Norman Cox figures his 1977 Volkswagen Rabbit gets the equivalent of about 130 miles to the gallon – primarily because it doesn’t run on gasoline.
Cox bought the Rabbit in the 1980s with the idea of converting it into an electric car, an idea he’d been kicking around since the oil embargo of 1973. “I drove it for a year, and it was a real lemon,” says Cox, an associate professor of electrical engineering at UMR.
After tearing out the engine, changing the master cylinder of the brake system and spending about $3,000 on the overall conversion project, Cox had the butterscotch-colored Volkswagen driving like a real cherry of a car. Now, the electrically charged Rabbit has 75,000 miles on it.
“I think I’ve only replaced a few cylinders, a wheel barring, two sets of tires and some windshield wiper blades, things like that,” says Cox, who often drives the electric car back and forth to work. “There’s no muffler to worry about, no antifreeze, no oil changes or tune-ups – but I do have to shell out about $1,000 for new batteries every four years.”
Under the hood, a massive array of batteries powers the car’s electric motor. There are also 10 batteries in the back seat for extra energy. The car goes about 70 mph on highways, but Cox usually drives slower to conserve electricity and increase the amount of time between recharging sessions, which last up to eight hours.
In addition to driving the Rabbit to work, Cox likes to take it out to his organic tomato farm. The tomatoes are heated and cooled in greenhouses, using solar energy. An advisor to UMR’s first Solar Car Team, Cox is also trying to devise a good way to recharge his electrical car with the sun’s rays.
“I figure the car costs me about 2.2 cents per mile to operate,” Cox says. “I do check the battery water regularly. Adding the water probably costs me two dollars a year.”
Meanwhile, Cox isn’t spending much time worrying about gas prices. “If anyone tells you an electrical car isn’t practical,” he says, “they’re wrong.”