Hello to All,
Just in time for the Christmas holiday weekend, here’s the final installment, pt.4:
Continued from pt. 3…
On the surface, it seems the car will lose 450 lbs. or so, but other structural mods to the car adds back some weight. You’ll have to tune in to pt. 4 to get that and other interesting info on how things are progressing.
To understand where the status of the Zombie’s redesign is currently at, I need to back up a bit and redefine the timeline. When a big break through like a major battery sponsorship occurs, it’s as if a huge puzzle gets dumped on a table with all the pieces scattered about – pieces that you have to assess, then assemble into a completed project – and completing this project proved to be harder than I thought. Like any Waylandesque tale, there’s drama in how it has unfolded.
Following our failure to have an updated Zombie at the July 24th & 25th summer WI-IV races, the Kokam sponsorship deal we had been nurturing suddenly went on a fast track timeline. Just two and a half weeks after the races, we had our first meeting in mid-August here in Portland with Kokam’s national sales manager, Don Sandler. Two weeks later as August turned into September, Rich and I were in Missouri at Kokam America. Two weeks later in mid-September as promised by Kokam (and mentioned in my pt. 2 story) a shipment of 210 ultra high power Kokam cells arrived at the NWHS forklift facility, where I wasted now time grabbing a Crown stand-up reach and loaded the pallet into my service truck and took it home. In just minutes after backing the service truck to its resting spot in my home’s shop driveway, the pallet load of exotic cells were safely tucked away in my EV shop. – it’s sure handy to have my three wheel Hyster electric sit-down forklift at the ready! Before turning in for the night, I had to go back out to my shop ‘just’ to see if it was a dream, or if after years of trying to get lithium, I ‘really’ had all those ultra high power cells in my shop
With a pallet full of lithium in my shop, the pressure was now on (by me) to get the job done. I ‘really’ wanted to get the Kokam pack designed, fabricated, and installed in the car – and then get back on the track to lay down 10s this year. PIR stays open all through October while flirting with the Portland metro area’s changing-seasons weather, then gives up the fight at the end of October to close for the Winter – not to reopen until March. The Kokam guys too, were quite excited and did all they could, to help us achieve that ambitious goal.
When we were back at Kokam America, we got to see some packaging designs of how various sized and shaped cells were assembled into batteries. One had a cast-formed plastic end cap that had slots where the cells’ tabs came through and then could be connected to adjacent cell tabs. I liked this design, as did Rich Rudman. As stated in my pt. 3 story, I wanted to have the Zombie’s modules made of clear Lexan – nonconductive for safety, strong, and transparent so that the cells could be seen and inspected, plus it would make for great show ‘n tell for PR purposes! It seems that some EV builders just don’t get it, that when you have something special, it needs to be visible and exciting to look at. Nothing frustrates me more, than an EV with boring ‘stuff’ hiding one of the most unique aspects of an EV – the electric motor, or having exotic batteries only to have them completely out of view. In addition to breaking records and going quicker and faster, White Zombie has always been about being a great show ‘n tell vehicle to help get every day non-EVers excited. I feel quite privileged to have these expensive and rare model Kokam cells, so putting them inside opaque boxes was not an option.
September was already half over and I still needed to figure out how to make the Lexan modules happen. The tricky part would be creating the slotted end cap piece. Kokam’s CAD guys worked on and sent terrific files of what we wanted, so we had the drawings to aid in CNC-ing the parts we’d need. How cool is it, that our sponsor turns over their engineers to help you out? Rudman warned had me that to do it right, it would take thousands of dollars for material, machining costs, and especially the costs to make a cast plastic end cap piece, if that was the way we would go with the design. He also felt it was pretty much impossible to ‘properly’ design and assemble the modules, for him to finish testing on his new 8 channel BMS boards, then get completed modules installed in the car in time to go racing this year. I knew that too, but I was still pushing to get the car ready to make the last two weekends of October racing at PIR…I’m at the same time a driven person ‘and’ the eternal optimist!
