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.

Slowly getting there

You haven’t heard from us in a while because we have been participating in sandapalooza (sanding almost every night and weekend for over a month).  Seven’s body is almost, but not quite ready for molds to be pulled from it. There’s still a lot to do.  We are characteristically behind schedule.

We’ve filled and smoothed as much as possible with epoxy/faring material and epoxy/glass bubbles.  Personally, I prefer the faring material. Once it’s mixed with epoxy to a consistency similar to cake icing, it is very easy to work with. Unless there is a lot of humidity in the air, it takes a while for it to harden so it allows for multiple passes with the spreader to get it just right. The glass bubbles make a nice, light filler, but they are not as forgiving as the faring material. You get one pass with the spreader.  Any more than that and it becomes a grainy mess. The bubbles also tend to scar easily – leaving lines and seams when it dries. But it does sand beautifully.

There were some places on Seven that needed to be built up. Particularly the door edges and the front wheel wells. To create something out of nothing, varying weights of other fillers were used.  The US Composites milled fiber is a good heavy filler that is not too lumpy to work with. The 1/4″ chopped strand fiberglass is a lot like “kitty hair” Bondo – you can fill some serious gaps with it but it’s not pretty. The 1/2″ chopped strand fiberglass is amazing. Kevin and Nick used it to create part of the wheel wells and that stuff is extremely solid.

This week Seven had the first of many coats of Duratec surface primer sprayed onto it. It’s a high build primer that can be layered up to 40 mil. In the top photo you can see it looks black on the car. The discoloration is the filler resin that hungrily soaked up the first round of primer. Duratec sands easily and after spending so many weeks working on the car we were relieved to not have to put a lot of effort into sanding primer.  For more information about the primer, go here.

Next week we will have a professional in the shop to teach us the right way to prep Seven for the molds. More about that later.

Thanks for staying tuned.

Seven is a sticky mess

We have a date set for a professional to visit the IMW workshop in mid-April and teach us how to pull a mold off of Seven. This means the month of March will be a flurry of activity, getting the body ready.

Seven’s “skin” has always been rough. The team was behind schedule to meet the X-Prize Shakedown date so there were bigger concerns than a smooth fit and finish. I put body filler where I could, smoothing deep seams in the fiberglass on foam body, and constantly having to move so that the rest of the team could address things like electronics and windows. But it wasn’t enough.

Now the focus is purely on how she looks. We’re getting the body as symmetrical and smooth as possible. The sculpted foam on the fenders was sealed with a candy coating of epoxy resin and two kinds of epoxy compound were used as body filler. Unfortunately, that still didn’t lend enough strength to the foam to protect it from an accidental knee leaned against it, or a slip of the sander.

Kevin added a fiberglass mesh to the rear fenders, which are now rock-hard. I’ve covered that with an epoxy resin faring compound filler. I love how that compound is pliable for a long time – it made it easy to cover large areas. Unfortunately, it’s also taking forever to dry.

The top and sides of the doors have ripples which I am in the process of smoothing with a thin polyester body filler. Luckily that stuff dries relatively quickly. There will be several coats of filler of different weights going onto the body this month, and waiting a day in between for it to dry before being sanded isn’t really feasable.

But right now, Seven is one sticky, multicolored mess.

Other updates:

The new hinge structure that Kevin, Nick and George worked on has been scrapped. Nick has been working on plan B today, along with sealing the exposed foam in the top middle of the car with fiberglass and epoxy.

The foam around the headlights is just about right. I think Kevin can stop fussing with it (soon).

And a new one speed transmission (within the housing of the Geo Metro transmission) is being custom made for 7. I believe Kevin is ordering extras from the machinist just in case he manages to break it. But more on the transmission later when I have more details.

All I know right now is that I’m tired, sore, and have a 3 inch lock of hair permanently encased in epoxy resin.

February 2012 update

Work continues on Seven’s remodel. A lot of hours have been spent sculpting the new curves and making sure they’re as symmetrical as possible.

The rear of the car is the most altered. It doesn’t flare out as far and now has body lines not unlike tail fins. The front of the car is a little narrower and has body lines that lead along the hood to the headlights.

High density foam is easy to accidentally dent or shred, so George and Kevin painted a candy coating of epoxy resin on top of the foam once the final shape was achieved. This will protect the foam from being damaged.

Since the old body will be used as a plug for the construction of a final carbon fiber shell, it needs to be as smooth as possible. Seven now has two weights of body filler on it: a light white coat composed of epoxy resin and 3M glas bubbles, and a heavier brown coat of epoxy resin and fairing compound. They do the same job that Bondo would do, except that since they have the same epoxy resin that was used to candy coat the foam, they will adhere better. They should add less weight than Bondo.

The headlights never fit properly, so new mounts are being fabricated and the new body foam cups the lights instead of leaving a gap between the chrome trim and the body.

The door hinges were functional but were neither attractive nor allowed the doors to be water-tight. Kevin created a new design for the hinges and their support structure and Nick and George are digging into the top of Seven to remove the old hinges and framework.

A couple of videos and some new photos have been added to this site during the winter rebuild, if you’d like to take a look at the progress so far.

Stay tuned. More to come as time and spotty rural wifi allow.

Seven under reconstruction

After putting a lot of miles on Seven this year, she’s back in the workshop for some cosmetic surgery. The body was constructed in February 2010 when the team was rushing to meet the X PRIZE deadline. The fit and finish wasn’t what we wanted or what Seven deserved. Now there is time to go back and make changes.

This weekend Kevin, Nick, Nate and George worked to dismantle parts of Seven and began to recreate the rear fenders. About 4-5 inches have been removed from each side and the curves are closer to what were in the original design drawings. She’s lost a little trunk room as a result, but since the old trunk was over 12 cubic feet, the new cargo space won’t feel cramped.

Seven’s CD was estimated at .23. The changes the team will make this winter to the front and rear fenders as well as the hood and roof should bring that CD closer to .20. That’s the goal, at least. This may mean an increase in efficiency of 16.5% – an extra 30+ MPGe.

I know some people will criticize the flared fenders for decreasing efficiency. The decrease is nominal and well worth the objective of keeping Seven true to her original design. The team always wanted a car that was functional (street legal), efficient, and stylish. This winter’s rebuild will remain true to those goals.

We will be chronicling the changes in photos, videos, and blogs. Stay tuned.