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Friday, September 11, 2009

Racine man electrifies El Camino

From an article by Mike Moore in the Stevens Point Journal:

RAYMOND -- Car executives looking for the next electric car might just want to slip out of the board room and stop by Tom Leitschuh's garage.

This year, Leitschuh converted his 1981 Chevrolet El Camino to run completely on electric power. And because the juice is created by the windmill and solar panels at his home on Highway K, he's not paying for it.

"I get to drive for free," he said. "I have energy independence even on the road now."

Compared to the El Camino, the Toyota Prius sitting in his driveway with the "renewable energy is sexy" bumper sticker is a gas hog. Where El Camino's engine once sat, 26 batteries now fill the space. Twenty more sit by a rear axle.

It's a load, but removing the radiator, gas tank, muffler and other unnecessary baggage helped offset the weight. Leitschuh also skipped the regular car batteries and splurged on lighter lithium ferrite batteries.

"They're the safest batteries in the world, and they'll work down to zero degrees," he said.

A charge could take him 200 miles if he manages his driving carefully, Leitschuh said, but typically the car has a range of about half that.

The project took about six weeks. Including the car, which he bought used on eBay, the project cost him about $30,000. He could have done a scaled-back conversion for $10,000, which he said should be feasible for some car owners. Not to mention big car companies, which are still developing plug-in models they plan to introduce over the next few years.

"I'm wondering, 'Why aren't they doing this?'" Leitschuh said. "If a guy in a garage in Racine can do this with a little bit of help ... ."

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