Engine Hacks: Electrified Datsun Is The Ultimate Engine Swap

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Forget the Tesla Roadster, we want an electric car like [John Wayland’s] White Zombie!

If it wasn’t plastered with sponsor stickers and the like, you would never realize that this otherwise unassuming ‘72 Datsun 1200 is an absolute beast of a car. The gas engine that used to provide a mere 69 horsepower was swapped out for a pair of custom-built electric motors which propel the Datsun to 60 miles per hour in under two seconds.

The electric motors supply 500 horsepower and a staggering 1250 foot pounds of instant torque, providing one hell of a ride. The car is powered by 12 custom 29.6V battery packs which provide 2,400 Amps of current each! Aside from laying down a quarter mile in under 11 seconds, White Zombie can make a 90 mile trek before requiring a recharge.

Needless to say, this impressive car takes plenty of people by surprise each time [John] hits the track. Continue reading to watch one poor sap learn the hard way that his brand new Maserati is no match for White Zombie.

[via Discovery]


57 thoughts on “Engine Hacks: Electrified Datsun Is The Ultimate Engine Swap

    1. Peak output current would drop as the batteries empty, so I’d say he’d recharge them at every convenient opportunity to max out his acceleration.

      From experience I get around 10% extra range in our Blade Electron if I accelerate lightly. That only has a 45hp motor though, so it’s barely comparable to this beast’s 500hp motor… He could probably manage an afternoon’s worth of drag racing on a single charge though.

    2. Excerpt from the owner’s race report after some recent record setting runs —

      “if my memory serves me correctly, Doc Sherry figured it went to 305V @ 1800 amps…incredible cells! The car didn’t spin much, and simply took care of business, knocking down run after run in the 10.2-10.3 range, all at 122-123 mph. With it’s 110-120 mile range per charge energy density, the last two runs on of 10.261 @ 123.54 mph and
      10.287 @ 123.38 mph were done without prior recharges, then the car was driven a bit hard leaving the track, then driven 16 miles uphill back home. The next morning the 3.7V nominal cells were at 3.87V, and not a single red LED could be found!”

      tl/dr version — Being racers looking for every edge, they often charge the Zombie between every run – there’s time, and power on hand, why not. But the cells easily have the energy density to manage quite a few trips down the strip on a charge.

      Bit more —
      Lithium cells aren’t subject to the strong peukert effect that lead suffers from, and higher power cells deliver all that extra power by having a much lower internal resistance – meaning they don’t sacrifice as much charge at high current levels as lead batteries do.

    1. Well, If you think of it, it’s much easier to burnout with an electric motor than with a gas engine as it has FULL TORQUE from 0 RPM… so you have all the wheel-spinning power when the wheels are moving the slowest.

  1. This is feed for a mastercard commercial:

    demonstrating that a £95,000 brand new mazerati sport gt is twice as slow as your 1979 datsun


    PRICELESS, for everything else there is mastercard

      1. Not cheap.

        The full article fleshes out some of the details regarding the custom fused pair of electric motors as well as the “custom made for the US Navy” battery modules.

        I believe the estimated cost of the battery packs was $125k, but are speculated to retail for about $25k if mass-produced.

        That said, he has sponsors due to his history of building awesome electric vehicles, so it’s most definitely not all out of pocket.

      2. The builder stated a few years back that the lead acid version could be reproduced by someone else for about $19k. Ran 12.073 @ 105.53 mph back in 2009. The 2011 mods include slightly bigger motors (dual 9″ forklift motors, up from dual 8″) and the lithium. The lithium is the tricky part, but there are lithium cells out there that aren’t quite as impossible to obtain that could give similar performance.

  2. I love how that thing lights up the tires instantly. No clutch dump, no tricks. All that torque is there at the start.

    Oh, and could you imagine designing a PID loop to control the motor based on front wheel speed? You could dial in rear wheel slip with single-digit rpm accuracy. Perfect launches every time.

    1. Traction control, I believe is not allowed in drag racing. You also wouldn’t need to use front wheel spin at all. Just use the RPMs if Delta>x cut power decrease power. Of course you could also use a computer to handle the launch as well and just have the driver steer. Or drop the driver all together but then it is no longer racing but a robotics competition.

      1. The cool thing about the electric motors is the consistency of the power output. You can dial in the power level that you need to suit the track conditions without needing the feedback from any wheel sensors. You just need fine tune the power from run to run.

