Isaac Mion
March 5, 2013

Normally, an explosion and two fires at its unveiling would have most builders running from the electric vehicle game with their tails between their legs. But it only made the staff at Dukes Garage dig their heels in.

By now, many have heard their share of electric vehicle hype. If you are reading this magazine, one might guess that you probably arent a fan of it. Electric cars are arguably impractical for most of us at this point, they often sacrifice styling for low wind resistance, and being seen driving one pigeonholes you into a certain category of automobile enthusiast.

Until now, that is. Duke's Garage has taken the prancing pony and put a powerful package of alternative energy into a stunningly clean example of a '65 drop-top. More on how the system functions later.

Duke Altschuler started collecting cars in the mid to late 80s. By 2009, it was high time to turn his hobby of collecting and restoring classic cars into a business. His wife, Melissa, had a few requirements.

"I felt, as a business owner, that it was our responsibility to carry a line of cars that used an alternative energy source. Especially since most older cars are gas guzzlers that get fewer than 20 mpg and aren't governed by the emission standards of today," said Melissa Perré, Duke's wife.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Duke's son and shop manager, Dave Altschuler, told us that the original goal was to make a muscle car that was classic and fuel-efficient.

"Thirty miles per gallon was the goal," he said. While Dave and crew were researching powerplants for the project, they came across a local company in Denver making lithium ion modules for use in electric vehicles. That company referred them to a company that converted gasoline vehicles to electric power. With Duke doing a ground-up restoration on a clapped-out Mustang, the three entities approached the project from three different directions.

Duke's Garage purchased the vehicle as part of a large collection of vehicles that needed to be restored. It had been in a minor accident and like a good garden gnome, it had sat outside for more than 20 years. On top of the damage from that, there was a lot of rust.

We dropped the battery pack in a 55-gallon drum of water. It boiled for 12 hours before it finally stopped.

"All of the metal work was a real challenge," Dave said. "We had to rebuild the subframe and radiator support. We also replaced the right inner front fender well, right front cowling, both outer wheelwells, both quarters, the tail panel, and all of the floors." Despite the restoration, the body is primarily stock with the exception of the transmission tunnel, which had to be widened to fit both motors under the car.

Here's where it gets twisted. The fuel, essentially, the battery pack, is where the engine usually goes, while the motors are located where you'll normally find the tranny.

So how does it all work? Well, power is sent from the lithium iron phosphate battery pack back to the trunk. See that amalgam of foreign items in the back there? Well the main odd-looking element in the middle of the trunk is the Café Electric Zilla Z1K water-cooled motor controller. Depending on throttle modulation, this unit sends power to the Dual Netgain Transwarp 9-inch DC motors that are connected directly to the stock Ford 3.50-geared differential via the driveshaft.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Electricians and those of you into RC cars may want a more in-depth description. So let's look at the process sequentially from the very beginning: When you turn the key on, this wakes up the motor controller and battery management system. The battery is then connected electrically to the motor controller. This also activates the DC/DC converter that keeps the 12-volt accessory battery charged using the battery pack (similar to an alternator in a gas vehicle. Signal from the Hall Effect throttle pedal is sent to the motor controller wiring interface, otherwise known as the hairball. This jumble of wires provides a signal for the motor controller to deliver power. At this point, the previously mentioned Dual Netgain Transwarp motors are connected in series electronically, allowing for maximum acceleration.

"This car could be an absolute beast if we wanted it to be," said Dave. "The motor controller is capable of 1,000 amps but we tuned it down to 400 amps for longer battery life and safer operation."