Sunday, March 29, 2009

Time to fish or cut bait ...

For a considerable number of months I've been researching the idea on converting my 1992 Mazda Miata to electric power ... too many months in fact ... I've finally decided to put my money (probably a lot of it) where my mouth is and actually make a start. Today I put an ad on Craigslist to try to sell the car's ICE (internal combustion engine) to give myself a kick-start. I'll give it a couple of weeks to see of someone bites (there must be someone out there both a poor Miata that is sitting waiting for a new engine) - if not ... well the engine comes out anyway.

So why do I want to do this? Good question! I'm certainly not the most mechanical (or electrical!) minded person - for the most part I leave even the basic work on my cars to the 'experts' - so it's not because I'm a gear-head looking for another project to dive into. While I can change a tire and change the odd broken part (for example I just replaced one of the headlight motors - early Miata's have great retro retractable headlights) this is going to be as much about me learning a lot of basic auto-mechanics as anything.

And if I'm honest with myself, there is really no eco-mindedness behind the idea of converting this car from gas to electric. While the idea of reducing my personal carbon footprint sounds nice, it's certainly, in my mind, a bit idealistic to think that converting a single car that is, to be honest, not the most practical of cars is going to make a difference. It's not like I'm going to be driving 1000's of miles without gas - in 17 years I've run up but 78,500 miles - basically it gets used (in good weather) for a 4 mile commute to work and for the odd errand/fun drive when I don't have the kids in tow.

More realistically, I think of this project as a bit of an escape from the daily grind and a replacement for my previous escape route. For the past 10 years I've filled my spare time with volunteer work as a soccer coach and administrator for my local youth club in Chantilly, VA. My kids no longer play and after a couple of years coaching "other people's kids" I was finding that my enthusiasm was beginning to wane so hung up my whistle (BTW, I never, ever used a whistle in my 10 years of coaching!). I'm still the administrator for the Bantam Soccer league, but I really need to find something to fill the hole that weekday soccer practices and weekend games and tournaments has left.

Also, being completely realistic, at nearly 17 years old the 'baby' car (so named by my oldest daughter when she accompanied me to buy it in May 1992 - she was 18 months old at the time - OK, she didn't name it that exactly then) is no longer a baby (neither is my oldest daughter - she's off to college in the Fall). While I've been lucky in having no major mechanical problems, she's had her share of accidents (none my fault) and there are some 'cosmetic' issues that need to be addressed (more on those later).

If I was being sensible I'd say it was time to say goodbye, do the minimum amount of work to fix her up and sell her ... but after 17 years you become more than a little attached to a car like the Miata. So while I thought about replacing her with a new Miata, after careful consideration I decided that I wanted to fix her up. Having come to that decision and already having started researching EV's on the web it was not a huge leap to decide to convert the Miata to electric power while doing some restoration work in the process.

Anyway, that's my way of rationalizing the irrational. I'll keep this blog updated throughout the process in the vain hope that maybe it'll prove useful (even inspirational, as some of the blogs I'll link to from here provided me with inspiration) to anyone else planning such project. I have no idea how long this is going to take, as I have not yet decided exactly on how much restoration I'm going to do ... I guess we'll see as I go along. If anyone actually takes the time to read the blog, I'm sure you know more than I do so your input would be most appreciated.

Here are a few pictures of the 'baby' car I took today to remind me where I started.


  1. Looks like the car is in great shape. It'll make a fine EV!

    What all really needs to be restored? Looks like new from these photos :)

  2. Brian,

    Yeah, it does look good, doesn't it? :-)

    However there are a myriad of dings along both sides and the rear bumper is cracked on the driver's side. It has a cheap Maaco paint job ($250 for the whole car about 6 years ago after some idiot pulled out in front of my wife in a parking lot) that has air bubbles underneath - very visible when it warms up, and the trunk is pretty scratched up from family members using it as a storage shelf when it's not being driven.

    I have not driven for 3 years with the top up as it is full of cracks/holes and the rear window is the color of a good, strong cup of coffee. Still who needs a roof? :)

    I also just replaced the driver's side headlight motor (for a couple of years, every time I hit a bump/pothole I had to stop and pull the light back up again). The interior is a bit faded but in good condition (apart from the driver's door armrest which I have also replaced - the vinyl was cracked and quite uncomfortable).

    I figure at a minimum I want to fix the dings, the bumper and the paint - seems like a good task while I face the interminable wait everyone else goes through waiting for EV parts. I'll also replace the roof.