Students electrify a Lotus Esprit, and drive it across the U.S.


January 17, 2013

MINDDRIVE mentors and 15 at-risk students converted a 1977 Lotus Esprit to electric-only drive and then drove it coast-to-coast across America

MINDDRIVE mentors and 15 at-risk students converted a 1977 Lotus Esprit to electric-only drive and then drove it coast-to-coast across America

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Around this time last year, a non-profit after school program for at-risk high school students in the Kansas City area called MINDDRIVE took delivery of a donated 1977 Lotus Esprit. Students from five different schools in the area spent every Saturday for the next five months converting the iconic sportscar into a two-seater electric vehicle. Students and mentors then drove the car coast-to-coast across America, making presentations and giving interviews to local media at every charging stop along the way. The epic journey was captured on camera and the organization is now looking to produce a documentary, turning to crowd-funding platform Indiegogo for help.

Founded by retired Kansas City architect Richard Stephen Rees, MINDDRIVE makes use of experimental learning methods to teach critical thinking, creativity and entrepreneurship, and helps to improve the future outlook of its class members. There are two 16-week semesters each year, and classes are given by two teachers, 20 mentors and a social scientist. The project currently runs a Contemporary Communications class and an Automotive Design Studio class.

Project Lotus

At the beginning of 2012, a 15-strong team of students from five different schools paired with mentors to start work on the electric conversion of a flame-red Lotus Esprit. They labored tirelessly every weekend for months, refreshing the suspension and modifying the body to make it lighter and more aerodynamic. By early June, the one-time gas-guzzler's electric drivetrain powered by 30 3.2-volt Li-ion batteries and a chain-drive motor had been installed, and the car was treated to a tasteful repainting in readiness for a 10-day road trip from San Diego (CA) to Jacksonville (FL).

The MINDDRIVE coast-to-coast adventure began on June 11. One student and one mentor took charge of the Lotus while support vehicles carried additional team members, two chargers and two generators. Recharging the batteries took just over an hour, and project members used this time to talk to locals and the media about the vehicle, and the organization that helped them build it.

After appearing in one such TV interview on Fox, student Elias Williams was given the chance to get in the driver's seat of the sporty electric Lotus from Willcox, Arizona to Lordsburg, New Mexico.

"The very first thing I noticed when I began driving the car was how much I take power steering for granted," he said. "Turning that wheel was like opening a heavy safe."

On day 5, the Lotus made a pitstop at Bridgestone's Texas Proving Ground near Fort Stockton to test the driving efficiency. The car recorded 218 MPGe (1.08 l/100km) at 40 mph (64 km/h), and averaged 138.6 MPGe (1.7 l/100km) at 60 mph (96 km/h). The team was treated to a police escort the next day as they entered Junction, Texas. At this point, there was also a change of personnel. The first group traveled back to Kansas and a new group arrived to take over driving duties.

Group two got to meet members of the MadSCI team from the James Madison High School in San Antonio on June 19, and their Solaris solar car project. Then it was onward to Covington (LA), where the police force outdid Junction by laying on a multiple-car escort. The journey came to an end in Jacksonville, Florida on June 20, with the electric Lotus covering around 1,800 miles (2,896 km) of the 2,400 mile (3,862 km) journey under its own power.

Driving Hope

MINDDRIVE hired a professional film crew to travel with the Lotus team and document the whole coast-to-coast road trip from California to Florida. The crew conducted interviews with mentors and students, many of whom had never stepped outside of the Kansas City limits, filmed the stunning scenery that the intrepid travelers encountered en route, and captured chats with many interested groups that the team met along the way.

In all, 1.2 TB of footage was gathered, which now requires the skilled eye of a professional documentary filmmaker to edit the footage into a feature-length film. To help cover this expense, together with the creation of an original music score, MINDDRIVE has headed to crowd-funding platform Indiegogo to raise funds.

Sadly, at the time of writing, there are just a few short hours remaining on the campaign's funding clock and it looks unlikely that the target will be met.

"We will be seeking other funding sources for the film," MINDDRIVE's Linda Buchner told us. "It will be made one way or the other. I'm determined to get the story out for these kids."

Source: MINDDRIVE, Indiegogo via Inhabitat

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden

Thanks for such an in-depth and great article, Paul! We appreciate you!

Linda Buchner

Now this Is the kind of thing I like to hear about all power to this sort of thing.

David Lees

That is very cool but those cars were far from being "gas guzzlers".

Featuring efficient 4-cylinder Turbos at a time when such a thing was unheard of, they consistently got 30+mpg on the highway without trying.

Aside from that, Keep up the good work!


So can someone please 'splain to moi the point of ruining a great car for this "project"? They had to have all of this support tagging along, burning up petroleum fuel each mile traveled, and for what? Now if they had used some kind of power generator that didn't pollute the air or required cost prohibitive materials for it to operate, now THAT would have been something to take note of. One last point here, why did they feel the need to cater to underachieving kids (the Bart Simpsons of the world) who are on the verge of becoming juvenile delinquents, instead of rewarding the kids who are smart and socially conscious by letting them have a crack at showing just what they can do?? Reward the ones who help the most and use that as an incentive for the ne'er do wells to become better Citizens, don't try to bribe the bad kids into becoming good ones.

Expanded Viewpoint

@Expanded Viewpoint

The point is not to bribe- the point is to inspire.

Perhaps someday soon you might have a chance to meet someone who didn't get the chance and just followed the path of violence instead.

I am not involved in this program but there are programs for all spectrums- why should it be only one way or the other?

Yet, how many young people today are giving up on even graduating from high school?


Congratulations to everyone in this project. You did it. You succeeded, and nothing for the rest of your life can take that away from you.

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