Wade Sharbono shows off the electric power plant under the hood of his 1991 Geo Metro Friday afternoon at his home west of Devils Lake. The entire project, including the car, only cost Sharbono around $2,500 and he said it gets the equivalent of over 100 miles per gallon.
This North Dakota man sure knows how to Git R Done! He’s not waiting around for GM to produce an electric car. Thanks to blog reader Politically Incorrect for sending me this story:
By DAN FELDNER, Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
DEVILS LAKE—The high-pitched whine coming from Wade Sharbono’s 1991 Geo Metro has turned more than a few heads the past few years as he commutes between Devils Lake and his home every day for less money than it takes to buy a snack at the gas station.
Sharbono spent the winter two years ago building an electric car and has been improving it ever since. The total cost of the project, including the car, was around $2,500, and Sharbono said it’s worked wonderfully for his daily eight-mile commute to Devils Lake and back. He noted that the car costs about three cents per mile to run at current electrical rates, which gives him the equivalent of over 100 miles per gallon.
The electric motor driving the wheels, which is a starter/generator from a jet engine, is powered by 12 six-volt lead-acid batteries, providing a total of 72 volts of power. A 12-volt battery powers all of the original electrical equipment in the Metro, such as the turn signals and headlights.
When Sharbono first considered building an electric car, he said about the only person who took him seriously was his wife, Michelle. Everybody else he mentioned his idea to had the same reaction.
“They just thought it was really ridiculous that I’d be doing something like this. … Now that I’ve got it built and I’m running it, now everybody thinks it’s the greatest thing ever since sliced toast,” Sharbono said.
The top speed of the car is about 65 mph, though Sharbono generally only does 50-55 mph so he doesn’t strain the batteries. He has driven up to 20 miles on a single charge, but said the car is capable of going 30 or 40 miles before needing to be recharged.
A project like this isn’t for the faint of heart, which Sharbono is most assuredly not. He works for the City of Devils Lake in the street department during the day, and in the evenings he owns a small engine repair business. He’s even rigged a boiler to heat his shop and home by burning lignite coal, so he’s a veteran of do-it-yourself projects.
Using plans he found on the Internet, Sharbono said it took him about two months of on-and-off work to complete the car. Being as mechanically adept as he is and a self-described workaholic, Sharbono did all the work himself. He bought the parts he needed online and fabricated what he could in his shop to keep the costs down.
“The hardest thing was doing the conversion on the electric motor, getting that to fit into the transmission,” he said. “They do sell adapter kits out there, but I was too cheap to buy one, so I just made my own.”
While Sharbono’s electric car may turn people’s heads when they hear it coming, their jaws would probably drop if they peered through the window and saw it was a stick shift. With a top rpm of 8,000, the Metro sounds like a giant remote controlled car as Sharbono flies through the gears and gets it up to highway speed much more quickly than one would think.
“It has enough power to spin the wheels in first gear,” he said.
To make the car usable during the winter months, Sharbono has installed a heating system, which consists of two hair dryers powered by the 72-volt main battery pack. He still has some work to do on that, however. The switch Sharbono installed to operate the hair dryers isn’t heavy enough and gets melted down when he flips it on, so a heavier switch will need to be installed when he can find some spare time.
The high price of gas was one of the reasons Sharbono originally built the car, but he said the possibility of a gas crunch in the future where gas stations wouldn’t have fuel for days or even weeks at a time is what really drove him to convert his Metro. To further ease his reliance on gas and power companies, he would like to someday put up windmills to help generate electricity to charge his car. He’s also thinking of installing solar panels on the Metro. Sharbono said that they wouldn’t be able to power the car when it was running, but would help charge it on a sunny day.
Sharbono said it will probably be a while until electric cars become a more normal occurrence on the road. He noted that the biggest problem with making them more mainstream isn’t the clout of oil companies, but our own need for speed.
“We all want our high-powered cars. We all want to go zero to 100 mph in less than five seconds, and that’s the biggest problem,” Sharbono said.
While the electric car has been a great success, Sharbono has another automotive project he’s thinking about doing in the future. He would like to install a gasifier to run his pickup. It burns material such as coal or wood and converts that energy to power that drives the wheels. He even said he could pull up to a garbage dump and throw anything that burns into the gasifier, which would allow his truck to literally run on trash.
But first he has to fix the hair dryers in his Metro.