Jeff Huneycutt
April 25, 2012

He broke the students into various teams depending on their interests and technical strengths, and set them to work on the car. The car was completely stripped down to a metal shell as the Lab 306 teams determined what was salvageable and what was no longer necessary for the car's new electric configuration.

Like almost all public schools, the budget for anything beyond textbooks and teachers is quite limited, so students had to choose carefully how money was spent. That's why the original Calypso Green paint remains. But an ugly car simply wouldn't do, so one member of the team achieved hero status by spending three weeks laboriously polishing and massaging the abused paint job to bring it back to its (nearly) like-new shine. Latemodel Restoration Supply (www.50resto.com) also played a large role by donating many parts that couldn't be refurbished on the original.

The finished Ford has been affectionately named the Electric Fox. It features a 9-inch DC electric motor that was purchased used. The motor is mated through an adapter plate to the stock T5 manual transmission, although shifting requires great care because the stock clutch was discarded to reduce rotating weight. An array of 12 lead-acid batteries provides the power to the motor through an Evnetics Soliton 1 Controller. Another smaller battery is used to power the car's lights, power windows and locks, and even the interior lights. Concessions to performance did, however, have to be made by eliminating the radio and air conditioning to reduce both overall weight and drain on the power supply.

The students also had to overcome other obstacles that aren't as obvious. For example, an electric motor doesn't produce vacuum, so the brakes had to be converted to full manual. Likewise, a power-steering pump pulls energy-plus there is no easy way to spin it in this setup-so the steering system is manual as well. And instead of being connected directly to the engine, the gas pedal now tells the Evnetics controller what the driver wants, and the controller translates that into how much electricity to feed the motor.

Of course, there were a few upgrades to make the car more fun. Bilstein shocks and coilovers help maintain a stable ride, and subframe connectors bear the load of the batteries. The brakes were also upgraded to units off of a '99 GT up front and a Cobra in the rear. In back, the students installed a new four-link suspension and Panhard bar on the stock 8.8-inch rear. A rear-seat-delete cuts even more weight, and the wheelhubs were converted to five-lugs to provide greater wheel selection.

In its current configuration, the car can travel approximately 35 miles at speeds around 45 to 50 miles per hour. Top speed is close to 80 mph, but that quickly drains the batteries, and high-speed blasts are limited to the track anyway. The batteries also require between 8 to 10 hours to fully recharge. So while this electric Fox isn't quite suitable for go-anywhere, do-anything daily driver service, it's still impressive given the fact that some of the students that played a part in this project didn't even have driver's licenses.

If you are wondering, John says his students have done the research and determined that 35 miles worth of electricity-essentially an eight-hour fill up-costs only two dollars. Assuming gasoline costs $3.50 a gallon and the fuel engine gets 20 miles per gallon, that comes out to 17.5 cents per mile for gasoline compared to only 5.7 cents per mile using electricity.

In 2011 the Lab 306 crew took its new entry to the EV Challenge and put it to the test. Going against lighter and smaller cars, they took second place in several categories, including Range, Autocross, Design, and Troubleshooting. Their results were good enough to place them second overall. It was an unqualified success, according to everyone involved.

John says that Lab 306 has plans to completely rework and upgrade the car's drivetrain and compete again soon. But the lack of money requires students to spend more time fundraising than turning wrenches. Still, he says there is learning to be done, even now.