A biased review of Ingenious

Let me preface this review by stating that I approached Jason Fagone’s Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive America with the bias that comes from being a lover of cars, a believer in electric vehicles, and an XPRIZE contender.

One of Fagone’s strengths as a non-fiction writer is his ability to take fact and tell it in a way that reads like a novel, full of characters, dramatic scenes, a pace with much forward momentum, and even subtle parallels one would find in a great work of fiction.

Only this is real. It happened, mostly under the radar of the mass media. Fagone was there and dutifully soaked in the details, taking endless notes and fact checking like crazy afterwards to make sure he produced not only an engaging, entertaining read, but one built upon journalistic integrity.

It is a compelling account of a largely overlooked historic event. It is the tale of ordinary people with audacious dreams who stepped up to do what the major automotive manufacturers have not. And it is written in such a way that one does not need a background in engineering to understand and appreciate. Fagone is that good at translating the technical jargon.

Even though I was there for parts of the competition, even though I knew how the story ends, while listening to this audio book I found myself cheering the teams, on the verge of tears during one scene at knockout because other “characters” were crying, and giddy at the “race” itself. I was experiencing it again and yet for the first time, as if maybe, just maybe, the ending would be different for some teams.

I’m a natural pessimist, and yet upon finishing this book I came away with the feeling of a rekindled excitement, a hope for the future, and much, much love. The book, as I read it, is a success, and one I hope you will enjoy.

Representing EVs at the Route 66 Mother Road Festival

Seven was on display September 28-29, 2013 at the 12th Annual Route 66 International Mother Road Festival. I’d like to take a moment and thank the organizers for putting on a fine car show and giving us a venue in which to engage the public. There was a constant crowd of people around Seven that weekend and Team IMW was busy fielding questions about the car in particular and about EVs in general. It was an educational outreach to hundreds of people, most of whom were eager to know about the present and future of EV technology.

I’d also like to thank the team for putting in long hours to answer questions. It wouldn’t have been a success without your one-on-one question and answer sessions.

I’m pleased at the overall response from the people who stopped to check out the car. Seven is still a work in progress and this was yet another big event where she appeared in primer. There’s a lot to be done to make her a show worthy car, but most people were more interested in how she worked than the “pardon our dust” interior or the lack of shiny paint. They were amazed that the technology to build a 207 MPGe sedan is available right now and some were frustrated that the auto manufacturers weren’t doing all they can to offer a truly high MGPe vehicle to the market.

To the man who respectfully asked “Why are EVs so ugly,” I say thank you for asking. You broached a subject many in the crowd were wondering themselves. That question gave Kevin an opportunity to talk about the change in aerodynamics from the antique cars parked around us to the present and how aerodynamics really matters to move a car efficiently down the road. Truly aerodynamic cars look weird to us because our automotive manufacturers have relied on cheap gas for so long. It allowed them to produce large cars (without regard to air drag) that remain familiar to our sense of what a car should look like. Gas isn’t cheap anymore, so we either have to spend more of our monthly budget to feed our gas tanks or accept new concepts of what makes a car and how it should be powered.

Large manufacturers won’t introduce bold new concepts to their show rooms unless they’re sure the public will respond by buying or signing leases. Somehow we need to let them know that we’re ready. Make it efficient, affordable, with a decent range and we’ll be there to sign on the dotted line.

When IMW started building Seven for the Automotive X Prize, there were no mass-produced 100 MPGe vehicles. Now there are some models available. I drive a 112MPGe i-MiEV, thanks to the drastic discounts available because the manufacturers are learning that the people who need fuel-efficient cars the most are the ones who can’t afford a $30,000 + car. A $69/month lease might be a loss for the manufacturer, but it sure helps those of us who took advantage of the deal spread the word about EVs. Strangers ask us questions. They consider the crazy idea of putting electricity into the car instead of gas. And it’s a little less scary when they see it in action on the streets of their town.

So what can we do? Stop buying the SUVs. Encourage manufacturers by buying the most fuel efficient cars (gas or electric) that meet our needs and our pocketbooks. Keep preaching the gospel of electric vehicles. Studies show that word of mouth is still the most trusted news source. You are the new media. Get the word out.

