Hello, my name is Marc Kohler.  I work for a DC motor controller company called DAX Industries, Inc.  About 3 years ago a co-worker and I decided to build an electric car from the ground up.  We had both done conversions, so this seemed the next logical step.  Our previous conversions were either heavy and slow, or peppy with very little range.  We decided to build an electric 3 wheeler based on plans for a Doran vehicle.

This is our story:

The Birth of EV3PO

 

            It all started in the summer of 1997.  Enter Christopher Darilek, an electrical engineering student one semester away from graduation from the University of Texas at Austin.  Christopher applies for and receives a summer job at DAX Industries, Inc. a DC controller manufacturer.  He was hired to assist DAX’ Application Engineer, Marc Kohler (me) in various testing and conversion projects.  Christopher drove to work everyday that summer in his electric Escort that he had converted four years earlier during his final year of high school.  He found an old Jet Industries conversion in a junk yard, offered $100 for the motor, controller, charger, and adapter plate and started the process.  He put these components into another Escort that was in better shape and used the one in the junk yard as a guide to measure battery box dimensions, noticing locations of equipment and wiring.  Using the standard Jet Industries format, he had a 96 volt system consisting of a Prestolite 7.2” motor, a PMC 400A controller, 16 Trojan T105 6V golf cart batteries, and a 220V input Lester charger.  He had a reliable daily driver.  Although it was a hefty 3400 pounds that required two anti-sway bars, it still offered a 50 mile range.  Speed was not of a concern.

            Before he came to DAX, he had had very little interaction with other EV enthusiasts or with higher powered drive systems.  He was excited to see, ride in, work on, and test DAX’ electric go-cart, scooter, golf cart, LRC Porsche replica, and bus.  DAX’ LRC is probably most familiar to people that have visited DAX’ website (www.daxcontrol.com/dyna2.jpg) or seen it on display in Phoenix at the APS 500.  It was commissioned to be built at Texas A&M University’s Texas Engineering Experiment Station, where I worked before coming to work for DAX.  It is a fiberglass replica of a convertible 959 Porsche.  It uses DAX’ high power controller, 144 volts worth of Genesis batteries, and a series wound 9” motor. 

            Throughout the summer while working on all the vehicles, Christopher noticed that his Escort needed some attention and upgrades.  His only instrumentation for four years had been an ammeter on the motor side and a voltage gauge.  We added a Cruising Equipment E-meter so he could monitor and start tracking his energy usage.  Since his 12V auxiliary battery had about as much capacity as a D cell, we installed a DC-DC converter to help out his anemic 12V system.  We also replaced a few traction batteries that were failing.  By the end of the summer more batteries were crashing, and since Christopher had been impressed by higher performance vehicles, he made a command decision.  Rather than invest $1000 in a new battery pack, he would reuse his current drive system (for it’s third time) and put it in another vehicle, one much lighter this time.

            We started talking about his needs, wants, and what design considerations were needed to get him there.  To get better performance out of the same motor, we had to focus on a lighter vehicle.  A VW bug was discussed but our experience with the LRC told us that with Christopher’s smaller motor, the performance would not meet his goals.  That pointed towards handmade fiberglass vehicles.  Back in high school even before the Escort conversion, Christopher had purchased plans on how to build a 3 wheeled vehicle called the DORAN.  This was a 40 page manual explaining basic principles of vehicle design and general instructions on how to make one.  It offered an electric or gas version.  Since three-wheeled vehicles were a viable option, we considered purchasing plans for a vehicle called the VORTEX.  Both of these vehicles were light, electric, two seaters that seemed to satisfy his needs.  There are other three wheelers available like the City EL, but we wanted one with two wheels in front and one in the rear.  Having one wheel in front and two in the rear is usually described of as a trike.  These are less desirable for stability reasons during emergency maneuvers if the center of gravity is not placed properly.  We researched each vehicle.  I had seen a DORAN built and running in Phoenix in 1992.  It used a Subaru transmission driving the front wheels and was made up of foam core fiberglass.  Neither of us and seen a completed VORTEX, except for a picture that was part of their literature.  Upon further investigation, we found that the VORTEX was driven off the rear wheel via a chain drive.  This meant that it had a direct drive system which usually means good acceleration with low top speed or good top speed with lousy acceleration or some compromise in between.  Strike one.  Its construction was with plywood and fiberglass, which made it heavier than foam core technique.  Strike two.  When we inquired about the plans, we found them to have increased from $40 to $75 in four years.  Strike three. 

            The DORAN seemed like it’d fit the bill.  Our first attempt was to find out if anyone had one for sale.  Through the vast network of the EV Discussion List on the Internet, we discovered very few (3 maybe) had actually been built and no one even knew who owned them.  But through our questioning we received information that a man in DeBuque, Iowa, a Mr. Dan Sulzar, had started to make a DORAN in 1992.  Due to an unrelated knee injury, he was unable to finish it.  The backbone frame and a variety of parts were sitting in his basement waiting for completion.  Dan, meanwhile, had shelved the project opting to do a conversion first (a Chevy S-10).  The more we talked to Dan, the more excited we got.  He had a lot of parts and it would be a good starting place for us.  Christopher made him an offer to buy the components.

            Off the cuff estimates figured around $3500 and six months would be needed to complete the car.  This coincided nicely with Christopher’s graduation date in December.  So when Dan accepted Christopher’s offer, we borrowed Christopher’s dad’s van and scheduled to rent a U-Haul trailer for the weekend.  After work on Friday, we drove to Dallas and stayed overnight with my grandparents.  Early Saturday morning, we were off to Iowa.  Oklahoma zipped by, Kansas was a blur (not much to see there, not from the tollway at least), and Iowa was full of rolling farmland.  Since Dubuque was in the northeast corner of the state, the last few hours seemed to take the longest.  We arrived at Dan’s house around 10:30 p.m.  He had all the parts out in his front yard.  The frame was the largest single item and most noticeable.  Up to this point we had not seen pictures of anything except what was in our mind’s eye and pictures in the Doran manual.  Every thing seemed to be rusty.  Upon closer inspection it was just surface rust and nothing through the metal.  But the reddish brown residue had the same effect on us.  There were tires and rims and shocks, but nothing attached or painted.  Christopher became a little overwhelmed.  “What have I done?” he asked himself.  We talked with Dan about the parts and about his progress on his S-10.  We hadn’t eaten dinner yet so Mrs. Sulzar fixed us a pizza.  As we ate we discussed the stage to which Dan had achieved and went over his correspondence he had had with the original designer, Rick Doran.  During these talks Christopher regained his excitement for the project and thought of it as a wonderful challenge.  You definitely have to have the right attitude when attempting the unknown.  Dan graciously offered to put us up for the night and we eagerly accepted.  It was after midnight and we had to leave at 5:00 a.m. 

All the parts had been loaded in the U-haul the night before so at 5:15 a.m. we thanked Dan for his hospitality and for his EV first love, the Doran. 

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