way. I know that is asking a bit much on a budget converson.

I do not need to take this car on the highway, but do need to go fast enough for some large country roads.

bennelson 01-30-2008 12:17 AM

I just looked up some info on the Miata.

I hadn't thought about it, but the Miata is rear-wheel drive/longitudinal engine - the same as how many pickup trucks are.

I thought one thing that would be nice about a pickup conversion is how the motor would attach to the transmission would be a little simpler.

A Miata sure would weigh a lot less than a pickup and be cooler to boot.

A 72 volt battery pack by using Trojan T-145 flooded lead acid batteries would weigh 864 lbs.

Here is a Miata conversion using Optima 12 volts to sacrifice range for speed. I think I would want to flip that and get more range/less speed. Not that I want no speed, but it would be an acceptable trade-off for better range and low cost

Daox 01-30-2008 10:26 AM

Very cool Ben!

A Miata would be a very cool project car. I just dug up some info on wikipedia here. It looks like the older you get, the lighter they are.

curb weight - 2070 lbs.
Cd - 0.38

curb weight - 2200 lbs.
Cd - 0.36

2006-Present (for kicks)
curb weight - 2414 lbs.
Cd - ?

The Neon would also be a good conversion. The body does look like its in very descent shape, and it sounds like it'll run enough to not have to tow it home.

1995 Neon
curb weight - 2380 lbs
Cd - 0.33

I browsed through craigslist quickly too searching for 'bad engine' and 'blown engine'. There isn't a ton to choose from.

91 Civic - $700

95 Metro - $350

94 Tercel - $300

89 Escort - $300

94 Prelude - $800

300ZX - $350

bennelson 01-30-2008 11:00 AM

Thanks for the links.

Looks like the lighter the vehicle, the better. I am going to try to keep it around a ton or less. I think that Neon would be about as big as I would want to go.

I have noticed that with most lines of vehicles, they get heavier and more expensive and the model years go by. Supossedly, consumers demand more and more luxuries, A/C, bigger engine, etc.

I have heard that EV converters should try to get earlier models of cars over later ones.

I think the weight of the Miata is a good example of this.

Ideally, I am looking for the cheaper the better.

However, I did learn with the electric motorcycle conversion that a lot of little things wrong will take a lot of time and money to fix.

I think this time, I am going to spend more time looking around to find something that ONLY has a bad engine, and not much else wrong with it.

I am currently saving up a big pile of cash to wave under the nose of the seller for when the right vehicle comes along.

Daox 01-30-2008 11:17 AM

If your looking for lightweight I think the CRX or Metro are going to be the best bet. They both comes in well under 2000 lbs I believe. I'm sure others here know much more about them. I'm more of a Toyota nut.

Christopher Jordan 01-30-2008 12:25 PM


Originally Posted by Daox (Post 7499)
I browsed through craigslist quickly

You missed some doozeys! Dontcha really want a Ford Aspire? :D I know, I know... rolling easter egg - bumper cars- just need a back pole......

I must be a rarity to like these re-badged Kias; but Craigslist usually has these pretty low. Sure enough $399, and a couple $800 "in mint condition!" (yeah, right...) here is a link to one-


bennelson 01-31-2008 06:44 PM

Hmmmm - a Ford Aspire?......

Today I got a call from the office person at the Medical College (the place selling the forklift)

She was trying to figure out how to properly selling the forklift without them having to collect sales tax and also covering their a$$ for liability.

It looks like I am going to get a receipt for $500 for "Misc Lab Services" and a second page with a memo saying that it is for "forklift salvage - NOT to be used as a forklift"

Works for me.
On a "homebuilt" vehicle, you do need to show where you got the parts from for the engine, transmission, and frame. Since mine will just be a conversion, I don't have to worry about that.

I am still currently arranging for getting a big truck and trailer over there to pick this thing up.

Will update again once I get that figured out.