I was looking for someone who would have access to a CNC setup, and, who we might just get excited enough about the lithium-Zombie project that we could get the work sponsored, so I made a call to Bob Fagliano (silent G). You’ll recall from my pt. 2 story, that I said, “Bob’s one of those guys who seems to know everybody, and as I’ve learned, he’s a guy who can get things done!” Without missing a beat, he simply said, “I’ll see what I can do.” The next day, Bob called and asked if I was available for a dinner meeting that night, as he had a guy he wanted me to meet that might be able to help us. At a nice dinner restaurant, I was introduced to Colin Murdoch, who worked at ChemWest, a plastics machining and fabrication facility based here in Portland with a branch in Austin, Texas as well. Their main customer base is the wafer fab industry, and they make pretty much anything that might be needed in the way of plastic shapes and forms. I had brought my trusty Mac laptop, and over dinner and great conversation I showed him Zombie drag videos. It was my hope that I would come away from our meeting with a commitment that ChemWest would sponsor the machining needed to build the complicated end cap pieces out of Lexan. Colin was pretty excited about what we were doing, saying he’d get back to us in a few days. When he called, we got more than we had hoped for, with ChemWest offering to not only provide all the labor and machine work, but all the high costing materials as well! It was a huge bonus to have ChemWest providing the material as I was still trying to budget dollars for everything. ChemWest in Portland was quite busy, but Colin had the Austin location ready to do the work for us. I was at the same time, excited about the generous support, and a bit concerned about not having the work done right here in Portland where I could keep an eye on things and have hands-on involvement with the work. We sent the CAD files of the module design to ChemWest, Austin, and hit the ‘go’ button!
ChemWest does plastics only, and will not cut metals with their equipment as metal contamination is a big no-no in the wafer fab industry. I know a bit about this, as in another life I worked for a company that built, sold, and serviced wafer contamination monitors, but that’s another story! Anyway, I still needed to find a machine shop that could CNC copper, as we needed to build all the conductive parts that make up the interconnects and terminals of the module design. Kokam’s engineers had also drawn the design specs for all the copper interconnects and terminals. In the pt. 2 story I wrote, “It took me a while, but I finally realized that sometimes it takes a team approach to get things done, and that’s exactly the change I made in 2009.” Once again, the team approach pulled through, when speaking with Jim Husted, he reminded me about his subleasing setup with Eric at Mountain Machining in Redmond, Oregon. I had met Eric before, and knew he was a nice guy who also happened to be a highly skilled machinist! Eric already has a commuter EV he’s put together, and he’s the guy who does all trick machining for Jim’s hotrod EV motors, so he’s already into EVs. Eric offered to be a Plasma Boy Sponsor and said he could make the hundreds of copper parts for the Zombie’s 13 modules. Did I say 13? Yes, I did! At my request, Kokam had provided enough cells so we could make a spare module, as the car’s design called for an arrangement of 12, 29.6V modules for a 355V system. Track side the 13th module will always be on hand just in case we have a module failure, but it will have a second more ‘street oriented’ role. After shaving off the pack’s initial surface charge, the 13th module can be added to the 355.2V pack to up it to 384.8V and a higher capacity 24.6 kWh over the 12 module’s 22.7 kWh capacity…can you say 130 miles range?
Back to the story…as luck would have it, at about the time the Austin facility had been given the green light to acquire material and create the five different Lexan pieces that would make up the module cases (2 thin side panels, 2 thick side panels, a floor panel, the complicated top end cap, and the top cover panel), they suddenly got overloaded with new work, and understandably, paying jobs got the priority – our module project was on hold until early October. This wasn’t good news if we wanted to be on the track by late October! To help us plan the copper pieces needed for the buss bar system however, Adam, the Austin guy, CNC’d the top end cap pieces first, and sent one out to me so we’d have the ability to hand fit metal to check for proper clearance before making an entire run of parts out of expensive copper. Eric came up with a good plan to make a single set of test pieces out of aluminum.
