Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Electric Dodge Colt Update: Long-Lost Siblings Found For Sale, Running & in Great Condition

 This week I learned a lot about the provenance of the Electric Colt pictured above!

Folks who have seen my "History & Advantages of EV's" presentation know that it begins with a little story about how back in April of 2006, I showed Matt an ad in a Quaker (Friends) newsletter for a used EV for sale and within a couple of weeks we were the innocent and proud new owners of the Electric Colt.  We had no idea what it was gonna get us into.

Matt got busy learning all about EV's by working on one, and I got busy learning why EV's were so great and making a little movie on the topic which of course featured the Colt.  My daughter's friend Corday, who was 12 or 13 at the time, shot the footage for me (it was her family's video camera) and Matt narrated the test drive; then I taught myself Moviemaker and found a lot of images on the internet and thrillingly got to use one of those headset microphones in order to record the voice-over that little 6-minute piece, the basis for the History & Advantages talk I give to this day.  (Now my talks are longer & even better because story-telling performances lend themselves to artful improvisation.)   The film was made for & debuted at the 2nd annual PA Energy Festival in 2006.

At the Energy Fest of course I had a nonstop blast (replicated on the 3rd weekend of September every year since) talking to people face-to-face about electric cars!  Oh my gosh that turned out to be the most fun thing in the world, even better than making movies about them!   It was at Energy Fest 2006 that I met my very first fellow EV-driver, Don Barry, who came to our booth to tell me about the 1993 Nissan pick-up he converted in 1999 and had been driving ever since.  (He brought it to the EV-ent in Macungie in April 2011 and I finally got to see it!)

In the fall of 2006 I also hadn't seen Who Killed the Electric Car yet, but it was released over the summer, and just reading about it in detail had galvanized me into action.  Immediately after Energy Fest I contacted Mike Parker on the West Coast and then Bill Kirkpatrick at the North Montco Technical Career Center, and launched the months of planning & attempted fundraising in aid of our workshop dream.  None of the fundraising efforts came through (except for $350 from Whole Foods for sandwiches for our participants, not much of a payoff for six months' worth of work!), but a financial gift from my father-in-law Tom Perkins gave Bucks County Renewables the funds it needed to put on our first workshop and successfully (anyone who was there would testify miraculously) convert our 1985 Volkswagen Vanagon into the e-Van.

So that was our first workshop funding stream!  And the little Colt that started it all was somewhat neglected once the e-Van rolled in August, 2007.  More than somewhat -- I confess that it sat unsheltered in our driveway while its car cover resided dry & safe in our basement for several years.  We at Bucks County Renewables do not wish to endorse or promote such behavior.  We can assure you that it attracts karma (but that's another post).

The tender-hearted among you will be relieved to learn that the Colt has been safely sheltered indoors at NMTCC since we moved it there in anticipation of a spring workshop in 2010 that never materialized.  (No funding stream!)  Saint Bill and his elves get to play with it occasionally.  Meanwhile when suddenly a funding stream in the form of a financial gift from my parents presented itself -- plus winning a set of batteries -- allowed us to proceed with the 2011 workshop we snubbed the Colt dreadfully in favor of pulling the engine out of a running 1990 Miata.  Oh dear, little Colt, you must have lost hope!  But never fear!

In the last week I've been researching your provenance pursuant to establishing your value and perhaps seeking to donate you as a project vehicle.  I've been in contact with your original owner Anne Moore on and off since we bought you; she and her husband Tom were active members of the Eastern Electric Vehicle Club beginning in 1991.

Anne has continued to serve the club since Tom's vibrant passing in 2008 by mailing out the paper newsletter monthly without fail.  All EEVC members know her handwriting on the little post-it notes that remind us annually when we're due for renewal!   I get a Christmas card from her every year, and was delighted to have the opportunity last week to call her and report that, after  years of finding no similar Dodge Colt to ours on the internet, I had suddenly stumbled across one in mint condition -- only 510 miles on the odometer -- for sale on Craigslist for $8600. (Yes this was synchronistic -- that is how we roll here.)

The ad has now expired but I hope to post details & photos shortly!  I got in touch with the gentleman who has the Colt on offer right away and learned that he actually has a 2nd one for sale in Sebring, FL where the vehicles were originally converted.  I had known all along that these conversions happened in Florida and that there were several of them; I have, I now realize somewhat thoughtlessly, repeated the understanding I have that ten of them were converted all at once in a mini-fleet endeavor.

