This may look like your usual belt-driven blower attached to a 6.0-litre LS motor in a ’57 Pontiac. However, if you follow those orange leads attached to the ‘blower’, you’ll find a hefty battery pack mounted in the boot. Yep, it’s actually a 50kW AC electric motor that Johnathan Goodwin of from E-Charger in the ‘States is using to reduce fuel consumption and boost performance by using electricity - but in a pretty un-conventional way.
Hybrid cars are normal these days, and fully electric cars like the Tesla are gaining popularity because going green is cool – apparently. However, where those cars are all very complicated with electric motors either driving the wheels directly or mounted on the gearbox, the technology is difficult to retro-fit into the type of old cars we’re interested in. Let me put it this way – it’s a lot harder than an LS swap.
This is where Johnathan Goodwin’s E-Charger comes in. You may remember Johnathan as the guy who converted Neil Young’s ’59 Lincoln Continental to a hybrid – we covered that way back in October 2008. The idea with his E-Charger is, that provided you’ve got space in your engine bay (or maybe you could go out of bonnet for the full blower aesthetic), you can turn your car into a hybrid. Batteries go in the boot with a special charging box that takes the same plug as other electric vehicles or just a standard wall socket, you run some wires, mount the electric motor and bang – you’re environmentally friendly, and faster.
Well sort of. The way the system works is the electric motor drives the crank of your existing engine to take some of the load off the engine, so you’re using less fuel to do the same speed. There is also a regenerative function that turns the motor into a generator to send power back to the batteries during braking. Goodwin claims up to 25% fuel consumption saving while giving your car an extra 150lb-ft of torque to play with.
We had a bit of a discussion about this whole setup in the Street Machine office and got to thinking, on whether you could run the system as some kind of electric ‘nitrous kit’? With its 50kW electric motor you could instantly add extra horsepower to the crank at the flick of a switch. Maybe they can market that as an extra feature. Use less petrol on the way to the track and then add more horsepower when you get there.
Of course, we were also wondering about the added weight of the batteries, and if the weight of all that gear would offset the additional power provided by the electric motor. Johnathan says the system only adds about 220lb (100kg), which sounds awfully light when you consider the batteries in a new Tesla weigh over 540kg – and that’s just the batteries, not to mention the electric motor itself and the rest of the gadgetry.
For Aussie car packaging could be an issue. Like we mentioned earlier, you could probably run the electric motor out of the bonnet (unless it isn’t waterproof…), but it looks like a fair old lump to try and wedge under the bonnet. Clearly it works with this ’57 Pontiac which has acres of room under the bonnet, and this system is aimed at larger American pick-ups and SUVs, but it could be tricky with a smaller car.
At the moment there’s a whole bunch of questions we’d like to see answered, such as how much does it cost? Under $5000USD is the only answer at the moment). How long does it take to drain the batteries? How long does it take to charge them again? Do the claimed fuel savings work with carburetted engines? And most importantly, can we fit a Mad Max switch to the gearstick and give our rides a real kick in the pants?
Now it might seem like we’re knocking this E-Charger system a bit, and that’s not the case at all. It is an interesting twist on combining new and old technologies. What do you think? Is this the future of modified cars when they stop pulling oil out of the ground?