Run, Rabbit, Run!

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Norman Cox with his converted 1977 Volkswagen Rabbit. Photos by B.A. Rupert

Norman Cox figures his 1977 Volkswagen Rabbit gets the equivalent of about 130 miles to the gallon — primarily because it doesn’t run on gasoline.

Cox bought the Rabbit in the 1980s with the idea of converting it into an electric car, an idea he’d been kicking around since the oil embargo of 1973. “I drove it for a year, and it was a real lemon,” says Cox, an associate professor of electrical engineering at S&T.

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After tearing out the engine, changing the master cylinder of the brake system and spending about $3,000 on the overall conversion project, Cox had the butterscotch-colored Volkswagen driving like a real cherry of a car. Now, the electrically charged Rabbit has 75,000 miles on it.

“I think I’ve only replaced a few cylinders, a wheel bearing, two sets of tires and some windshield wiper blades, things like that,” says Cox, who often drives the electric car back and forth to work. “There’s no muffler to worry about, no antifreeze, no oil changes or tune-ups — but I do have to shell out about $1,000 for new batteries every four years.”

Under the hood, a massive array of batteries powers the car’s electric motor. There are also 10 batteries in the back seat for extra energy. The car goes about 70 mph on highways, but Cox usually drives slower to conserve electricity and increase the amount of time between recharging sessions, which last up to eight hours.

In addition to driving the Rabbit to work, Cox likes to take it out to his organic tomato farm. The tomatoes are heated and cooled in greenhouses, using solar energy. An advisor to S&T’s first Solar Car Team, Cox is also trying to devise a good way to recharge his electrical car with the sun’s rays.

“I figure the car costs me about 2.2 cents per mile to operate,” Cox says. “I do check the battery water regularly. Adding the water probably costs me two dollars a year.”

Meanwhile, Cox isn’t spending much time worrying about gas prices. “If anyone tells you an electrical car isn’t practical,” he says, “they’re wrong.”

by Lance Feyh
More Missouri S&T news and events.

Comments

  1. B.J. Shrestha says

    Way to go, Norm! I greatly admire your work.
    B.J. Shrestha

  2. It’s about time someone did a story on your little rabbit. Way to go Dr. Cox!

  3. Awesome work Dr Cox..!! Very inspiring

  4. About how many miles does it get to a charge? Normally?

  5. Norman Cox says

    The electric Rabbit will go about 60 miles/charge at 45 mph. At 70 mph, the range is less. In theory, I should be able to go 110 miles at 15 mph, but I’ve never had the patience to drive that slow!

  6. Pretty interesting stuff! What is the 0-60 acceleration time with the electric motor? What sort of batteries are you using? Wet-cell, AGM, etc? Have you experimented with 24v marine-duty batteries, or are you looking toward some kind of Li-Ion solution?

  7. Way to go Norm! What I like about electric is its efficiency. An electric cars (EV)powerband starts right out of the gate, unlike gas vehicles where they need to reach a certain RPM range to make its power. The potential for fast and efficient cars, such as the Tesla are showing the world what electric power is capable of. Next project Norm is to get the Rabbit to go 0-60 in 3.6 seconds like the Tesla.

  8. Norman Cox says

    Robert and Razmus – thank you for your interest. Actually, I’ve never measured the 0-60mph time. Initial torque is good (burned rubber coming out of the garage the first day!), but accelerating ability decreases with speed, due to the characteristics of the series dc motor. The Rabbit uses 17 six-volt lead-acid electric vehicle batteries. I have only tried one other lead-acid battery in the car. Li-ion batteries are still a little pricey for my budget, but am certainly open to the idea.

  9. What an awesome and classic car you got there Norman. I mom told me that her first car ever was a rabbit. I think it was orange too!
    Thanks for sharing your story.

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