Resurrecting a Vintage Electric Vehicle is Hard | The Drive

If there’s one sign of how far electric vehicles have come over the past few decade, it’s Duff Beer Racing’s resurrection of a classic 1980s Jet Electrica 007 EV. It’s a Dodge Omni, except Jet provided its state-of-the-oil-crisis electric motors and batteries to power it.


Early electric vehicles were mostly meant to be city cars with relatively short ranges and low speeds. The point in the seventies and eighties was more to be efficient transportation in the aftermath of an unstable oil market, not to dominate the drag strip or wow people with range. So, of course the Duff Beer Racing crew made their early eighties EV into a road-legal endurance race car-and they’re not afraid to take long trips with it, even if those turn into a scenic tour of public charging stations.


Tesla won’t be the first electric vehicle company to set up shop in Austin. Before them, there was Jet Industries, which decided to branch out from its usual electric work vans into street cars. According the 24 Hours of Lemons, Jet based its roadgoing EVs off of complete Ford Escorts and Dodge Omni 024s/Plymouth Horizon TC3s (hooray badge engineering!) purchased sans engines. In went stiffer rear suspensions, a series of batteries, an EV1 controller and a 23-horsepower electric forklift motor, but it kept the transmission, which in the Omni-based Electricas was a Volkswagen four-speed transaxle. The top speed? Roughly 55 mph.


Naturally, Duff Beer’s weird mishmash of Austin-hippie electro-dreams and general dodginess found its home in the 24 Hours of Lemons, a series that encourages people to enter cars that never belonged on a race track into amateur endurance races.


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The team has tried numerous upgrades to get their Jet Electrica 007 to go just a bit faster, charge more efficiently and run more reliably. For its first race at Carolina Motorsports Park, the golf cart batteries that came stock in the Electrica were swapped for modern deep-cycle marine batteries. The team had to pause that race when a mouse nest built inside the motor caught on fire and started smoking. Turns out, varmints love to build nests in old EVs, too!
They also had to pull in every three or four laps to swap in recharged batteries, and learned along the way that fire ants are extremely attracted to electrical currents-which the small army of chargers (which were originally meant to use with a crop-dusting drone, but had been modified) generated a lot of.


For what it’s worth, this was still safer than the charging setup for Lemons’ first electric car, a forklift-motor-swapped Datsun Roadster, which ran at MSR-Houston. The batteries were charging out in the open, and because it’s a Gulf coast race, it rained. The race organizers weren’t too pleased.


After getting the full deep-south fire ant experience, Duff Beer moved to an 88-hp brushless motor paired to a Curtis controller and Chevrolet Volt lithium-ion batteries. They’re still hot-swapping these batteries in the pits for races, too, as each battery set is on a custom frame that drops in and out of the hatch of the car.


But wait! Endurance racing an obscure 88-hp EV wasn’t enough. They started taking it on the 24 Hours of Lemons’ road-based offshoot, the Lemons Rally. Think of the Lemons Rally like a big interstate scavenger hunt. There are start and end points for each night and various roadside attractions and oddities to find along the way.


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I met the team when they did the Florida Man Poker Run Lemons Rally in 2019, where they tried putting a generator in the front …
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