Electric Car Fuels Dreams


Converting Monte McCord’s 1988 Porsche 924 from gas power to electric is a project taken on by the Payson High School auto shop class. Although staff turnover and summer vacation has slowed the work, McCord hopes his dream of an off-the-grid car comes true.

Converting Monte McCord’s 1988 Porsche 924 from gas power to electric is a project taken on by the Payson High School auto shop class. Although staff turnover and summer vacation has slowed the work, McCord hopes his dream of an off-the-grid car comes true. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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The black, 1988 Porsche 924 sits in a corner of the Payson High School (PHS) auto shop.

Torn apart.

Disabled.

Guts ripped out.

Its engine leans on a wall across the room — like a discarded idol of the petroleum era.

Crawling around in the back examining the rear compartment — or what is left of it — junior Keith Breyer often stops, looking perplexed.

“We’re cleaning up the sides,” he said. “Once we get some sheet metal we can put 10 batteries in the back.”

He’s a student in the PHS auto shop class. He and fellow classmates are converting the Porsche from a gas- to electric-powered car.

The car belongs to Monte McCord, a Payson retiree committed to getting completely off the grid. He’s installing solar panels on his home, tends a plot in the Community Garden and volunteers for Transition Town.

“My dream is to charge this car and my home using solar energy,” he said.

McCord also believes in educating youth.

A year ago, after reading an article in the Roundup about the PHS auto shop students, he decided to bring his Porsche project to the class to give the kids a chance they will never experience — even on the job — changing a petroleum-powered car to a fully electric car.

“They’re not doing this at regular auto shop schools,” said McCord. “It’s a great opportunity for the kids.”

Most car companies either make internal combustion engines or electric cars. No one really converts a car, unless they have commitment.

Benefits of electric vehicles

On its Web site, the U.S. Department of Energy lists benefits of an electric car compared to a gas-powered car:

• Electric vehicles (EV) convert about 59-62 percent of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels. Gas-powered vehicles convert only 17-21 percent of the energy stored in gasoline to power at the wheels.

• EVs emit no pollutants from their tailpipes, but offset that on the pollutants power companies emit to make electricity.

• EV motors require less maintenance; give quiet, smooth operation and a stronger acceleration.

Although far from complete, the car already has several 120-volt batteries installed to power the electric engine mounted with a custom-made mounting block.

“The range will be up to 100 miles and the top speed will be 65 miles per hour,” said McCord. “This will only be a commuter car. No long road trips.”

Ultimately the car will house 15 120-volt lead-acid batteries that weigh 64 pounds each.

“These batteries are principally designed for golf carts — deep cycle — lots of recharging,” said McCord.

To make charging up anywhere possible, he has asked the students to replace the fuel line with a 120/240-volt plug.

The conversion has ripped out seats, engine, fuel tank, A/C system, power steering system and taken more than a year so far.

But the students and the school are committed to the project.

“I sat down with Eckhardt (the former auto shop teacher), because my family said I was too old to do this myself,” said McCord. “He told me he’d been wanting to do that — that’s how it got started.”

The project has been slowed by staff turnover and new administration, but McCord has kept at it, in spite of the significant investment in time and money.

A humble man, McCord declined to give specifics on the cost, except to say the loss of government support for car conversions has removed all tax breaks or rebates, making this an expensive project. He will never recoup his investment, but he has no regrets.

“In my defense for the expenditure, my primary reasons for funding the project were twofold: give the students an opportunity to gain experience working on electric vehicles and to have removed one gasoline-burning engine from the road,” he said.

The students seem to enjoy the challenge.

Breyer said getting the engine to fit was quite a job.

“We had to take the engine out and bars out, lift the car up on the rack for two weeks to get the plate to match up and reinforce all the holes to get them to fit,” he said as he leaned over the back of the car.

Now the students wait for a piece of sheet metal to weld on the back of the car to hold the 10 batteries where a seat and gas tank once took up space.

“I’ve been recruited as the welder,” said Breyer before he turned on his brightly flamed torch.

Breyer spent some time fixing a couple of details as McCord watched his progress.

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