The next chapter in this tale is pretty weird. I had been in both phone and email contact with Adam at ChemWest in Austin. He had sent great photos of the Lexan parts as they were being made, and the workmanship was awesome…things were finally on a roll after a slow start. A little more than a week into October after Adam had worked long days and into the nights working on getting our custom parts finished, everything was finally packaged up and ready for pickup the next morning, as Bob had arranged for overnight next day UPS shipping to Portland. Things get cloudy here, but suffice it to say that the Austin ChemWest guys affirmed the package was sitting in their front office ready for UPS pickup. The UPS driver says he went to pick up the package, but that the ChemWest office was closed…the ChemWest guys said they were there all day and that they even stayed open late so that they would not miss the UPS guy. According to them, the UPS guy never showed. The next day, the package however, was gone and nobody seems to know how it left. UPS claims they never picked it up. In any EVent, all of the custom built one of a kind stuff worth who knows how much, had vanished, and with this misstep so had my dreams of racing with the new pack in 2009! Subsequent tracking of the package showed it was never picked up, and it has never been found. Word on the street however, has it that Dennis Berube’ drove nonstop from Phoenix to Austin, snuck in and grabbed the package, and is now stuffing the enclosures with top secret cells…OK, I made this last part up
It was now mid-October, we had lost all of the Lexan parts, and I had no idea how things would work out. After getting such a late start on making them, the lost module pieces sealed the deal…we were out of it for racing in 2009 Good friend and Team Plasma Boy member Jim Husted put it best in an email he sent to me:
There is no doubt in my mind that the forces of darkness have teamed up against us on all fronts. It’s kind of a bitch that the passion that drives us to do what we do can also work against us in our time of need when the light of the world dims our light. I too, struggle against falling into the pit of darkness during times of trials and tribulations and as much as I realize it, I still fall victim to it. On the other side of the coin, it is very much like the statement that 1 ant won’t kill you but a 1000 will, and I understand how frustrating a 1000 “little” issues can at least just knock the snot out of you. That all said, I am excited about what might be around the bend and hoping a fool’s hope that the anti-EV Gods focus on others so we can get down to making something fun happen. So, in as much as our window may have passed to get Zombie down the track this year, there is much to do to build and ready this pack.
Oh well…in addition to Rudman’s warnings that we would not make my deadline, Tim Brehm (Zombie’s driver and team Plasma Boy lead mechanic) told me that we ‘really’ needed to rework structural parts of the car’s chassis that had been punished by years of wheel-standing launches with a 900 lb. gorilla in the back seat! Inspection of the Zombie’s underside revealed numerous cracks in the warped rear seat area floor boards, cracks in support weldments, cracks at the front floorboards where the roll cage supports met, and deformed leaf spring perches that were literally pushing up through the bottom of the car! With an assembled pack weight of 906 lbs. and with 525 lbs. of that just ahead of the forward spring perches, the violent slams of the slapper bars against the leading end of the leaf springs acted like a BIG hammer banging from underneath at the perches, and once firmly pressed against things, the bars would then lift up the entire car from the spring perch contact point – all this rude force over the years had been tearing welds and bending things! I had to agree with Tim, that the structural problems we’d found needed to be dealt with before powering the car into the 10s.
Side bar…the little Datsun 1200 was built from ’71 through ’73 as a light weight (1587 lbs. curb weight) fuem-sniffer econo-car – it was never intended to handle the massive torque of a Siamese 8 hit with 2000 amps -it takes two V8s to do the same! That said, the 1200 sedan has proven itself to be quite sturdy and the 37 year old unibody’s left and right side rails are still straight as an arrow and the rest of the body is in good shape, but as I said, the floorboards and factory subframe rails were definitely tweaked! When I first acquired the car back in 1985, it was already 13 years old and had been through a couple of non-car-guy type owners who had simply put gas in it, driven the crap out of it, and had evidently taken it to the corner gas station repair type shops (not Datsun factory approved dealership shops) whenever work was needed. Evidence…the floorboards had already been mistreated and beat up by what looked like 5 ton floor jacks misplaced under the sheet metal floors (not the structural subframe rails) then slammed up quick where their jack claw had punched through the metal floorboards. Even the two inner front section frame rails had been bent and tweaked by the same rude treatment. I remember lifting the factory rubber floor mats (1200s were so cheap they lacked carpet accept on the tranny tunnel) and seeing the mistreated floorboards, with rust and a few holes in the driver’s side where wet feet had left standing water over the years, and thinking some day I’d redo the floors in the otherwise straight and clean body. Twenty-four years later and with extra destructive help from hard-launches at the drag track, I’m finally forced into getting that done.