Daox 01-31-2008 07:51 PM


Originally Posted by Christopher Jordan (Post 7526)
You missed some doozeys! Dontcha really want a Ford Aspire? :D I know, I know... rolling easter egg - bumper cars- just need a back pole......

I must be a rarity to like these re-badged Kias; but Craigslist usually has these pretty low. Sure enough $399, and a couple $800 "in mint condition!" (yeah, right...) here is a link to one-


Yeah, the Aspire is a nice little car. However, I was searching for cars in the immediate area, not 2000+ miles away. :p

Ryland 01-31-2008 09:30 PM

there are a number of good books out there on electric cars, Convert It is one of them, New Electric Vehicles is another one of them, of course they are both older, but the basics are simaler.

bennelson 02-01-2008 08:16 AM

I got an e-mail from the guy with all the Miatas.

He is asking $1200 for the Miata. I don't know what year it is yet. I am planning on going to look at it next week.

$1200 sounds like way more than I was budgeting for the car shell, but a Miata would be WAY cooler than a Metro (nothing personal to you Metro-heads!)

I might be able to do some forklift parts trade to get the cost of the Miata down, if I go that route

SVOboy 02-01-2008 08:41 AM

Do it! You can prolly part it out a bit, na?

diesel_john 02-01-2008 08:58 AM

on the charger, i would want 240v not 3-phase or 120v.

what's your battery weight?

Do you use any gears or do you couple direct to a front drive shaft?

bennelson 02-01-2008 09:48 AM

If I got the Miata, the first thing I would do is sell off the engine. It is in (poorly) but running condition. I'm sure somebody would want it.

The charger with the forklift is a 240V - I think it is single phase.

I am looking at a battery pack weight of between 700 and 1000 lbs.

bennelson 02-01-2008 07:50 PM

I arranged today for a tow-truck driver to pick up the forklift on Monday (or Tues if we get snow again)

The truck is one of those flat-beds they use for transporting all-wheel drive cars. The bed tilts down and then hoists the vehicle up onto the truck.

I will need to dig up some scrap wood this weekend to put down on the driveway, so I have a place to put the forklift.

SVOboy 02-01-2008 08:14 PM

Nice! I can't wait to see some pictures of the tear down, :)

MetroMPG 02-01-2008 08:54 PM

Awesome news.

BTW - the link to that EV Miata you posted above? Smal world: I've seen that car. Since its EV album entry was done, that same car has been converted into a series hybrid, with a bio-d genset in the trunk.

It's featured in this book.

Oh, and in this video:

bennelson 02-03-2008 01:25 AM

Another possibility: an old VW Rabbit - hard to beat for lightweight!

SVOboy 02-03-2008 01:29 AM

I think the rabbit is a fun looking car, but for mind-changing the miata is about 20 degrees cooler.

bennelson 02-03-2008 01:40 AM

yep, gotta agree with you there. I have seen some photos of some pretty cool CRXs too. Haven't found any inexpensive ones yet that aren't rustbuckets.

diesel_john 02-03-2008 02:30 AM

OLd Rabbits are aero inefficient. In fact a stock rabbit can only go 70MPH on 52HP. They rust out too, mine has a full length aluminum frame between the bottom and the belly pan. i was going to suggest a little diesel/gen. in back, but didn't. One that would burn about a pint an hour wide open.

roflwaffle 02-03-2008 07:53 AM


Originally Posted by diesel_john (Post 7980)
In fact a stock rabbit can only go 70MPH on 52HP.

Depends on the trans. If ya don't mind staying in 4th, they should be able to do at least 80mph on flat ground.

Gone4 02-03-2008 02:24 PM

Great thread - its awesome that it is progressing so quickly. I hope you litter it with pictures once the work starts.

bennelson 02-03-2008 02:38 PM

This particular Rabbit looks like it has a pretty nice body on it - it has been garaged for the last few years.

Granted - they aren't ideal in the aerodynamics department.

