Feb 28, 2009

Battery Beach Burnout may be auto show of the future

JUPITER — As you walk around the 80 or so electric and hybrid-powered vehicles here at the Fourth Annual Battery Beach Burnout — the Southeast's largest alternative-powered vehicle show — the selection is remarkable. There are electric skateboards and minibikes, a half-dozen electric Porsches, a 1920 Milburn electric car and a plug-in hybrid aerial bucket truck operated by Florida Power & Light. There's even the "world's fastest electric Delorean," which suggests that somewhere there may be other electric Deloreans, and remarkably, there are.

And you think: Am I looking at the future, or am I looking at a hobby?

Both, says Dave Delman, owner of the electric Delorean, who brought the car down from his home on Long Island, N.Y. "Just like some of the first personal computers were built by tinkerers in the beginning, and finally they caught on and manufacturers began making them," he says. "What starts as a hobby can become the future."

Delman is a physician who also has an engineering degree. He and friend and fellow engineer Tom Neiland converted the 1981 Delorean — that stainless-steel-bodied sports car from the Back to the Future films — to full electric power, using 13 batteries (12-volts each). It can go 40 miles on a charge and hit speeds in excess of 85 mph. They bought the car for $6,000 with a blown V-6 gasoline engine, junked it and spent another $10,000 and four months converting the car to electric power.

Why do it? "For the challenge," he says. "It was a labor of love."

You get that answer a lot at the Battery Beach Burnout. A handful of the vehicles came from the factory with electric power, such as the gorgeous Tesla sports car, but the vast majority were converted, either by technically savvy owners or several of the conversion companies that displayed their products.

There was an electric Fiat 1500 sports car, an electric Nissan 240SX, a couple of Porsche 911s, several full-sized electric motorcycles and a Volkswagen Rabbit-based pickup truck that scored the fastest time in the autocross race — faster even than a conventional gasoline-powered Audi TT sports car that was invited to participate as a benchmark.

The Florida Electric Auto Association, founded in 2004, hosted the Battery Beach Burnout last weekend at Florida Atlantic University, with the stated purpose being "to raise public and media awareness of the current state of electric and hybrid vehicles and to educate people about 'green' alternative fuel vehicles."

Show organizer Shawn Waggoner of Lake Worth, president of FLEAA, makes sure each Battery Beach Burnout contains some high-performance electric vehicles and some racing. "I was born in Daytona Beach and grew up around cars and racing." In 2000, he got involved in an association that sponsors electric drag racing, "and there was sort of a pioneering aspect, getting into the performance side of electric cars."

He adds, "Talk to people, and you hear the typical myths: Electric vehicles are all oversized golf carts that won't go very far or very fast, and probably shouldn't even be allowed on the street. We tell them that when it comes to gas cars, you have your daily drivers that are underwhelming in performance, and you have your high-performance gas cars. Same thing in the electric field — we have high-performance models, and we have models designed to just get you back and forth to work."

One of the most interesting events at the Battery Beach Burnout was the Electrathon race — light, frail-looking, three-wheel vehicles are allowed to use one electric motor and two 12-volt batteries, and they race on a closed course for an hour. The vehicle that completes the most laps wins.

Speed is important, but conserving battery power is critical: The fastest car in the Electrathon, built by students at the University of South Florida, started out traveling more than 30 mph, but was down to a walking pace by the end of the event, and finished third.

The Electrathon was won by Team Rolling Thunder, driven by Miami private detective Lance Barlow, in a car built by his father Dana, and Rex Hollinger of Titusville.

Hollinger said their car was built from scratch for about $1,000, though you can spend upwards of $5,000 if you purchase an Electrathon kit car and add lots of features to it. Team Rolling Thunder completed 126 laps around the quarter-mile track, two more than the second-place car.

Prize money? Forget it. "Just bragging rights," said Hollinger, who drives his own gasoline-powered stock car at Orlando Speed World.

For information on upcoming events for the Boca Raton-based Florida Electric Auto Association, log onto its Web site at FloridaEAA.org. Before the year is out, Waggoner said, it will likely schedule an event in the Orlando area.

2/27/09 Orlandosentinel.com
Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smith can be reached at scsmith@orlandosentinel.com, at 407-420-5699, and through his blog at Enginehead.com.

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