We hit the ‘Start’ button on ‘Silver Streak’

It’s been in the works for quite a while, but I’m happy to announce the birth of an exciting project, Plasma Boy Racing’s long range electric Honda Insight ‘Silver Streak’! My Silverstone Metallic colored Insight with its teardrop aero shape looks much like a drop of mercury as it streaks down the highway. Additionally, the ’70s movie ‘Silver Streak’ was a comedy revolving around a ‘long-distance’ train trip. The Art Deco Silver Streak train was indeed, a long distance machine, just as our Insight (with its own Art Deco look) will be.The Insight has a striking resemblance to the 1948 Pontiac Silver Streak – from its sensuously rounded curves to the near horizontal rear window and down to its rear fender skirts, and the Insight’s aero wind-cheating shape embodies that of the 40′s Pontiac with the same name. I think the name fits :-)

Some may recall this car has already been in the spotlight years ago, when in 2001 it graced the cover of ‘Car Audio and Electronics’ magazine. Search ‘Hybrid Heaven Car Audio’ to find the original story and photos. Back then, the emphasis was on the soundoff quality audio system’s light weight components so as not to interfere with the car’s mission of being very light weight. I’m happy to report that ultra hi fi system is alive and well, and it will stay in the car. My 2000 Insight has 45,000 actual miles on it, and it’s in mint condition. It’s IMA inverter/controller and NiMH battery pack were swapped out for new items at 41,000 miles under a warranty situation, and its 3 cylinder lean-burn engine runs like new – yet here I am, about to tear the entire car down! Someone out there looking for perhaps a replacement power train for their Insight will have hit the jackpot if they get these from my car – the 3 banger with just 45,000 easy miles on it, and the IMA/battery system with just 4000 miles of use.

White Zombie has pretty much settled the argument of whether or not an electric car could provide muscle car acceleration (or better), so we are now moving onto the open road for the Silver Streak ‘long distance’ project. It will take an extraordinary battery pack to accomplish our goal, so we have once again partnered with Dow Kokam.This time, it’s one of distance rather than ultimate acceleration. The challenge is simple and straight forward – travel from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington and back on a single charge at the posted freeway speed limits in a converted modern production car for ~ 350 miles at 55-70 mph on the I-5 freeway system.

To accomplish this we needed to have a very high capacity battery pack, and we now have the cells to do it. The much-awaited shipment of LiPol cells were delivered on Tuesday this week, when 1300 lbs. of lithium arrived at the NorthWest Handling Systems shipping dock. Just shy of 1000 lbs. of these are earmarked for the Insight project. When completed, the pack will be a 318V, 225 ah, 71.5 kWh LiPol setup consisting of 258 cells in a 3P86S design employing Dow Kokam’s 75 ah high power cells. These are similar to the ultra high power cells we use in the Zombie, but they are not as outrageously powerful as those smaller 30 ahr cells. They do however, have a higher energy density – perfect for a range oriented car. The Zombie’s cells can crank-out 40C currents (1200 amps), where these are more like 10C – still, 750 amps from each cell is nothing to sneeze at. As used in this pack, even this level of power density will be way overkill. To get the ahrs up, the cells will be paralleled in groups of three to make 225 ah, then those buddied cells will be strung 86 long to get to 318V. Three cells in parallel raise the 10 second max current rating to 2250 amps, but the Insight will never tap into that level, as the peak amp pull will be in the 300 amp range for the 100 kW inverter and about 600 amps for the optional 200 kW inverter – yes, I’m still weighing my inverter options. With the 100 kW inverter 0-60 should come up in about 8-9 seconds, with the 200 kW inverter 0-60 should be in the 5 second range. Cruise current at 65 mph should be very low, in the 30-35 amp range…even lower to about 25 amps at 55 mph.