With the warm days of summer behind us, PIR about to close for the season, the cold Fall Oregon rains drenching Portland, no module parts, and the bulk of the lithium cells still in their shipping boxes, I gave up my hopes for any more racing in 2009, so White Zombie went 30 miles away to Scapoose, Oregon ending up inside Tim’s shop. It was immediately up on blocks and the tear-down began. All 60 of the Hawker lead acid batteries that comprised the Zombie’s dual string 360V pack were removed, and the car was essentially gutted. Everything removed was weighed on very accurate digital scales, from the battery trays to the power cables to the hold-downs & mounting hardware to the twin pack rear contactors (no longer needed) – everything was weighed.
Tim had hooked up with a couple of car buddies, one who runs ‘Flatline Fabrications’, a place that specializes in creative metal fab for off-roaders, drag racers, etc., and the three man team got out the plasma cutter and went to work. The car’s original mid-body subfloor unibody frame rails extend from the front of the car, then bend down vertical along the lower area of the firewall (where it bends to horizontal to join the front floors) then follow the sheet metal horizontally under the front floors getting smaller and ending about halfway between the firewall and the leading mounts for the front seats. Their spot welds were drilled through to separate them from the floorboard metal, then the original funky floors were cutout and removed. The unibody frame rails were then cut away right at the point where the under-hood portions wrap around the firewall to the underside of the floors, and removed to become scrap metal. Next, two new sheets of steel – one 16 gauge for the floors and the other 11 gauge for beam material, were obtained and readied for some very nice work to follow. I freaked-out a bit, when I learned that the two sheets together weighed 240 lbs.! This is not the way to keep the car light. Tim assured me they bought more steel than would be needed. I insisted that every piece of metal the guys cut away from the car was to be saved and weighed…I’ve always been very good at keeping track of the car’s ever-changing weight through all of its versions, and it’s the reason I’ve been so accurate in predicting the Zombie’s completed curb weight, year after year. I also had the target weight for the new Zombie to not be any heavier than 2300 lbs., and preferably, under that limit.
Unlike classic ’65-’66 Mustangs or ’69 Camaros where you can simply order up either factory or replica body panels from fenders to floor board metal, Tim and his friends had to create each piece for the ’72 Datsun’s floors by hand, with a lot of credit to Flatline Fabrications for their expert work. Copying the basic shape of the four cutout factory pieces (driver’s side front – driver’s side rear, and passenger’s side front – passenger’s side rear) but making one long continuous floor panel for each side and making them completely flat instead of the slight bowl shapes of the original rear floor pieces, the new pieces were drawn up and sheared from the 16 gauge steel sheet, together weighing 37 lbs. The four thinner gauge factory floor pieces, the pair of small subframe rails removed, and the stamped steel seat mount structures together only weighed 23 lbs. – yes, I weighed each part, but the 8 lbs. of undercoat Tim scraped off of the underside of the floors (yes, I weighed that, too) brought the total factory floor weight removed to 31 lbs., so we only gained 6 lbs. with the thicker gauge new floors while losing a bit of sound deadening. The floorboards were nicely welded to the tranny tunnel and the unibody’s side rails (door sill boxed sections), and to the mount pads of the six point roll bar, then everything was seam-sealed, just like factory!
The new ‘under floor’ structural reinforcements are the big change – an improvement the car really needs, and a mod allowed under the Pro Street racing class. 32 lbs. of the 11 gauge material was sheared and folded on the metal brake to create a beefy pair of rigid full length subframe rails. With completely flat floors now, the U-shaped beams were welded to the underside of them and mated to both the under-hood factory beams that bend down and under the front floors and tied into the rear spring perch points, where no subframe beams ever extended to. The spring perch mounts were also boxed-in and fortified. Pictures of are up at the ‘Photos’ section of the web site, under ‘New Floors…out with the old, in with the new!’
