World-Record Electric Drag Racing Car on Display in Portland, Oregon

Photo by Kenneth Johnsen

Green is the dominant color at the 2011 Portland International Auto Show, held at the Oregon Convention Center this weekend. Everywhere you look, automakers are rolling out a new generation of ecologically friendly cars, including the long-awaited Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF battery-electric vehicles. But amidst all the green, there?s a flash of white ? John Wayland?s 1972 Datsun 1200 sedan, nicknamed White Zombie, is a home-built electric drag racing car that holds the world record ?-mile time for a street legal electric vehicle. The car will be on display at the show all weekend.

?We are an invited featured guest, and we?re thrilled to be at the show. This is the big one,? Wayland says.

It?s been a long road to get the electric racer to the Oregon Convention Center for this event. Wayland has been working on this car for 17 years, starting with traditional lead-acid batteries and upgrading to new materials as battery technology has evolved.

?We went to a Lithium battery pack in 2007, but last year we hit the jackpot with a Lithium Polymer battery from Dow Kokam. These batteries are incredible. Because they’re Li-Pol, they’re high in energy density. We got the materials from Dow, but we built the actual battery packs ourselves,? Wayland says.

The old lead-acid battery pack in White Zombie weighed 900 pounds, while the new pack weighs just 450 pounds. But weight savings was only part of the improvement.

?900 pounds of lead acid batteries gave us 30 miles of range on this car. Now we use 450 pounds of Li-Pol, and those batteries have 8 times the energy density of lead-acid, and it quadrupled our maximum range to 120 highway miles on a charge. But our focus is on performance, not on range; this was a side benefit,? Wayland says.

In addition to range, the new battery pack powered Wayland?s car to a world record. ?We hold the ?-mile record for a street legal electric vehicle, at 10.258 seconds and 123.79 miles per hour. The car will do 0-60 in 1.8 seconds,? Wayland says.

While he?s proud of his cutting-edge development in electric cars, Wayland is quick to downplay performance comparisons with the production electric vehicles that will be on display at the auto show. ?White Zombie has spearheaded performance development, but there?s no warranty on this car. GM and Nissan and Toyota have to sell cars at retail, so they have to make sure that their cars will last and be reliable for years. They?re only using a portion of their battery pack, but we can use the whole pack,? he says.

In preparation for the show, Wayland wanted to dress up his car as much as possible, and the effort led to his newest sponsorship. Leif Hansen of Leif?s Auto Collision Centers saw the White Zombie and got on board immediately.

?The technology in that car is way beyond anything that?s going on right now. When you see this guy making his own batteries, getting the stuff from Dow Kokam,

it?s an amazing feat of human ingenuity. I like working with people who have passion. He?s on to something and it blows me away,? Hansen says.

Leif?s is getting the car ready for the auto show this week, and afterwards will perform a complete body and paint restoration on the car.

?Right now they’re just fixing it up, but after the show Leif?s is going to take it down and it will look like a brand new 1972 Datsun. We’re going to make it with proper fit and finish, and it’ll be a race car,? Wayland says.

Looking to the future, Hansen and Wayland see more possibilities for partnership.

?He?s got some guys he?s working with who are building 30-minute battery chargers. We have 200 Leif?s fuel centers opening up, and I want to have recharging available in every station. We?re looking at putting those 30-minute chargers into every Leif?s fuel center, because ten to fifteen years from now, there?s going to be a lot of electric cars on the road, and we?ll be there for them,? Hansen says.

For his part, Wayland plans to keep pushing the electric performance envelope.

?We push the performance, and GM, Nissan, and Toyota can’t ignore us. Too often, people think of electric cars as being like oatmeal, and I want to show them that it?s more like a juicy steak,? Wayland says.