Fun at the Movies…Chris Paine meets White Zombie! (pt. 2)

Hello to All,
From part 1…..

At a little before 7:00 the line formed to go into the theater, so show and tell was over and the real show was about to begin.

I was excited to see this movie. In a past life of getting on airplanes and flying into various parts of the country to work in wafer fabs as a high tech trouble-shooter, I found myself in California and Arizona often, two places where the elusive EV1 could actually be seen touched, and yes, even driven if one was fortunate enough. I drove EV1s in San Diego, and I drove EV1s in Phoenix. Though not nearly as lucky as those who were leasees of EV1s, I did get to drive perhaps twenty EV1s over a period of maybe three years. I got to see the Impact, too, the forerunner of the EV1, and got to see and sit inside ‘Sunnyside Up’, the race prepped EV1 that went 183 mph and set a world speed record for a production electric car. Rod Wilde raced drag raced his Maniac Mazda against this car and beat it (to the dismay of the GM engineers) while we were both in Phoenix. I’ve even drag raced White Zombie against Marvin Rush in his EV1…what a fun memory that is (video up at Plasma Boy Racing). I loved the EV1, it’s truly one of the world’s great cars.


During its heyday, an EV1 was available for rent through ‘EV Rentals’, a subdivision of Budget Car Rental. I took advantage of this, and got to know the good folks at the LA Airport’s Budget Car Rental well. Whenever I had business in that area, instead of flogging some wheezing econocar gasser and adding to the LA Basin’s pollution problem, I was whirring about in a high performance electric car, the fabulous EV1 (driving experience story at the links page of Plasma Boy Racing)! When I first heard of the idea that one could actually rent this rare and exotic car, it seemed too good to be true, and it reminded me of the tales told by aging hotrodders of a time when the legendary AC Cobra, an ultra hi performance muscle car, could be rented from ‘Hertz Rent a Car’. Today, any sane hotrodder would give his left arm for a chance to get a ride in a for real AC Cobra, so to think that ‘anybody’ with a driver’s license could merely waltz into a Hertz Rental facility, drop down some pocket change, and go out and wreak havoc on poor saps in their Mustangs, GTOs, and Vettes, is well, the stuff that makes great stories! Of course, an original Cobra is a highly valued, rare collectible that broke all the rules, set the bar high, and today represents a time gone by. At the time, I remember thinking that some day, aging EVers (guys like me) would tell tales of how one could rent an exotic, rare, limited production, hi performance EV1. Today, the EV1, like the Cobra, is a highly valued, rare collectible (for museums that hide them away when GM tells them to) that broke all the rules, set the bar high, and today represents a time gone by. Back to the movie….

Before the movie began, Chris addressed us all, which really added to the whole thing. All I can say, is WOW! Chris and all involved did a terrific job.

The film is expertly crafted with great camera work and full fidelity, well mixed audio. A highlight for me, was music by Joe Walsh during a drag race scene between a Hummer and an EV1. Other highlights was seeing lots of folks I’ve spent time with either in person or through correspondence, from Chelsea Sexton involved with the EV1 program (she and I hung out together, then she handed me the keys to an EV1 in Phoenix and told me to go play with the car), to former GM CEO Robert Stemple (wrenched on EVs with him in Orlando), to Iris and Stan Ovshinsky (had a wonderful discussion about NiMH batteries with them at EVS 14), to Alan Cocconi (met him one night in the Arizona desert), to Dough Korthof (traveling through Oregon in his Honda EV Plus), Wally Rippel (his first EV was a Datsun 1200)…it was like I was ‘part’ of this movie and that I had lived through the whole thing with everybody. Yes, there are parts of this movie where I thought I might be offended, such as the areas dealing with politics, but it was handled in a way that didn’t seem to be ‘bashing’ for bashing sake, rather, it was dealt with on a factual basis that left the viewer feeling it was up to them to decide…good job, Chris. So great was this movie, that my eyes welled up several times (I can’t say tears for fear of ridicule by male compatriots) during certain scenes. Imagine, a documentary with this kind of power! Even if one is not already an environmentalist or EVer, this movie would move them as well.

After the lights came back up, it was open forum question and answer time with Chris and others. A proud moment for me, was when all those who had electric cars were asked to stand, where we received a huge round of applause.

After the show, Chris was the ultimate host, handing out large format posters and autographing them for all who asked. When the time was right (no, this is not a Cialis commercial), Chris and I had a great one on one discussion about the film. We discussed our mutual appreciation of Joe Walsh where I learned Joe was an EV1 leasee…didn’t know that! Walsh normally does not allow his music to be used in movies, but he was happy to give permission for use in this film. Too much to cover in this area, but let it suffice to say Chris and I had lively conversations as the night went on.