With just 345 lbs. of lithium polymer cells taking place of 852 lbs. of lead acid batteries, this is a 507 lb. weight reduction in active material for the car, but the chassis upgrades added 38 lbs. of weight. In addition, there’s a much stronger redesigned drive line loop that’s 5 lbs. heavier, so now the increased weight is at 43 lbs. Then there’s the weight of the Lexan modules, new hold-downs, and new cabling to consider that will add weight again. On the subtraction side of things though, there’s another 54 lbs. that was part of the 906 lb. total weight of the twin 360V lead acid battery pack system, including the rear seat battery box, the trunk floor battery tray, hold-downs and hardware, long inter-pack cabling no longer needed, all the copper bus bars, Lexan pack cover lids, etc. We even shaved 3 lbs. off the aluminum seat mounts made years ago. Back and forth it goes, but in the end it appears the net result will be about a 385 lb. drop in curb weight from 2660 lbs. to an estimated 2275 lbs.
While the car was getting worked over in Scapoose, and prior to the missing Lexan caper, I had been trying to get the best deal on all the expensive copper needed to make the buss bar system for the battery modules. Once again, Bob Fagliano pulled through when he got a killer deal on electrical grade copper flat bar stock. I was grateful that he stopped by my place on the evening of Oct. 22nd and dropped off more than one hundred lbs. of copper (more than we needed), but this was after the bad news of the lost module pieces.
Meanwhile back in Texas…Colin had really gone out on a limb for us, so after all the extra time their guy in Austin spent on our nonpaying job, then the resultant loss of it all, I figured the owners of ChemWest were done wasting their time with us. You can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was then, when Colin called to tell me the ChemWest owner told him to remake all the parts for us!
Of course, now that we had missed our deadline and all urgency had faded away, this time it all went like clockwork, and on Oct. 30th a pallet of 91 Lexan parts (7 pieces per module X 13) was shipped to Portland.
In mid-November, after a lot of hard work with long weekend hours at the Redmond, Oregon Mountain Machining shop, Eric aided by Motor Dog Jim Husted, completed the creation of the hundreds of copper buss bars, copper clamp pieces, and copper output terminals. Bob Fagliano just happened to be in Central Oregon at the time, so as he passed through Redmond on his way back to Portland from the high desert town of Bend, he picked up the copper and hand-delivered them to me. The next week I got together with another of my longtime friends and Team Plasma Boy member, Marko Mongillo, at the sheet metal shop he works at. After hours of effort, I had every single piece of machined copper smoothed and buffed, ready to get nickel plated.
The Lexan parts, as mentioned in pt. 3, turned out to be way thicker than needed (our particular cells do not have to be compressed) and thus were pretty heavy. Lexan is tough stuff, so the half inch thick slab sides of the module body were overkill. Same goes for the other parts of the design as well. The main body – the box part of the module, was a screw-together affair that weighed 5.5 lbs…..yikes! Enter Marko Mongillo again. Re-using the old 1/8 inch Lexan battery compartment lids from the lead acid pack for prototyping purposes, Marko and I came up with a two piece box to replace the five piece screw-together module box. Colin Murdoch helped us figure out how to mate the two pieces, and offered to hot air weld the box pieces at ChemWest. The prototype formed, bent, and welded 1/8 inch Lexan box weighs just a pinch over 1.5 lbs., so that shaves a whopping 4 lbs. off each completed module! We hope to have the lighter weight module cases done in January, then will begin the assembly process of making thirteen, 29.6V, 64 ahr C2, 2,400 amp @ 10 second batteries. Each will be loaded with 16 cells in a 2P8S design, with a Manzanita Micro 8 channel BMS board built in.
As stated, the pack will be capable of 926 hp, but when we hit the track in the Spring, we’ll sneak up on all that power by restricting the controller’s input current. We expect that tapping into only half of the total power available from these killer batteries, White Zombie will run a 10 second ET. After we nail down the 10s, later in the year the full 2.4 kiloamps will be accessed when a second Z2K is connected, a 4 link with a taller ratio goes in back, wheelie bars are added to keep it on the ground, and aero aids are fitted to keep it stable at 130+ mph speeds through the traps. A Siamese 9 may have to replace the smaller Siamese 8 to handle the additional power…we’ll see how this all works out…
It’s going to be a fun 2010!
See Ya…John ‘Plasma Boy’ Wayland