The Return of Seven

Re-designed Seven at Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

Re-designed Seven at Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

The resurrection of Seven is upon us. The wait is over. As we breathe new life into the redesigned and re-engineered Seven it’s important to remember what hasn’t changed and why: its heart and soul, the spirit that first brought Seven into existence. We have been anxiously planning several public events to celebrate the completion of the project. The best way to celebrate, and the best way to educate the public, is to take her out for a spin and take as many of our friends and followers with for a ride. Come see what makes Seven tick, what we’ve changed, and what’s next for the Illuminati and Seven. Most importantly, come to get a ride and experience for yourself, if you haven’t before, what makes the EV revolution tick…zip…grin.

Seven, originally built to compete in the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE, a competition to build the world’s first consumer-viable 100+ MPGe vehicle, was capable of: 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds, 130 mph top speed, an EPA tested 207.5 MPGe, and 216 mile range on a single charge. With everything Seven could do it still had rough spots that needed smoothing and weak links that needed replacing. So we cut, sanded, ground, bolted, imagined and created … with the help of a few talented individuals. And we finally came up with a fully composite body, custom single speed transmission and coupler, and someday maybe even a paint job.

Seven’s new body, to replace the old, and to our surprise unstable spray-foam core body, is constructed completely of high strength composites including carbon fiber, Kevlar, and honeycomb. Thanks to Reg Schmeiss of Motorvation Inc. for the help, guidance, education and his infinite patience. The new body is lighter, stronger, cleaner and has a more aggressive look. Other body design changes include reduced frontal area, raised hood angle to increase downforce at higher speeds, and a tapered back end incorporating tail fins to fit more with the original concept design and to help prevent the ill effects of undirected air-wash off the back of the car.

The custom gears for the transmission were designed and built by John Frana of Frana Vehicles (815-639-9183) and they are beautiful. At almost 4 inches wide, made from heat treated gear steel, this gear set has a ratio of 1.11 to 1, bringing our overall reduction, including the all new differential (also made by Frana Vehicles) to 4.1:1. Our transmission is no longer a weak link.

There are many other improvements in the planning stages for Seven, but more about that as they happen.

If you’d like a chance to see Seven in person, head out to EVCCON 2013 in Cape Girardeau, Missouri from August 6th thru the 11th. Seven, along with dozens of other electric vehicles, will be on display. Presenters from many of the top minds today in the EV conversion world will also be attending. Better yet, come to EVCCON to experience Seven for yourself (check the public day(s) schedule at EVTV.ME for details on times and locations).

I owe more than a few of you rides…since I have a habit of burning up clutches and breaking transmissions. And yes there is a difference: one costs you $5,000,000, yes that’s million, when it burns up. The other costs $5,000 for some custom gears when you break the old ones. I’ve done both if you haven’t guessed and breaking gears is a lot more fun, dramatic, and cost effective. So, back to the ride part, did I say ride??? Why yes I did! Everyone knows of my filibuster prowess, and yes even I know that no one wants to hear it, so let’s go for a ride and get the biggest EV grin of your life!

Ingenious BookThe big news for this year is the upcoming book by Jason Fagone: “Ingenious: A true story of invention, automotive daring, and the race to revive America.” Due out 11/5/2013 and available now for pre-order at Amazon.com. The story of a small group of tinkerers, garage hackers, racers, and entrepreneurs who tried to do something they were told was impossible: build the world’s first 100 MPGe car. This is more than the story of Seven, it is the story of American ingenuity. It is the story of all of us who have walked out into an empty garage, rolled up our sleeves and with no more than our imagination filled that empty space and drove out in something we created.

It’s your turn to start filling that empty space, so take advantage of this opportunity before it slips, like a clutch, through your fingers, and come to EVCCON in Cape Girardeau, Missouri on August 6th-11th and see Seven. Better yet, come to EVCCON and experience this car first hand by getting to ride in Seven! And let’s find out together what we’re now all capable of: high MPGe, 0-60, grins per mile, so we can create what is possible for the future.