        I remember seeing a review of an electric car on a motoring show a while back. I don’t remember what car it was, but I do remember them saying that the ecu knew how much traction was available from the tires. In the corners it would adjust the power output to get the best acceleration without losing grip. No need for feedback from wheel sensors.

      2. @Reaper yes and no, Yes it is a bad thing because racing is a sport. The rules there to make it as fair as possible and have the man be part of the solution.
        If it was all about the cars you could just do a Dyno run.
        So for racing yes it is bad.
        Now it would make a cool robotics competition.
        So Bad racing, good robotics competition.
        @Fogger yes for traction control you do get feed back from a “wheel” sensor more or less. The motor is connected to the wheels so when it speeds up too fast you know that you are getting wheel slip. So you are in effect sensing the wheels even if the sensor is on the motor. Traction control like that is so easy that it is just odd that it isn’t standard on all road cars today. It will be soon in the US as the DOT is mandating it.

      3. Ha ha!

        A human IS involved. Just because he was sitting in a cubicle optimizing code which he may or may not have been aware was going to eventually be used in an electric car motor controller circuit doesn’t mean anything. He’s the better driver. :)

        Who wrote the other guy’s fuel-injection computer?

  3. An oldie but a goodie. Wayland is the guy who inspired my everlasting love of electric cars… I still have plans to build one someday. :) Not to mention he’s named for a smith from Norse legend…

  4. Yeah, well technically it isn’t an engine hack, unless you count the fact that there is no engine on account of the swap for electric motors.

    Engines use fuel, and motors use electricity, right? I’m not seeing this wrong based on my current state of a lack of sleep?

    1. The best difference I could find in the engines vs motors argument:

      From Merriam-Webster online dictionary:
      4: a machine for converting any of various forms of energy into mechanical force and motion; also : a mechanism or object that serves as an energy source

      1: one that imparts motion; specifically : prime mover
      2: any of various power units that develop energy or impart motion: as a: a small compact engine b: internal combustion engine; especially : a gasoline engine c: a rotating machine that transforms electrical energy into mechanical energy

      1. I don’t understand this AT ALL.

        Full torque from 0rpm? SO UNMANLY. (potentially) Silent like a ninja? HATE THAT. Efficient beyond anything you’ve ever used? USELESSSS.

        I for one welcome the INSANE level of racing that will inevitably result from the development of better (lighter,cheaper,etc) electrical energy storage mediums. It will make the “racing” that people do with internal combustion engines look cute.

      2. Having spoken with many people about EVs, I do not believe that it is hatred or fear. I think that it is more related to ‘understanding’, change, and thinking differently.
        If one looks at what was going on in 1900 in the horse vs. automobile debate, an indication of the problem can be realized. Horses could go longer distances, could be ‘refueled’ almost anywhere, many people had them, etc. After 100+ years, horses still have their domain although it has shrunk to a small sliver of what it used to be.
        People today [I speak about the US because that is where I reside] have certain ‘boxes’ within which they think of automobiles.
        People know if they need to carry heavy items, they get a truck. If they want a fun vehicle to carry 0 or 1 passengers, they get a sports car. etc… BUT, in their mind, each type of vehicle should be capable of driving 500 miles in a day – even if they never do it. That is what needs to be changed – the thinking process.

    1. …yet another “report” instead of “reply.” I wonder if there’d be any change if the buttons switched sides, or “report” was put at the top of the post.

      Anyway, on-topic: The reason most Americans aren’t too hot about electric cars is a question of Economics. A fuel tank for an internal combustion engine is easy to maintain, cheap to replace, and typically lasts at least as long as the car it’s attached to.

      The batteries for the Tesla Roadster cost around $12,000(currently, prices are slowly dropping) to replace, an operation which must be done about every 3 years as they wear out. That’s $40,000 on top of the initial price of the car to keep it running for ten years, and you basically can’t buy them used. Even if you did, you’d have to drop ten kilobucks in maintenance, on top of any other repair and maintenance costs, and if one of the cells gets damaged, you can’t just weld a patch onto it.

      My last car cost $2000 and ran for 8 years until a botched oil change burned up the engine(not my fault, but the place I was going to lost my business because of how poorly they handled it). A replacement engine would have cost $3000. The entire car was instead replaced for $400.

      All this in addition to the environmental impact of having to build and then dispose of a new, rather large, highly toxic, set of lithium cells per year, per car(which vastly outweighs the impact of the gas you’re not burning directly) and which still has to be recharged, primarily using electricity generated by coal or natural gas-burning power plants(leaving you at a net-zero improvement in carbon footprint).

