Class Project Gives Jolt to Old Car
A group of physics students at Marmaton Valley High School got quite a charge out of their most recent class project. Under the guidance of instructor Stephen Smith, they converted a 1978 MG Midget into an electric car.
Its gasoline-powered engine long since removed, the students took less than a week to install an electric forklift motor into the engine compartment.
Their work created a solely electric-powered vehicle capable of reaching highway speeds, with a range of more than 17 miles.
Smith described the project as a prime example of “cooperative learning.”
“All of the students had a job to do, and they had to work together,” he said.
The teacher challenged his students to build an electric car that could reach 55 mph and go at least 14 miles on a single charge.
They aced both tests.
“We’ve gotten it to 55, and we know we can go much faster,” Meiwes said. They plan to take the car back out onto the highway in the coming days to learn its top speed.
“It will go highway speed,” Smith said.
Smith had been looking forward to building an electric car as a class project for a couple of years and was looking for the right opportunity.
OPPORTUNITY knocked last fall, when Smith found the Midget — “The kind the Shriners drive in the parades,” — without an engine, on Craigslist.
The rest of the components, such as batteries and wiring, were purchased locally. General Repair and Supply in Iola gave the biggest assist by fabricating a coupler that successfully connected the electric motor to the car’s drivetrain.
“It went together very quickly,” student Cody Knight said. “The hard part was getting the two pieces to line up correctly.”
The amount of torque required to propel the drivetrain meant that if the parts were off by just millimeters, the car would shimmy and shake as it accelerated.
“We were losing too much energy,” Knight explained.
“It got frustrating,” classmate Nick Meiwes added. “We were wondering if we were going to get it to work. We had to drill a lot of extra holes” to reposition the coupler.
The male students handled the work on installing the motor. The girls, meanwhile, handled the wiring, installing a series of six car batteries, with a seventh to provide auxiliary power.
“Everything else is a regular car,” Smith said.
The car can be recharged via any 110-volt outlet through a plug in the hole where the gas used to go. It takes about $1 worth of juice to recharge all the batteries, Smith says, compared to nearly $4 for a gallon for gasoline.
The motor engages as the accelerator is depressed and shuts down when the vehicle stops, “just like a golf cart,” Smith said.
The vehicle has proper lights and seat belts. It has been tagged and insured and taken on the highway. Smith paid for the project out of his own pocket. He hasn’t totaled the expenses, because he doesn’t want to spoil the fun by knowing much it really cost.
He plans to keep the car as his own.
“I may drive back and forth to school occasionally,” said Smith, who lives in Iola.
He also plans to let the students pile in for ride in the next Moran Day Parade.
But first, the car is in dire need of some body work, inside and out.
And the students still need to be graded for their work.
“We’ll have to see,” Smith said, tongue-in-cheek, within earshot of students Mercedes Trollope and Ashley Zibung, who began to fret.
The students, Kattia Andrews, Cody Knight, Nick Meiwes, William Nunnery, Ben Smith, Mercedes Trollope and Ashley Meiwes, have nothing to fear.
“Actually, they all will get an A,” Smith said. “They deserved it.”