Adler After Dark: Future Tech, July 18, 2013

Seven’s first big appearance is scheduled for July 18 at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. Their Adler After Dark series will be focusing on “Future Tech” that night, starting at 6:30.

“The future is now at Adler After Dark! Join us as we explore how our predecessors envisioned a fantastical future, and check out current world-changing technologies and ideas at our “Future Tech” marketplace. Exhibitors will be here demonstrating next-gen technology like 3D printing, green skyscrapers, and more. And don’t forget to grab a George Jetson cocktail and check out our “Inventing the Future” TED-style panel discussions where industry leaders will be discussing topics ranging from battery-powered vehicles to visualizing our amazing universe.”

Seven will be in primer for a while – we don’t want to have the paint job done until we’re sure we’re done with the improvements. So if you see Seven, she will be matte black.

Keeping in mind that the transmission is custom made, has very little miles on it, and absolutely no slop in the tolerances, there is a chance that history may repeat itself. Kevin is taking her for a drive up into the Chicago suburbs this weekend as a test run and we’re keeping fingers crossed.

That said, if you want to see Seven there, I caution against buying advance tickets and ask you to stay tuned to our Twitter and Facebook pages for any updates.

For more info on the event, go to: http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/adler-after-dark

Learning Curves

The rebuild of Seven’s body, once upon a time a ‘winter’ project, has been a very long haul…did I ever say which winter it was supposed to be??? We may finally be approaching the downhill side. This can be difficult to determine since I don’t know where the top of this particular proverbial hill is. Who knows? Reg does. Reg is, of course, our instructor, guide and composites expert who has been coming out to help and teach us how to rebuild Seven’s body with high performance composites. Since he works at about three times the speed of the rest of us combined, it’s been us trying to keep up and learn everything Reg has to teach while he does his magic. Doing is learning – anything else is academic B.S. — and we’ve been learning a lot.

The proof of my last statement has come in the times between Reg’s visits, when the IMW team has had to try and get enough done so it looks like we’ve actually been doing something before Reg’s next visit. Even though that gave us several months, making composite parts is an art and a new skill set we’re just developing. During Reg’s absence’s we learned to make molds of the body panels, doing our best to copy what he had shown us. Looking at all the pictures we had taken during Reg’s previous visits, and the occasional last minute paniced call to Reg for help while our epoxy was hardening in some misshapen blob, we followed Reg’s instructions, looked at pics when we weren’t sure, traded a few emails and…sometimes guessed on some of the minor things.

Reg had shown us many tricks and shortcuts for potential problem areas that could be addressed more easily in the cleanup of a mold or part instead of fighting an impossible battle while trying to make the piece. So, by following his way of laying up the parts and planning out the builds we got through them with minimal difficulty. The hardest part was having enough confidence in ourselves to just do it. We started with the small parts, making molds and followed up with fixing and prepping them so we’d be ready to make parts from the molds once Reg came for his next visit. We then worked our way up to making a few of the simpler parts, incorporating every technique we could each time so as to gain experience on the easier components with all the composites materials, e.g., carbon fiber, Kevlar, and honeycomb, so that when we actually needed to use these materials in the build of the more difficult to construct parts we’d already have some practice. It worked beautifully, not to mention having the added side effect of making the small parts WAY stronger and lighter then they ever needed to be. You know me: always overbuilding on the side of strength.

We’ve progressed from shaping the new car body, which we used as the plug for the molds, to making molds, to making composite body panels on our own — something we only daydreamed about just a year ago. And although it’s taken longer than expected and cost a few more ducketts to boot, when compared to a semester of college for an entire group of people, it’s been cheap and an educationally profitable endeavor.

