London Community News
By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News/Twitter: @MalloryClarkson
Mike Farlow loves driving down back roads in his blue circa-1988 Jeep with the doors off, so the wind whips through it. The bona fide Jeep owner said he couldn’t imagine driving anything else.
So, when his ride was on its last legs in 2007, rather than sending it for scraps, Farlow overhauled it, removing its combustion engine and replacing it with a hand-made electric one.
And unlike the complex, mainstream hybrid and electric vehicles rolling out of showrooms to the tune of around $40,000, the former Fanshawe College teacher completed the transformation for half of that cost.
“It cost $20,000 back in 2007 to build this,” he said. “I think it could be done for $15,000 now.”
He added savings found through driving a solely electricity-powered vehicle are phenomenal.
“The economy of it is if gas was say $1.30 a litre and you had $130 in your pocket, you could put that all in as gas, or you could put $10 of grid electricity in and have $120 for the weekend,” Farlow said, adding gas is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of savings.
“Everything you do to your combustion engine, other than tires and brakes, is excessive,” Farlow said. “You go in for an oil change, a timing belt, anything — all of those costs are over and above what you pay for the electric.”
Farlow joked after he switched his ’88-Jeep’s engine to electric- from combustion-based, his mechanic began calling to see if he’s alive “because I never went in to see him.”
“When I talk about being green, it’s this green,” Farlow said, rubbing his fingers together as if there were money in his hand. “It’s just incredibly cheap to run.”
But, money wasn’t the push behind Farlow’s decision to revamp his vehicle; in fact he found inspiration in a documentary called Who Killed the Electric Car? — a film made in 2006 that looks into the birth and death of electricity-powered vehicles.
“One day I was in London on one of those hot, sweltering days. I had all of the windows out of the Jeep and it was still a combustion engine. I’m at a red light and I’m breathing in all of these … fumes and everything,” he said. “I thought if all of these cars were electric, what a difference it would make to the quality of air and to the sound and heat added.”
After doing research on the Internet, Farlow and his neighbour began converting his Jeep in March, 2007, and it was on the road nine months later.
Farlow is an anomaly in the auto world. Aside from building his engine with his own two hands, Farlow owns one of the 66 registered electric vehicles in the country.
According to data compiled by R.L. Polk Canada Inc., only 36 electric vehicles (model years 1981 to present) have been registered in Ontario as of July 1, 2011.
Hybrid electric and gas vehicles were more popular, with in excess of 34,300 being registered in Ontario and a national total of just over 86,500.
At first glance, Farlow’s Jeep appears unaltered. But, it’s a different story while looking in the backseat or under the hood. Batteries have taken up the space in the back of the car, and it looks like a circuit board under the hood, with a plywood frame and wires interlaced throughout.
When it was first re-designed, 24 lead-acid batteries, which weighed 1,500 pounds, powered the Jeep, but then Farlow said he got a “greed for speed” and started looking at different batteries to power his ride.
“Two years ago, I ended up converting it into lithium (batteries) and it’s just a totally different animal,” he said. “It’ll go 200 kilometres to the charge, it takes about seven hours to charge it and it’ll do over 120 kilometres an hour.”
Farlow said only 200 kilometres to a charge may be a deal breaker for some, but contended it shouldn’t be a problem.
As an example, he said if the vehicle is driven 200 kilometres to work, it can be charged for seven hours and driven home. He added when gas prices skyrocket, it is also a good secondary vehicle to have access to.
“Most people have more than one vehicle in their driveway,” he said. “If one of your vehicles is an electric and gas goes up to a buck forty, a buck fifty, you will use that electric (car) every chance you can.”
Farlow added in terms of power usage, particularly regarding the new time of use price periods, electric vehicles can actually help, not hinder, the system too.
“If the car is in the driveway, I can run my house off of the car and I’ll do that during the day during peak and mid-peak prices and then at night, I will charge it with off-peak power,” he said. “This perception that if people have electric (cars), it’s going to cause a disaster, that’s not true at all; it actually can help.”