      So yeah, until you can reduce the price by over 75%, increase the lifespan by over 10x, and find an environmentally friendly alternative to lithium-polymer or lead-acid, gasoline is going to be the best choice, both economically, and environmentally.

  5. I’ve seen this guy at PIR lots of times. He does top of the batteries after near every run, and only runs maybe 3 times a night, whereas most gasoline or diesel cars run 8-9 times a night.

    When he does run though, he blows the doors off of pretty much anything. I watched him destroy a brand new Corvette Z06.

      1. Interesting that in one of the related Youtube runs, Wayland’s batteries were shooting sparks all the way down the track, but the car still had the beans to dust off (what appears to be) a Lexus GS.

  6. I found this on youtube a long time ago. It was when he put the first LiIon pack into the car. It is utterly amazing how fast that car is. Now we just need to standardize charging connectors and setup quick charge stations and electric cars will be a reality.

  7. John’s a great guy. I’ve met him quite a few times in the last few years. Great guy to talk to. I’ve done work for the company that does his BMS and charging system, and he doesn’t need to charge for every run. The amount of power his kokam cells can put out is just sick. Even after a race or two, they’ve got plenty of power and energy for a run.

    On some nights, they let PIR stay open late for electric races because the noise restrictions won’t let the Gas vehicles run, but there’s nothing wrong with electrics. It’s pretty fun watching these cars go down the track in the dark.

    I watched him run his first race after he upgraded to lithium and it was impressive. He didn’t break into the 10’s, but he did beat his old records.

    Can’t wait to see some more races out there at PIR, all the electron-heads come out and it’s a total geek fest!

  8. My first thought was “how can he get that much torque from standard motors”, because with regular DC motors, you would simply destroy (demagnetise) the permanent magnets if you would run such a huge current trough then.

    However, this isn’t a problem with wound-rotor motors, because they don’t contain any permanent magnets. You can’t run such a huge current through them for a very long time, because they would just burn out, but if you only do it for a few seconds at a time, they’ll probably be just fine.

    The only things I’d really be worried about, are the brushes, the stator and rotor iron, and the winding fixations.

    In order:
    The brushes probably aren’t designed to handle such a current, and might burn out very rapidly. Apparently, they’re holding up.

    The rotor and stator iron is can only sustain a certain magnetic flux, after which they start to saturate, and would heavily saturate when driven for beyond their design specifications. It won’t damage then, but the efficiency of the motor seriously drops, because any extra current only produces a fraction extra torque. I.e., the torque constant isn’t quite constant if the iron starts to saturate.

    And lastly, in an electric motor, the forces don’t just push and pull on the iron; they also work on the copper windings, possibly deforming them, causing cracks and insulation failure.

    I’ve seen this project before, and it never ceases to amaze me. It takes some serious dedication (in time and funds) to build something like this.

    1. [Re: various weak spots in the motor], ah the beauty of racing: if it breaks, it needed reengineering anyway, and that’s what sponsor’s checkbooks are for.

      I’d imagine Wayland’s scatter shield is a weeee bit smaller than typical in pro-stock.

    1. I know, but it always seemed kind of weird to use SI for “International Standard” in english. Oh well, my point stands, IMHO eff the Imperial Units and everybody defending it.

  9. SparkyGSX-
    You made some bad assumptions about brushes and the motor. Just as serious ICE racers do not go to the track with stock internal components, serious EV racers do not go to the track with stock internal motor components.
    So you want folks to perform unit conversions for your convenience?
    Automobile Motor vs. Engine-
    An engine creates energy via explosions and converts it to mechanical energy.
    A motor only transfers existing stored energy (batteries, capacitors, or ???) to mechanical energy.

    1. look man maybe you’re trolling but I’ve taken the bait.
      get off your high horse telling others what right when you’re making it up yourself.
      Energy cannot be created or destroyed no matter how much you love petrol

    1. Marko,
      Since it is not as quick as the WZ, is there some particular characteristic that you apply to the word that means different things to different people – ‘better’.
      I could say that my truck is ‘better’ than the WZ because it will carry more pigs, but that would not be a fair comparison and is completely off-topic to the article.

  10. melllowfelllow :

    An Interal Combustion Engine creates mechanical energy from explosions. an Engine could be hamster-powered as long as you get mechanical energy out of it.

    Same for motor, only Electric Motors use electrical energy.

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