As things were winding down, Chris and friends joined us back outside for the anticipated Zombie ride…or should I say rides? Tim was instructed by my wife to not get too crazy on the streets, while I was standing behind her silently mouthing ‘NAIL IT’. Chris asked for his life to be spared…too bad no video footage was shot of all this fun. It wasn’t the best setup for a full blown Zombie experience. The Hollywood district of Portland is very congested with cramped streets, lots of traffic, people everywhere…you just can’t do 100 mph down Sandy Boulevard! Tim left with Chris and disappeared into the night for a good 15 minutes, while we all worried that maybe they had wrapped themselves around a telephone pole somewhere. They returned though, and Chris’ EV grin was pretty large! I would later see lots of 30 foot long tire patches in the area where they had been. Chris said he could only imagine what the car could do if they hadn’t had such a tight area to drive through. We did see Tim launch the car once as they were leaving a stoplight, and the front tires popped off the ground a little, so at least Chris got to feel that gut distorting torque :-) As he got out of the car, one of the first things he said was, “That does it, I’m coming back for the Portland EV Drag races in August!” In my head I said, “Mission accomplished!”

Remember how I had described how hungry Cheryl, Tim, and I were ‘before’ the show? Since then, only the late afternoon ice cream bars, the hype of the car show, the movie, the high octane discussions, and a couple bags of movie popcorn and a couple bottles of pop had sustained us. To my delight, Chris asked if we would like to join him for dinner at a brew house around the corner that his brother knew of. Yes, there’s a Portland connection to Chris, in that his brother lives here! As I was feeling ‘special’ to have had the personnel invite, it suddenly became apparent that Chris had tricked me with an ulterior motive, as he scrambled back into White Zombie for a ride to the restaurant :-0 Jay Donaway, Cheryl, and I got in Blue Meanie and followed. The pack was sitting at 152V static after the 6 mile drive without a refresh charge, and while the moment of all the excitement this evening had brought still had me zinging, I was also pondering the all uphill drive back to the Wayland EV juice bar on 6+ year old batteries that were already pretty darn tired. Would we make it back home? In the old days, circa the early 1980s, through periods of battery experimentation, there was many a night where Cheryl had to either help me push this car, or worse yet, had to walk home from some ‘stranded’ location with me. To this day, even after having Red Beastie with its easy 120 mile range that never, ever left us without adequate range, she’s still gun shy of the ‘little blue car’, and the first words out of her mouth were, “We’ve got enough to get home, right?” In my head I said, “Geez, the batteries are 6 years old, they haven’t been charged, it’s all up hill home, they’re sitting at less than 12 volts right now with no load on them, what do YOU think?”…but outside that strange head of mine, this came out, “Sure sweetie, the car’s doing great. Relax, let’s enjoy the evening.”

At the restaurant/brew house, the fellowship was fun, and the brew and food was terrific as well. In trying to get a Chris Paine quote describing his Zombie ride, Jay came up with ‘Had I ridden in White Zombie before I made this film it would have been changed to ‘Who Saved the Electric Car?” This brought out laughter from Chris and all.

Afterwards, Chris asked me how the charge was on White Zombie, and if there was enough to give a few more rides for his brother and friends and still get us home OK. Tim reported that the pack was quite stiff still and that the voltage was still hanging near 180 or so. And so rides, we gave! One of Chris’ friends was in the passenger seat and was talking to Tim about how he’s got this buddy with a super fast, built Dodge Dart, and just as he was about to say how fast ‘that’ car was, Tim stood on it, pulled the front tires up, and laid down twin black stripes as they clawed away down the street. Tim told me later that all kind of explicatives came out of the guy’s mouth as he was slammed back in the seat on launch, and that it was obvious he just wasn’t expecting ‘Zombie’ acceleration….Tim said it was great fun.

Near 11:30 pm, the time came for everyone to say goodbye. We thanked Chris and his entourage for making such a great film and for being so engaged with all the EVers who came on this fun night, and he thanked us for the dedication we all had, and of course, for his thrill ride.

Cheryl and I dropped Jay off at the MAX train station, and we were about to make our way back home when Tim flagged us down. Seems the DC-DC had just called it quits and the Zombie’s lights were dimmed down to an 11+ volt level again…hmmm. A quick check revealed a blown 5 amp HV fuse. We decided to not worry about the problem, as the drive home would be a just 12-15 minutes. Blue Meanie was my concern at the moment, with the pack sagging into the 145V range under 35 mph speeds. To my amazement, the pack hung in there fairly well most of the way home. After about 4 miles though (10 miles total), I started to see 130+V readings, then even lower as we continued to pull mild hills. Long story shorter…we made it home, a 12 mile round trip on Optimas with at least 600 cycles on them. Yes, I pulled the pack down HARD into sub 100V levels on the last 1/2 mile, but the pack recovered well and took in a 1.5 hour charge, most of that at 23+ amps! White Zombie’s pack was sitting at 375 volts right after shutting it down, this after 12 miles, and HEAVY repeated 1000 amp acceleration runs. White Zombie too, was recharged before I went to bed.

The next morning, the Zombie’s pack was sitting at 391V (perfect), and Blue Meanie’s pack seemed to enjoy it’s flogging, as instead of sitting at 158V static (new, it used to sit at 169V) in the winter of its life, it was now at 164V. Subsequent driving these past days has Blue Meanie feeling way peppier and the pack acting like it did a few years ago. No reversed cells and far less voltage sag. Guess those old Optimas can be woken back up.

What a fun night! Thanks again to everyone that made this come together, with special thanks to Brad Hippert who was instrumental in getting my car included as part of the show festivities. Of course, a big thank you to Chris Paine for his commitment to not letting this story get buried by GM and for having the courage to stick with it for three long years in the making.

See Ya…
John ‘Plasma Boy’ Wayland

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