Whichever inverter way I go, Metric Mind, longtime sponsors of Plasma Boy Racing, will be deep into this project with us. Over the years, Victor Tichonov and I have taken jabs at one another on the various discussion groups in the never ending AC vs DC argument, but we’ve always had respect for each other. In fact, even though most think he’s an AC-only type of guy, Victor has always been there at the drag track cheering on the DC powered Zombie, and his company is one of our great sponsors – I’m still crazy over his EVision all-encompassing EV battery and performance monitoring system with its artfully executed brightly lit LED display! One will be used in this project. On the flip side, as I usually argue in favor of affordable and very powerful DC drives, so many may think I’m an DC-only type of guy, but that is far from the truth. My work as a forklift tech. has me immersed in AC drives every day, and I’ve been involved with AC powered EVs for a very long time. Both drive types have their place, but have advantages and disadvantages, for sure. DC still rules the drag strip in four wheeled vehicles, and this Spring we are looking to push into the 9s with the Zombie, but for Silver Streak, it’s AC, baby!

We are of course, staying with Manzanita Micro as our battery charger experts. A custom liquid-cooled charger is being built for us. We will be using the same Bruce Sherry designed wonderful 8 ch. BMS as is used in the Zombie. Bruce’s SOC gauge, too will be used. The Metric Mind EVision system will also be used – can’t have enough instrumentation in this car! We will have the ability to transmit data from the road, so full and open data will stream from the car as we travel the freeway system, negotiate hills, regen down the hills, and drive in city traffic.

Another terrific sponsor is FabTek, our suspension and brake experts that helped transform the Zombie’s under-performing front suspension and wimpy stock brakes into high performance items that helped the car set new world record ETs. FabTek is on board to redo the Insight’s suspension and do the structural mods needed to help the aluminum-bodied car handle a half ton of LiPol cells.

The heart of Silver Streak will be a genuine EV1 motor/transaxle setup powered by either the aforementioned 100 kw MES inverter or possibly a prototype Metric Mind 200 kw inverter. You’ll find lots of references to the EV1 as this projects unfolds, as the thrust in this whole project is to take both the EV1′s light and powerful AC induction motor and Honda’s original Insight to the levels they both should have attained. Go back to the introduction of the 2000 Honda Insight, America’s first hybrid, and remember how Honda made fun of cars that had to be plugged-in…then realize that still today, Honda does not embrace full electric drive. It’s my opinion that the Insight should have been offered as a full electric in addition to the hybrid model. Now go back to earlier on in this decade and remember GM crushing to death the EV1. The Insight’s body size, teardrop aero shape (including rear fender skirts and narrower-than-front rear track), and low curb weight were all derived from the EV1 (Honda even admits this).
GM had a red EV1 test car with a lithium pack – I saw it with my own eyes, but it too, was crushed. The special combination of an Insight powered by an EV1 AC drive with energy coming from a high storage capacity lithium pack is definitely going to raise a few eyebrows!

Considering the .25 cd aero capabilities of a stock Insight, its LRR tires mounted on ultra-light alloy wheels (identical tire and wheel size as the EV1), projected converted weight hundreds of lbs. lighter than an EV1, and the super efficient AC drive, I’m predicting an efficiency of 185 Wh per mile at 65 mph, or 386 miles @ 65 mph on level ground. As a comparison point, the EV1 was more aero at .19 cd but it was heavier – it achieved 167 Wh per mile at 65 mph. At 55 mph, Silver Streak’s efficiency should improve to about 160 Wh per mile, so a steady state 55 mph on level ground would give close to 450 miles. The 2723 lb. Tesla with its 53 kWh pack can do 245 miles per charge in spite of its so-so aero and 225 section width rear tires.

The round trip drive on I-5 between Portland and Seattle is a mix of long flat runs but also miles of grades to negotiate, too…the regen will come in handy to recoup things on the downhill portions. The grand plan is to make the run in style flanked by a squadron of Teslas while a film crew captures the entire affair. In fact, producer Vince Patton (Oregon Field Guide ’07 Zombie video) has already begun filming of this exciting project that will show the world what Honda and GM could have done! We’ve already got some footage of Chris Paine (Who Killed the Electric Car?) and I discussing the project while looking at photos of the saved-from-the-crusher EV1 motor. Our own J Bills will be capturing everything on video as well.

There’s more exciting things planned for 2011, so stay tuned!

See Ya…John Wayland

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