Just plug it in
An electric car gets students thinking about their alternatives.
By Nancy Bartosek
The 1974 Porsche 914 GT resting on blocks in Steve Weis' lab doesn't look like much. It's only a primer-coated body without any interior. But it is what's under the hood, well, under what will eventually be the hood, that is pretty special: This classic will one day run exclusively on electricity.
"It was just a bucket of rust and a box of parts when we got it," says Weis, an engineering professor who bought the car in 2007 off eBay because its mid-body engine design was perfect for an electric conversion. (A pickup would have been easier, Weis says, but the sports car was "sexier.")
Since then Weis and a handful of students -- with extensive assistance from Mike Murdock, an instrument maker in the College of Science and Engineering, and James Griffin, a painter in the Physical Plant -- have made a lot of progress.
The engine is in place and the body is assembled and ready for its coat of glossy TCU purple paint. And the high-tech electronic brain needed to run it is sitting in a box nearby, waiting for an interested student to tackle the task.
There's still a lot to be done, of course, which is why Weis and his team are grimly smiling. It is a pretty fun project, but labor-intensive.
"This is definitely a student project, and we got it because it's a great opportunity for them to learn," Weis says. "Right now we've even got a couple of Paschal High School students working on it."
It's not new technology -- except to the students working on it. Call it a "practical" for budding electrical and mechanical engineers.
Local businesses have chipped in pieces and parts and some funding has come through the Energy Institute. Once it's completed (Weis hopes by next summer) it will be used for university activities.
"It's a good recruiting tool," Weis says. "Kids will see what they'll get to do."
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