Students electrify a Lotus Esprit, and drive it across the U.S.
By Paul Ridden
January 17, 2013
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.
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.
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."