Both Anne & the Gentleman With Two Running Colt EV's were vague about the total number that were converted and I still don't know that for sure.   But until I spoke with these two other Electric Colt owners and then did a little internet research, I didn't fully grasp that you, little Colt, were converted in at Sebring Auto Cycle in Sebring, FL, in the very same location where all CitiCars and ComutaCars were built -- and where a gathering of Citi-Cars will be occurring Oct 13-20th in conjunction with Sebring FL's 100th anniversary. My goodness!

Remember these?! I hope so ... what I really am curious about if you're reading this long caption is what is that vehicle in the background of this shot, it's not an EV.*
In 1991-2 the original Citi & Comuta-Car business in FL, now known as Sebring Auto Cycle, was owned by a gentleman named Jim Tervort.  After buying the remaining assets of the Comuta-Car company along with a consortium of employees, he designed & manufactured one last original vehicle, a 3-wheeled EV called the Zzipper

Anne & Tom bought a Zzipper from Jim and struggled fondly with it for a while before replacing it with the Colt (converting these Colts was apparently Sebring Auto Cycle's last gasp, and it may have been financed by Chrysler -- I can't find the darn link that told me that!).

Sidebar for frenzied EV history buffs like myself: the Zzipper was freaking nifty; in addition to being charged by a plug, it was designed to charge while being towed behind an RV and then used to freewheel around efficiently while the RV stayed put!  So clever!  You can read all about it here on the original Triton brochure (it got renamed later) and see one that is still preserved by Dennis Merritt here

Sidebar for frenzied 3-wheeler buffs: a nice roundup of optimal urban commuter vehicles from endless-sphere.com's Electric Vehicle Technology Forum

Back to our story: The Moores hoped to utilize their Zzipper on more than on just occasional camping outings.  The one they bought from Jim Tervort was the first imported north.  It had to be heavily modded for PA streets and winters; Anne laughingly relates that Tom wound up staying in FL for months helping rebuild it as Jim feverishly re-designed the vehicle!  Their adventures in their quirky little 3-wheeler were amusingly and honestly chronicled in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Feb 26, 1992 (Anne and the members of the EEVC have even more stories about its unsuitability).

Soon after that Inquirer article ran, the Moores traded the Zzipper in for the Electric Colt and achieved thier goal of a ZEV daily driver.  It burned through the original motor in 1998 and in 2002 was still getting 40 miles on a charge.  By this time they had racked up 18,000 miles on our Colt, using it to shop, run errands and live daily life in their Main Line community of Wayne, PA.  When they moved into a Quaker retirement community in West Chester they passed it on to their nephew Tom Hoopes -- then working for the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, for which I had volunteered for years on behalf of the Friends Peace Committee.

Anne hasn't seen me speak, so she doesn't know that when I am giving talks promoting EV's I have a slide where I always point out the "WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER" bumper sticker on the Colt (there when we got it) and the "PEACE ON EARTH" graffiti which was still festooning the Vanagon while it was on the lift waiting to be converted.  (Turns out tempera paint is a very longlasting medium!)  In my mind, the Colt and the e-Van (originally named "die Sprite" but known by the kids at my children's Friends School as "the Peacewagon") have always been deeply connected by their roots in the notion that the car you drive every day can be a mindful, political choice and part of a daily practice of nonviolence.  A way not to participate in the craziness.

Back in March 2005, when die Sprite was still running as an ICE vehicle and I seriously did not know that there was such a thing as an electric car, I painted my message of peace on the side and headed off to a peace rally & walk from Lambertville, NJ  to New Hope PA in observation of the second anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  I was amazed at what a durable medium tempera paint turned out to be -- it simply lasted and lasted, and was still clearly visible when the van went up on the lift on July 30, 2007.  I washed it off in case the press came to our roll-out but they didn't. 

The Second Gulf War, alas, outlasted the Peacewagon's message.  By some definitions it continues to this day: eight and a half years and $9.5 billion later, as of June this year 44,000 U.S. troops were still stationed in the ruins of one of the oldest civilizations on earth.  How many deaths and how many gallons of oil turned into pollution or single-use, throwaway containers later, what a waste it's been.