That brings us to where we’re at now. The body panels have all been made and are ready to be fitted to the car and then we’re done. Right?? When I tell people at my day job at the Illinois EPA that we’ve finished the body panels the general response I get is something on the order of “that’s great! Now you only have to put them on the car and paint it and you’re done!” Yes and no. This is that part of the hill I’ve never been on, so I don’t know for sure what all is involved or how long it will take. If past experiences have taught me anything, it’s that projects always take much longer than expected. In fact, I think one way to define the word “project” is: ‘an endeavor undertaken with a defined outcome but no definable timeline.‘ You could also add to that ‘with an unknowable number of steps which lead to the desired outcome‘, thereby inferring the undefinable timeline. When applied to Seven and the work we have left on the body, I can give you the following outline of steps that I’m currently aware of. Reg, experience, and hindsight will allow me to more accurately fill it in at a later time, but for now, here we go:

  1. Fit body panels to car
  2. Make inner panels and pieces for attaching panels to frame
  3. Make all attachments, i.e. hinges, hinge mounts, clasps, locks, handles, actuators, etc. to fitted panels
  4. Remove panels to fix and clean subframe
  5. Tape off and prime subframe
  6.  Remove tape and inspect prior to attaching body panels
  7. Attach panels
  8. Make all trim pieces for fitting windows
  9. Once all panels and pieces are attached to car and work properly commence final body work on panels to prep for painting
  10. Prime car
  11. Paint car

Those are the steps I think we have to do yet to finish the car’s body. These include a bit of guesswork based on conversations I’ve had with Reg. Since I haven’t really done any of these steps yet I wont know how much work each step involves or how many steps I’m missing or how many steps will need to be added/modified to fit our particular build until I’ve done them. That’s were education through experience comes in. Reg is returning to IMW this Friday, March 22. I’ll pick him up at the ST Louis airport, and as usual, blindfold him for the trip to the secret IMW headquarters that we keep telling everybody is located in a cornfield near Springfield IL. Good luck finding it. I know I even get lost sometimes (probably should have taken a left at Albuquerque).

Reg will be here from March 22nd until April 8th, it’ll be another blitz to get as much done and learn as much as we can, so anyone who wants to help out and learn something to boot, drop me a line and I’ll give you directions. Or if you already know the way just come on out and help us finish the last 11 or 27 steps toward finishing Seven’s body makeover. And thanks! Cold drinks and Little Debbie Snack Cakes will be waiting in the shop fridge. Make sure you’re wearing some grubby clothes though, because if you’re not, you will be.

Hopefully I’ll have more details for everyone in a week or two. Until then, Audere Est Facere!


Over The River and Through The Woods to NetGain Motors We Go.

George Hamstra of NetGain Motors (http://go-ev.com), extended an invitation to Illuminati Motor Works to visit his facilities in Chicago, IL. So, this past week Nate and I took a trip up to the Chicago area and met up with George Hamstra at Warfield Electric Company, the folks that manufacture George’s record breaking WARP series motors, for a tour of the plant.

After some introductions and being joined by Hunter, also from NetGain controls, we were led on a tour of the plant, getting to see how George’s motors are made from beginning to end. From the turning of the steel stock into the motors arbor, to the winding of the coils to the application of the WARP series motor Red paint, we saw it all and were quite impressed. It’s one thing to take a motor apart and see how it works and quite another to talk to and watch the motor builders in action — quite impressive. We even got to see George’s motor being adapted to an outboard boat motor. Very clean, very nice, and really the future for boats of any type if they are to be run on waterways where IC engines are band due to pollution of protected waters.

From Warfield we headed out for a quick stop to “recharge” at White Castle, of which we don’t have any in the Springfield area so it’s always a treat and a must stop whenever we pass through Chicago or St Louis. Then we were on our way to meet up and share our 40 stack of sliders with the guys at Pioneer Conversions. These guys are true to our hearts, or maybe us to theirs seeing they’ve been around longer, out on their own building electric race vehicles. The difference, these guys have the enviable circumstance of being retired so everyday is a holiday of which they can spend in the shop playing…I mean working on their conversions and advancing the EV community.

Although any one of these guys has more experience then all of the Illuminati combined, there conversions are anything but old school. From the custom built automatic transmission coupled to one of George’s 13 inch motors to the siemesed WARP 7’s in their 0.98 second dragster, Yes, I Said 0.98, less than 1 second, electric drag car built and raced by the Pioneer Conversion guys, three retirees in a shop out kicking ass between dining on the finest cuisine White Castle has to offer, BSing with newbies like us, and doing custom conversions for…well…all comers… from stock to super stock cars these guys can and do convert it all.

