1998 Subaru gets the shock treatment as a ‘self-charging’ EV

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Joe Mizsak wears a lab coat like a professor from another era. His is blue instead of white and he looks very much the part of a learned old man. He should as he holds a U.S. patent from 1963 for a safety device that all modern cars have today: the brake wear indictor with a dash light shining bright red when a sensor on the brake lining detects problems.

This very clever Joe was also the first in Canada to build a practical natural gas-powered car. And then there is the Retro Electro: an all-electric 1958 Chevrolet Apache pickup truck he put together for Steam Whistle Brewery to deliver beer in a very green way.

Now Joe, who is originally from Hungary, believes he has found a practical solution for converting regular ‘lunch bucket’ gas-guzzlers into fully electric vehicles.

The big difference with his system is that his electric car is self-charging and can be plugged into any 110-volt household electrical outlet for additional charging.

Because he is interested in simple and cheap, he picked a very used $1,800 1998 Subaru Forester with a five-speed manual transmission and all-wheel drive. Says Joe: “I like every day ‘lunch bucket’ cars that anyone can afford.”

He removed the engine and gas tank to install an off-the-shelf 71 horsepower electric motor along with batteries and other electronics worth approximately $6,000.

His labour, with a cost equivalent of $4,000, makes this a $10,000 conversion. But this Subaru will never visit another gas station, need an oil change, radiator flush or repairs to its old gasoline engine.

The concept came to Joe as he was listening to his washing machine change cycles.

“It’s all controlled by solenoids,” he says enthusiastically. “I got the idea to control the charging of each battery from a separate alternator driven by belt by the electric engine using the same type of solenoid.”

No high-priced computers here. Just a simple system where a timer controls a solenoid to allow each direct current (DC) 12-volt battery to charge individually at one minute intervals; just like a washing machine changes cycles.

Under the hood, the small electric motor looks right at home with a belt driving the charge alternator as well as the driving alternator so all the usual amenities like radio, power windows and gauges work normally.

The same belt that turns the two alternators drives the power steering pump. One charges the service battery and the other charges the batteries powering the electric motor. An inverter changes the direct current (DC) from the bank of batteries to alternating current (AC) to operate the electric drive motor.

Everything is home-built, including the plate that holds the alternators and power steering pump and the housing to connect the electric motor to the five-speed manual transmission.

The electric motor in the front weighs about half what the gasoline engine did. And the batteries in the rear weigh less than the full gasoline tank they replaced.

Driving the car, Joe shifts through the five speeds to ensure the motor doesn’t have to use as much battery power. The reverse gear means his electric motor doesn’t have to run backwards – again, saving power.

He lifts the tailgate to reveal his ‘electric gas tank,’ a bank of nine batteries that all charge individually. DC batteries cannot be charged in series. Extra charging comes from a small battery charger purchased from Canadian Tire that is loosely mounted under the hood. It looks quite out of place. But it does the job.

One very special feature of the all-electric car will come into play if there is a malfunction. Joe left the original starter motor in the car that can move the car out of harm’s way if it stalls in traffic.

“I can do this for any car – even vintage cars,” Joe says considering every market for his electric power conversions. “Changing everything will take only two days. You drive in with gasoline and drive out using only electric power. No gas tank. No tail pipe. No emissions. No extra costs.”

He opens the gas door on the rear passenger side of the old Subaru and plugs in an extension cord.

“This is all you do to charge your car. Plug it in to any normal outlet,” he says.

He has designed a feature where the electric motor will not start while the gas door is open, noting, “(T)his will prevent people from driving away with the cord.”

A digital screen mounted on the dashboard of the car monitors all electric functions including motor rpm, battery charging, how much battery power is left and how far the car can be driven with the current charge.

He believes his self-charging electric car will be able to travel 50 to 70 per cent further than conventional electric-powered vehicles. That would take it from the normal range of 200 kilometres to at least 350 before the batteries would need to be charged.

“There is no all electric car today that can charge itself,” he says. “This is the only one.”

He has only driven his electric ‘lunch bucket’ car a few test miles where it performed beautifully. But he knows it will be efficient and trouble free.

“I plan to drive it to the Hope Slide to test it on a steep hill,” he says of the proposed 250-kilometre round trip through the Fraser Valley east of Vancouver and into the mountains beyond.

Will he patent his latest automotive invention? Not interested.

“I’m too old to benefit from that,” he says. “I’m hoping smarter people come along and put this together with sophisticated computer-driven electronics so the car can do the same thing – charge itself.”

He’s glad to show anybody interested why his electric car is different than those that cost tens of millions of dollars to develop and manufacture.

“It’s simple technology but it works,” he says.

Alyn Edwards is a classic car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouver-based public relations company. aedwards@peakco.com

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