Saturday, April 10, 2010

"An Electric Idea" from Edcon Publishing

Something you will read about: horsepower: a unit of measurement for the power of engines and motors.

A modern version of the early electric engine may be the answer to more efficient and economical cars.

John Santini, a twenty-four year old electrical engineer, disregards convention and dares to be different. What makes him stand out is the fact that he drives between his Centereach home and his Farmingdale job on Long Island each day without ever stopping for gas. There happens to be a simple explanation for this unusual practice. If John were to pull in at a gas station, the attendant would have a difficult time locating the gas tank, since there is none. Upon lifting the car's hood, the curious attendant would be in for another surprise. Instead of an engine,he would find a set of
golf-cart batteries.

John purchased an eight year old Chevrolet Corvette convertible in 1975. He decided to try something he'd always dreamed of - to convert a regular car engine to one that uses electrical energy. Keeping much of the car's original equipment, he got rid of its V -8 engine and some exhaust pipes and replaced them with eighteen golf-cart batteries. He also decided on the installation of a 24
horsepower electric motor.

The last two items, the eighteen batteries and the 24 horsepower motor, were not just lucky guesses. In order to determine how many batteries and how large a motor to use, John used a computer. An instrument on the dashboard shows him how much electricity he is consuming. He can tell very easily how many more miles he can go until the next recharge because he programmed a small computer to determine this information any time he requires it.

The concept of electrically powered cars is not a new one. Motoring history dates from the 1890's, with thousands of automobiles on the road by 1903 and auto shows being held in Europe and America.

The first national auto show, held in New York City in 1900, offered three different kinds of engines - gas, steam and electric. No one seeing these early cars would have guessed that the gas model would turn out to be the most popular. After all, the steam-powered ones were less noisy and less smelly. Of the three, the electric cars were the smoothest, quietest and easiest to operate.

One consequence of these various experiments with engines was that two early makers of buses built gas/electric models. In these Mack and Yellow Coach buses a gas engine drove a direct-current generator. The output of the generator provided electric power for the rear wheels' driving motors. But none of the very early models could have gone very fast,judging by some old laws on record, in addition to their capabilities.

In Great Britain in the 1890's, the driver of a self- propelled vehicle could not disregard the other travelers on a public highway. He had to follow a man on foot who carried a red flag to warn those on the road ahead. Things really moved along, however, and in 1896 the speed limit was raised to 14 miles per hour. By 1904, British motorists were permitted to zoom at the dizzying speed of 20 miles per hour!

As a consequence of design changes, such as putting the engine in front, the speed of gas-powered cars grew. And so did their sales. With their massive hoods and exposed levers, shafts and chains, these models were built to express power and speed: Their looks appealed mainly to young men of the "sporty set" while electric cars were used mostly by women.

In fact, the early electric cars (except for commercial vehicles like delivery vans and milk trucks) were purposely given a feminine look. Curtains were made for the windows and the seats were covered in brocade or other fine fabrics. Still another dainty touch was the installation of flower vases.

As the popularity of gas-powered cars increased, that of electrically powered ones declined. Why have the electrics failed to catch on? In 1972 Jerry Flint, a New York Times reporter wrote, "Engineers have so far been unable to find a relatively inexpensive power source that will give a car the speed and range needed." He wrote that experiments to convert gas to electric models has continued because the energy crisis which spurred research for alternate sources of power has affected transportation as well. The U.S. Postal Service, for instance, has ordered 600 electric jeeps from American Motors for mail delivery. In four European countries, new electric models have been used since 1977. In addition to the energy crisis as a motive to switch to electric cars, the matter of air pollution was another factor for the change.

In Sweden, two Volvos, a 13 horsepower two-seater and an 11 horsepower four-seater, are being test driven. Powered by regular six-volt lead batteries which are mounted on a slideout container, these Volvos reach top speed of 43.5 m.p.h.

In Italy, an experimental car, shaped like a teardrop, is being tried out. Called the X 1/23, this 1,800 pound car uses nickel-zinc batteries. These have nearly twice the capacity of lead·acid batteries and give the car a top speed of 47 m.p.h. The 370 pound 105 volt battery pack is stored at the rear of the car for easy handling. Its major shortcoming IS that of all the electric cars - a limited range. This one is restricted to a 45 mile travel range before needing a recharge.

Among the latest of European electrics is the EVR- , produced by Electraction Ltd. of England. It looks like a cross between a car and a light truck and its range is restricted to 50 miles on a charge. Its front mounted 7.5 horsepower motor produces a top speed of 30 m.p.h.

For those who, unlike John Santini, are unable to convert their gas - powered cars and would like to own an electric car, PILCAR of Switzerland has a plastic-bodied hatchback available. The manufacturer claims that its lead-acid batteries have a 28% greater capacity than the standard ones and that a special form of braking charges the batteries as the car slows down. The rear mounted 22 horsepower motor gives this PILCAR a 55 m.p.h. top speed. Good news in the range department, too. It is not quite as limited as most other electrics and goes 70 miles on a charge.

John Santini's used Corvette originally cost him $2,100. The 24 horsepower electric motor he installed cost $2,600. He figures this goodlooking sports car to be worth about $9,000. It performs very well, having had only one breakdown caused by a loose cable which he himself forgot to connect. It can go 50 miles between recharges in any ordinary 120-volt outlet. He is quite satisfied with the car's maximum speed of 61 m.p.h.

On a typical weekday morning, John noiselessly pulls into the parking lot of his Farmingdale company and heads for his own special spot. Although his Corvette is equipped with its own 140-foot extension cord, he doesn't use it. He takes the one waiting at his parking spot instead. This he connects to his own car, recharging it for the trip home.

As we watch him going through these motions, a thought crosses our minds. Are we witnessing the actions of a young man who is daringly different? Or are we getting a glimpse of something all of us will be doing in the not-too distant future?

1. John Santini's car has no _____
a. electric motor.
b. batteries.
c. gas tank.
d. hood.

2. Motoring history dates from _____
a. 1903.
b. the 20th Century.
c. after 1910.
d. the 1890's.

3. The first national auto show offered _____
a. three different kinds of motors.
b. four different kinds of motors.
c. plastic bodies.
d. high-speed racers.

4. Of the engines offered, the smoothest, quietest and easiest to operate was the ___
a. electric.
b. steam.
c. gasoline.
d. solar.

5. Design changes in the gas powered cars, such as putting the engine in front, caused an increase in______
a. speed and accidents.
b. speed and sales.
c. safety.
d. prices.

6. Four European countries tried new electric model jeeps before _____
a. John Santini bought his used Chevrolet.
b. electric cars were given a feminine look.
c. Italy tried out an experimental teardrop shaped car.
d. Jerry Flint wrote his New York Times article.

7. John Santini's actions are considered _______
a. usual.
b. ordinary.
c. extraordinary.
d. typical.

8. John Santini probably has the least interest in the location of _____
a. his home in Centereach.
b. gasoline stations.
c. his Farmingdale company.
d. auto parts stores.

9. Another name for this selection could be ______
a. "The Future of the Electric Car."
b. "John Santini's Car."
c. "The Speed of Electric Cars."
d. "The Shortages of Gasoline."

10. This story is mainly about ________
a. the possibility of a steam car becoming popular.
b. the possibility of the gasoline car becoming popular.
c. the possibility of electric cars becoming popular.
d. the manufacturing of electric cars in the United States.

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