Our last stop on this trip was at none other than NetGain command.
Netgain Motors, Inc. in Lockport, IL.
There George and Hunter showed us some of the new things they’re working on along with pictures of several vehicles that their equipment is currently being used in, including some incredible pics of recently declassified top secret military craft. I’ll leave it at that cause I’m not 100% sure what all about the pics have and have not been declassified/reclassified/…um…Kevin Proofed.

Along with their existing lineup of impressive equipment, George told us a little more about the new motors and controllers NetGain is looking at, the AC line-up that was first announced at EVCON this past September and the fast charger that you can currently order through Jack Rickard’s EVTV online store.

To put it bluntly, these are game changers. Not even OEMs have offered an equivalent fast charging setup as George now offers. Once again innovation has come from the ‘fringe’, the DIY crowd, not OEMs or Uncle Sam…however wouldn’t it be nice if OEMs or good old Uncle Sam saw what George is working on and realized how much better it is than anything else out there and sent a few….million orders his way to help out us DIY-ers that are currently shouldering the brunt of this energy revolution, while at the same time helping themselves to that mythical brighter future? I think so.

I also hope to keep working with George and NetGain Motors and all the other innovators he introduced us to. The only way we’re going to be able to change the world is by working together and George has a team that I’d be proud to work with.

Oh, and for an update on the what’s going on with Seven…see previous blog, “and the molds continue.” It’s almost like death and taxes: the only sure thing to be going on at The Hall of Seven until the body work is through.


Welcome back, Reg!

IMW welcomes Reg Schmeiss of Motorvation back to our workshop. It’s going to be a very busy week. We’re hoping to get 4 carbon fiber / kevlar doors and a brand spanking new hood made. If there’s still time available – make molds of the front fenders.

Kevin, Reg, George, and John have started on the doors. Nick will be joining the fun tomorrow. We’ll have photos of the process scattered amongst our Facebook and Twitter pages and an expanded recap in our photos section of this website (probably in early October).

And the molds continue

Reg is currently off with a race team and we’re on our own, continuing to pull molds from Seven’s re-sculpted body. A lot of finish work was necessary prior to pulling the molds as we worked from the rear to the front of the car. The hood and front fenders particularly needed a lot of prep work in order to get he body lines right and the hood itself as smooth and symmetrical as possible.

Every time I stepped back to look at the car, I found something new that needed to be addressed. After working with Reg on the rear of the car, I saw many flaws and problem areas I had not seen before.

Taking longer than expected, we finally got to pulling molds of the rear doors and moved on to the front doors and hood of the car. A bit precarious at times, for we were unsure when we were pulling the mold if we would destroy the original body part. In fact, this was something we all thought of while laying up the epoxy and fiberglass on the hood with Reg being a good thousand miles away and unable to help us if we got into a bind.  We could no longer quell our fears by saying “ah, Reg can fix it.”

But due to Reg’s excellent instruction, and probably a lot of luck, the molds came out extremely well. No parts were damaged.

Now we must finish prepping the molds so that they are ready for the parts to be formed when Reg returns at the end of this September. And we’ll move on to the front fenders and door pillers, hoping to finish sculpting those so that when he arrives molds can be pulled of those as well.

It seems like we’ve been working on this for a long time and we still have a long way to go. So here I go back out to the shop to hack some more off the car and sand it smooth, hoping I get it to look right this time.

More photos of the process have been added to our photo gallery. Take a gander.

Our shopping list for re-sculpting, making molds and carbon-fiber panels

This is in no way a comprehensive list of materials. Your project’s needs will differ. I’m just providing a running tally of the materials we have been using while replacing Seven’s old body with carbon-fiber.

We cannot offer instruction via phone or email. Serious inquiries for in-person instruction are welcome.

