To car buffs in Ohio, electrics are the way to go

The electric car is a here-and-now reality that need not wait for improved batteries or government programs. That's what any member of the electric Vehicle Association of Ohio will tell you -- and then back it up with a convincing demonstration.

This group of electric-car fanciers has been active since well before the Arab oil boycott more than six years ago. But that event, plus the long lines at the gas pumps late last spring and early summer, helped increase membership to its present record high of about 70. similar associations have been organized in California and Illinois.

The Ohio group gets together once a month in Strongsville, a Cleveland suburb. Typically, a meeting will include a guest speaker on some auto-related topic, such as electric-motor control circuits or battery maintenance. It's pretty heady stuff for electric-car buffs.

They come from all walks of life and have in common only an interest in building and operating electric cars. Typically, members join for one of four main reasons:

* A scientific interest in electric-car research and technology.

* Business interest; simply, they want to buy or sell parts and pieces that go into electrics.

* Dedication to a cleaner and less oil-dependent environment.

* Help in building an electric car. The do-it-yourself route is by far the least expensive way to acquire an electric.

It's that matter of original cost that inhibits the widespread use of electrics, members say. the only new electrics available -- and they're mostly conversions of existing cars -- cost upwards of $10,000. that's too much for a limited-use car, members say.

Any member will tell you that an electric is much to be desired. It's reliable, quiet, easy to drive, odorless, and economical. electrics are also quite durable. The absence of vibration seems to make them stay together longer. some cars of the Ohio members are 65-year-old antiques.

While there's no denying the fact that electric-car range is limited, that simply isn't important to the Ohio fans. the range is adequate for getting back and forth to work and running errands -- and occasionally taking part in a parade. Most members don't have to recharge the batteries every night to keep their cars working, they say.

The batteries used are almost universally of the same type that powers electric golf carts. Most commonly the electric motors in members' cars were built originally to power industrial trucks or to start airplane engines.

The motors take the place of the original gasoline engines in used Volkswagens and other lightweight imported cars. there are enough engineers, machinists, electrical wizards, and manufacturers in the association to help members with the work of grafting the electric motors into the old cars.

Most of the cars come out as 50-50 models, with a top speed of around 50 miles an hour and a range of 50 miles in city driving. Some are technologically as advanced as any electrics anywhere. Most often, however, they're adaptations of off-the-shelf hardware.

Not all members are mechanically inclined, either. Eugene Remley, current president, says his mechanical capability is limited to "handing tools." He "handed tools" to his Corvair's electrifier, Robert Childs, who founded the association when Mr. Childs lived across the street.

Like several other members, MR. Remley sought an electric car as a means of reducing commuting time and unreliability. Although current electrics lose a substantial part of their battery range in cold weather, the cars still start at once when the switch is turned.

The present running cost, including battery replacement, is about 8 cents a mile.

One member, Dave Estill, uses his electric for a 40-mile commuting trip each day. When he gets to work (he's a toolmaker), he plugs in the car and recharges the batteries for return trip. Mr. Estill's car, which cost only about $600 to build, is a tribute to his ability as a parts scrounger and bargain-hunting improviser.

Another member, Dr. Karl Kordesch, was a corporation research director with an international reputation for his studies on alternative methods of power generation. He seldom gets to meetings now because he's a professor in Austria. His son, Al, remains an active member of the Ohio group, however.

Then there are members such as Henry and Rose Knauper. They electrified a Volkswagen beetle, which seemed an appropriate adjunct to their solar-heated home with its power-generating windmill.

The commercial members are counted on for help. Albert W. Hartman's electric shop provides switches and motor controllers for many of the cars.

Two other charter members, Warren Harhay and Gilbert C. Heinrichs, formed a company that has been a major fixture in the federal electric vehicle research and demonstration program. Their Electric Vehicle Associates builds converted American Motors PAcers and other vehicles and is one of the few active producers of electric cars.

Not all the members take their electric-car activities so seriously. Some don't build and drive electrics, but are simply fascinated by the prospect. Some merely like the company of other electric-car buffs. All of them, however, are dedicated to a single principle, and that is that the electric car is ready for service right now.

Potential electric-car fans may find these addresses useful:

Electric Vehicle Association of Ohio 445 Bassett Road Bay Village, OH 44140

Fox Valley Electric Auto Association Route 1, Box 549 Batavia IL 60510

Electric Auto Association 1674 Merrill Drive No. 12 San Jose, CA 95124

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