The Second Gulf War outlasted the organized peace movement too.  As the war went on and on (and Afghanistan was added to the front) protests dwindled.  I remember that 2nd year rally as being invigorated, the 3rd year dispirited, maybe I skipped the 4th and by the time the 5th anniversary rolled around MoveOn.org, which started as a peace network, had become an organized focus for Obama's election and there were no more peace rallies to be found.  The war had become nearly invisible, a strangely unacknowledged, uncompromising drain on our country's resources, strangely absent from the table of the election just as it had been in 2004.

In the huh-nothing-changed-that-much Democratic regime activism has not disappeared; it's not even underground, but it has become engaged with building community, instead of mobilizing protest.  The explosive growth in farmer's markets, buy-local movements, co-operative agricultural arrangements like CSA's and grass-roots educational efforts signal that the organizing spirit is still there, focused on where we can make a difference.

One by one, each one teach one, we can create thriving communities.  And we can grow ourselves, because it turns out that love leads to learning and learning leads to unexpected new things.  

5 years ago Matt wanted to play with an EV, I thought having one would be a great way to act for peace every day, and we both thought it would be cool to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

In the intervening half-decade I've sponsored three hands-on EV conversion workshops, exhibited and talked about EV's in a variety of venues, been called by reporters and asked to write articles, gotten to play with designing all kinds of promotional materials, learned how to write a budget and a grant proposal, overseen the development of a formal written curriculum, and engaged in a formal joint venture with the Green Jobs Academy of Bucks County Community College.  Quite a journey was launched when I first started noodling around with the Bucks County Renewables logo!

you gotta have a logo if you have a dream
Along the way the automobile-driving public in the U.S. has obviously become aware of EV's in a new way so I think we at Bucks County Renewables can pat ourselves on the back for having fulfilled our mission to promote EV's as a solution to our cultural dependence on fossil fuels and to help jump-start systematic instruction in our local high schools & community colleges!

Acquiring the Colt led to the two running EV's we proudly possess now.  First, die Sprite -- first reborn as a fully battery-electric vehicle, now finally ready to step out in roadworthy fashion and drive to a Volkswagen Van campout this weekend in Green Lane PA after being showcased at the PA Energy Fest just recently.  Second, the Red Hot 50-mile Electric Miata converted this summer, which has finally achieved the original goal Matt & I had along: an electric car that would comfortably accomplish a 30-mile round-trip commute in the evening, with no time to charge back up.  Who-hoo!

Acquiring the Colt also led to an incredible amount of fun,  including getting to test-drive a Tesla and Ken's mini-E (sorry I was such a wimp, Ken), talk about EV's with a beer in one hand and a clicker in the other at Green Drinks, stay overnight in a solar-powered cottage in the Poconos and tour a geodesic greenhouse, see a demonstration of Nikola Tesla's historic coil energized at midnight on Independence Mall, camp and hang out around the bonfire at one fantastic Energy Fest after another, and connect with so many wonderful people that 160+ blogposts haven't begun to be able to capture them all.

Finally, acquiring the Colt led me, just last week, to speak with two of the original adopters who bought an Electric Colt of their own when it was first rolling out -- all fresh & shiny & full of hope in 1992 -- of the same workshop that previously brought forth the Comuta-Car and the Citi-Car, examples of which I have seen many times on display at shows without knowing that our cars were connected.

I was so surprised to learn that my EV passion was originally stimulated by a vehicle with an actual pedigree: one built in Sebring FL, on the successive foundations of dreams for real choice and real change, a business that began in the 1970's and passed through several owners before the Colt was created and -- much later -- came into our hands.

The whole experience has rendered me even more historically-minded and long-winded than usual on this blog, for which I will not apologize because I had so much fun writing this review of the entire past 5 years and I am sure that if you followed all the way through you also did not mind!

Stay tuned for news of the e-Van's outing this weekend, doubtless also super-educational. 

* If you stuck through this whole long blogpost to the point of reading this footnote & still have an appetite for more, click on that photo from the Deer Lodge MT Automobile Museum. You will land on the (fairly current) blog of the senior citizen who posted this photo along the way while she's endeavoring to kayak in all 50 states -- oh my -- long caption, but worth clicking thru if you stuck it out, she does sketches for gas money and is kinda amazing! And don't forget to let me know if you too think that might be an Austin Taxi.


Anonymous said...

London taxicab :-)

Anonymous said...

Having known Jim Tervort I know of his working on the concept of an electric car years befor he purchased this dying company. I have seen him power a primitive camp in Ocala and pass this knowledge to others.

This man has been and always be a head of his time.