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Want an electric car

Want an electric car

Dallas Neal Farris converted this 1999 Volkswagen Golf to an all electric car that can travel about 40 miles on a charge.

Build your own.

Farris, a Dallas resident, got the electric car bug back in 2008. High gas prices were incentive enough, but the thought of continuing to pollute his environment was troubling as cheap jerseys well.

Before taking the plunge, Farris kicked the tires, so to speak, with a visit to a meeting of the North Texas Electric Auto Association. There, he made the happy discovery that the club was not made up of characters reminiscent of “Doc Brown” of Back to the Future fame, but instead was a gathering of engineers, aviation mechanics and the like.

“I wanted to see if this was a crazy thing,” he recalls. “When I walked out of the room, I realized, ‘These guys aren’t crazy. They’re perfectly normal guys.’

“That was my database of help right there.”

Neal Farris shows off some of the features of his converted VW Golf. Soon enough, he found a match in Austin. The 1999 Volkswagen Golf Mark IV was one of six originally produced in Europe that AC Propulsions of California had converted to electric for VW. Five of those were shipped back overseas, but this sixth vehicle or what was left of it somehow had made its way to Central Texas.

“It was literally in bits and pieces,” Farris said. “The guy told me, ‘I’ve got a car with a box of parts.’

“The good thing was, it already had the battery racks. Under the hood, there was nothing. The only thing they didn’t take out was some of the core wires.”

Farris, a commercial photographer with 25 years experience, is the son of a mechanic and worked in an auto body shop during his college days. None of that, he says, fully prepared him for the task he was about to undertake.

“I’m not an engineer,” he said. “Everything I got was either from books or the Internet or clubs.”

It would take six months, with some trial and error, to get the car on the road in March of 2009. Farris admits that he created some of his own problems by trying to cut corners.

“I tried to be a little too cheap on some things,” he says. “I finally realized it was better to go ahead and spend the money.”

In the end, he estimates he has spent about $20,000 on the Golf. He also learned something that came as a bit of a surprise: You really can try this sort of thing at home.

“I was shocked at how incredibly simple it was,” he said. “There are so few parts. Computers that run cars are incredibly complex machines. That computer can be switched over to monitor an electric car so easily.”

One of the principal hurdles manufacturers face in marketing the current generation of electric vehicles is so called “range anxiety.” Volt only gets about 40 miles on a charge before a gasoline engine kicks in to power the battery. The all electric LEAF was touted to travel 100 miles on a full charge, but early owners are reporting real performance of about 80 miles.

Farris admits that having to pay so much attention to the state of his battery required some adjustment.

“It took me a while to get over that,” he said. “But when people say, ‘What if you have to go to Oklahoma?,’ I say, ‘You go in another car.’

“This was a purpose built car. I needed a car I could drive to work and come home. That was my goal, to run around town and whatever else I needed to do.”

Farris all electric Golf has been on North Texas roads since 2009. (Photo: Addison Green) So far, so good. A little more than two years after taking his car out on the road, Farris was at the Arlington Convention Center, showing his work as part of an event announcing the opening of the first privately funded, for profit charging station in Texas. (Organizers called NTEAA asking them to participate, and Farris volunteered.)

Looking around the room at an assortment of Teslas, LEAFs, Volts, Mitsubishi iMievs and more, he marveled at how far the concept has come so quickly.

“I’m totally shocked at how fast the major manufacturers have embraced this. It killed diesel. Everyone was totally on the diesel bandwagon. You don’t hear anything about diesel anymore.

“Now, we truly have the battery technology coming forth that’s going to allow an electric car to be a reasonable car that people can own and feel comfortable with. If they have a good experience with the early adopters, I think it’s going to be a huge home run.”

Clearly, Farris is a believer. In addition to his investment in the Golf, he and his wife recently acquired a LEAF.

“I never dreamed when I started this that I would be able to buy a car off a lot,” he said. “I didn’t think it was even possible.”

The LEAF, he adds, has met expectations.

“Our range is reasonably about 80 90 miles. That’s enough for around town. Fort Worth is 34 miles from my house, so we can go to Fort Worth and back.

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