Electric Datsun nerdmobile trounces gasoline powered muscle cars

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a front page story about a battery powered electric Datsun called the White Zombie that is leaving gasoline powered Corvettes, BMWs and police cars in the dust.

In 1985, he found the white Datsun sedan in a junkyard and bought it for $585. He intended to use it to drive to work. But in the early ’90s, with General Motors Corp. beginning to tout the electric car, Mr. Wayland decided to convert the Datsun to electric power. Today, after several modifications, White Zombie has two powerful motors normally used to operate forklifts and 36 12-volt storage batteries crammed into the back seat and trunk. In daily use, most electric cars in the U.S. are little more than souped up golf carts with fewer batteries and much less power.

In electrifying the Datsun, Mr. Wayland had as his goal building a car that could beat most of the big gasoline-powered muscle cars around Portland. “Getting beat by a little Japanese car back then reflected on your manhood,” he says.

Unlike gasoline engines, which take a few seconds to build up turning power, or torque, for the rear wheels, electric motors deliver it instantly. The sharp jolt of power was a problem for Mr. Wayland in his first few races. “I hit it and it was on full power,” he says. “You just held on.” He has since installed a controller, a kind of giant dimmer switch that phases in the battery power more gradually.

Last year, a Washington state police department — the Clark County Sheriff’s Office — invited him to show off White Zombie in a fast-driving course for young officers. Mr. Wayland did a massive burnout, leaving a squad car, with lights blaring and siren screaming, far behind. “Somebody, please arrest me,’ ” Mr. Wayland recalls saying. “I’m having way too much fun.”