From U.S. Comosites, Inc.:

qty description
1 Milled Fiberglass, 5 qt body filler
3 Fairing Compound, 5 qt body filler
1 1/4″ Chopped Strand, 10 # tub body filler
1 1/2″ Chopped Strand, 10 # tub body filler
2 3M Glass Bubbles, 5 Quart body filler
1 Kit 10 gal 635 + 5 gal 556 Hardener 2-EPOX-6355567
1 kit 5 gal 635 + 1.6 gal 3-1 Hardener 2-EPOX-635316
1 kit 5 gal 635 + 1.25 gal 4-1 Hardener 2-EPOX-635415
1 3-1 Epoxy Pumps 2-PX-P31
2 4-1 Epoxy Pumps 2-PX-P41
40 5.7 oz x 50″ 2 x 2 Twl Disc. Carbon
125 4 oz x 30″ S2-Glass
1 3″ Serrated Kevlar Scissors
1 4.5″ Kevlar Shears
1 10″ Kevlar Shears

Other body filler from various sources:

  • USC Autobody Icing No. 26006
  • Pronto Kombi Spot Putty
  • Dynalyte lightweight body filler

From Fibre Glast Developments Corporation:

qty description
5 Pint Deli Style Cups, sleeve of 25
1 9 Mixing Paddles, box of 100
1 Mini Pink Plastic Wedge, 1-1/4 x 4
1 Mini White Plastic Wedge, 1-1/4 x 4
2 Small White Plastic Wedge, 2-1/4 x 6
2 Large White Plastic Wedge, 3 x 10
2 Thin Pink Flexile Wedge, 10″ x 1 3/4‚Äù
1 Thin White Rigid Wedge, 10″ x 1 3/4‚Äù
1 Air Wedge
22 Yellow Sealant Tape
1 MEKP, Gallon
1 MEKP Dispenser
2 Acetone Dispensers
1 PVA Release Film, 1 gal
1 Paste Wax, MGH* 11oz Tin
2 Partall Paste Wax, 24 oz
2 Chavant Le Beau Touche Clay 2# block
1 Duratec Grey Primer, Case of 4 gallons
2 Nomex Honeycomb, 1.8 # density 40x 100 x .210 Thick (+6/-0) Full Sheet
3 Thru-Bag Vacuum Connector
50 Stretchlon 200 Bagging Film / Yard

From Avery Tools:

  • 100 1/8″ (#30) Cleco Fasteners
  • Cleco Plier w/ Molded Grips

From Aircraft Spruce & Specialty Co:

qty description
25 F5000-3 Floating Anchor Nut
50 CR3212-4-4 Cherrymax Rivet
50 CR3212-4-5 Cherrymax Rivet
50 MSP-44 Cherry Rivets
50 MSP-45 Cherry Rivets
1 Avery Plate Nut Drill Jig #10

From Fabric Development Inc.

  • 50 Yards of 1140 denier Kevlar 49, 2×2 Twill, 17 x 17, 50″ wide, 5 oz.

Other assorted supplies:

  • sandpaper (grits from 80 to 1200)
  • plastic razor blades
  • metal razor blades
  • cheap HVPV paint spray guns
  • latex gloves
  • nirile gloves
  • 1 gal acetone
  • US General 2 stage 3 CFM Vacuum Pumps
  • Air line, pvc, pressure gauge, ball valves, bushings, brass fittings for DIY vacuum apparatus
  • Aluminum angle iron and flat plates

New body underway

The team worked with Reg Schmeiss through April and May, pulling molds off the rear of the car and making new body panels out of carbon fiber. As I write this, the area spanning from the back windows to the tow hitch has shiny new body panels. Total, they weigh only about 60 pounds and are much stronger than the foam and fiberglass they replace.

When the new body is in place, Seven will be more efficient than 207 MPGe.

There are a number of photos of the process on our site. You can also catch some informational videos on our YouTube channel:

The rear doors are now ready to have molds pulled. They will have Kevlar and carbon fiber panels to replace the foam that is there. Seven’s steel skeleton is still built like a tank, but just to be sure, the inner structure of the doors will be altered for additional safety.

Reg will be returning in September to help finish creating Seven’s new body. And then we need to decide on a color for the paint job. Kevin wants it to be blue instead of silver. He and I have been staring at blue cars a lot. Current favorites are the Chevy “Lazer Blue Metallic” and Ford’s “Blue Flame Metallic.”

Paint suggestions are welcome. Yes, it looks mean in black, but that will make the interior hotter than Hades, so the paint can’t be too dark.