I am trying to find a car that is the balance of Cheap, Aerodynamic, Light, Cool-looking, Good Body. And must have a manual transmission.

I am not going to find something that fits all those requirements equally.

The Rabbit fits cheap, light, good body. Doesn't fit aerodynamic or cool.

A Miata would be cool, fairly light, aerodynamic, but not cheap and really wouldn't be practical for winter.

Other cars would be a mix of the above characteristics.

WaxyChicken 02-03-2008 03:22 PM

Don't forget battery space.

Gone4 02-03-2008 03:33 PM

You definitely want an el camino :D

bennelson 02-04-2008 04:05 PM

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Hired a tow-truck driver to move it for me. Pretty tall once it was up on the back of the truck.

We had to go under a 12'6" bridge before getting on the highway. You should have seen how slow he drove under it. The road actually sloped a little, so the driver had to lower the air suspension on the back of the truck to make it! I wish I had a photo!

I pulled out my video camera to tape it - but it didn't record!!!

Anyhow - I now have a forklift in my driveway. I am also starting the accounting on this project. It was $500 for the forklift, and $180.30 for the trucking. (It was a 30 mile+ trip, and they charge by the mile)

I also feel sort of stupid in that I completely MIS-COUNTED the motors on this thing. It has 3 NOT 2 motors on it. The third one is largest of them all. I thought it was a container or resevoir or something!

In theory, this thing runs. I am tempted to hook up 3 Optima batteries to it and try it out....

Anyways, you can see some photos on my web page at:

Scroll towards the bottom to see the photos of it in the driveway.

Hmmm - "Forkendriveway" - good name for a vehicle....

bennelson 02-04-2008 04:36 PM


I also took a look at a $500 '97 Dodge Neon the other day. Looks like a pretty decent car in terms of transmission and layout. I think I want to go with something lighter though. Specs I found on the internet said it's around 2500 lbs.

Would be a good car for me for a gasoline beater.

MetroMPG 02-04-2008 05:10 PM


I love pictures of $500 forklifts in residential driveways!

Looks like you've got plywood under the drive wheels. I'd hook up some batts and get the little rear ones on something too - they're the ones that'll do the most damage.

We only had to ship 18 km, so the price for us was $125. But scrap metal prices are much higher now than they were almost 2 years ago, so you're going to do better in that department, I suspect.

Great news, and can't wait to follow along!

WaxyChicken 02-04-2008 06:09 PM

Congratulations, Nelson - it looks like you're off to an official start!

SVOboy 02-04-2008 06:14 PM

Nice! Can't wait to see how much faster your project goes than darin's. :D

bennelson 02-04-2008 06:23 PM

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Does the above look at all dangerous to you?

5:03 PM


I hooked up 3 Optima Yellow Tops from the electric motorcycle to the forklift with my cheap-o jumper cables.

No sparks - nothing scary at all happened. I turned on the key and.....

It works.

I can raise and lower the forks. They also tilt and extend straight out. I tested the drive on it too. That works, but I only moved it a tiny bit. This particular one was known to accidently back over people, so I didn't ride it around my driveway.

(also it is freezing rain out right now, so that's not fun anyways.)

The horn works too - everything except the little flashing yellow light on top!

I also found service information in a plastic bad hidden away in the motor compartment. Looks like this lift was used from 1993 to 2002. There was a lot of work done on it early in its life, including replacing motors. There was also a "work done" service sheet in there on top from 2002 saying that everything checked out good other than "needs RH guide".

The seller said that this lift had been just taking up space at their test facility. For five years?. Looks like it got all tuned up and then just sat there.

I added a couple photos on my web page including one showing the forks extended.

Sure wish I had a taller garage. Supposed to get a blizzard tommorow. Just put a tarp over it I guess.

SVOboy 02-04-2008 06:30 PM

Exciting news! You should so get off the mac site and run your own blog, for it! Or just post here, :)

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