CNN’s “The Next List” recently took a trip to Syyn Labs in Los Angeles. It’s a creative and technological collective that we will feature on our weekly show, which airs on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET. While we were there, we met Dan Busby, a physicist, artist and tinkerer – who also turned a Triumph Spitfire into an electric car.
We had a quick chat with Busby about his homemade “Electric Triumph.” You can see a video of him showing it off above. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. And don’t forget to check Syyn Labs out on CNN this Sunday.
CNN: Where did you find the car?
Busby: I bought the car off of Craigslist for $500. The Triumph Spitfire was a very popular car in its heyday. They sold hundreds of thousands of them from 1962 to 1980. My Spitfire is an early model, which has more chrome and is called a “round-tail” by the aficionados. You don’t see many of the cars on the road today because of their relatively finicky components. They are usually somebody’s 2nd car, so when they break down they get stuffed inside of a garage, only to resurface decades later at a bargain price.
CNN: How long did it take to complete the project?
Busby: It took me one year of restoration and conversion to get the car into a drivable state. I had to rebuild the brakes, steering, and suspension. I removed the faded paint and brought it down to the bare metal before putting on a fresh coat of British racing green. I had to redo all of the interior and most of the electrics. I had to fabricate motor mounts and battery trays to hold the new components, and couple motor to the drivetrain. Although the vehicle is driving, I’ve got a long list of small things that need work. Whether it is installing a radio or tweaking the battery management system, there is always something that needs doing. A project like this is never really “complete.”
CNN: What specific lessons did you learn during the project?
Busby: Naturally I learned a lot about automobile restoration and electric car drivetrains. Probably the biggest lesson I learned is that much of the auto work is doable by a novice, but there are some jobs that are best left to the professionals. Sometimes holding your nose and paying a big bill will save you a bigger headache later. I had a great deal of help from friends who were more knowledgeable than me. Sometimes a bribery bottle (or six) go a long way towards getting some valuable help.
CNN: What advice would you lead to someone interested in doing this?
Busby: If someone wants to begin a conversion, I always give them my full support. But I don’t let them think its going to be easy. There are many ways to convert a car: A cheap, short-ranged, grocery getter. An expensive, fast, commuter. A long range, slow, pick up truck. Everyone has a different car that they want and different budgets. There are plenty of conversion examples and resources online. Read, read, read, read. But at some point you’ll have to plunge in and start your own conversion. Start with a car that you’re going to want to drive. Find a forum and ask lots of stupid questions, the EV community is friendly and helpful. Before you know it you’ll take that first drive out of the garage and your face will be plastered with the legendary “EV Grin”.
CNN: How fast can that baby go?
Busby: I’ve had the car up to about 80 mph. At that point the tiny size and ‘60s construction of the Spitfire become readily apparent. I usually cruise at 60-65mph to maximize my own comfort and range of the batteries. LA traffic keeps me from having an opportunity to speed anyway.
CNN: What car are you doing next?
Busby: I’m actually working on a pedal powered vehicle built completely from scratch. It’s an 8 person kinetic sculpture that looks much like a driving banquet table, complete with a chandelier dangling overhead. It’s called A Moveable Feast. We’ve got plans to serve fancy dinners prepared by molecular gastronomists, served off of silver and fine china while we cruise through downtown or on a beach boardwalk. We’re working hard on the frame, suspension, and drivetrain right now. We hope to have it on the road next month.