My earliest memories of any kind of an electric vehicle date back to 1958, when I was only about 5 years old. At that time, I had a little red pedal tractor. Dad told me his idea of getting a small car battery and a starter motor; then using the tractor’s chain drive to create an “electric tractor” for me to drive. I can clearly remember us sitting on the linoleum floor in the kitchen working on that starter motor. I was very impressed! We never finished that project, but Dad was way ahead of his time on that one.
My next electrifying experience came around 1965 when I was just about 11 or 12 years old. I had worn out the 5 horsepower gasoline engine on my go-cart and I decided to replace the old engine with an electric motor. The only problem was, the only motor I could find around the house was a three-quarter horsepower, 120-volt AC motor. I didn’t let a little thing like that stop me. I lined up the pulleys (one on the motor and one on the right rear wheel), bolted down the motor, adjusted the belt tension, and….. and… then what? I had a 25-foot extension cord, but I didn’t even have a switch! I plugged the cord into the nearest outlet, steadied the small steering wheel with my knees, held the extension cord in my hand, and plugged the motor into the other end of the cord – and away I went, for 25 feet!
I was hooked! Soon, the AC motor was replaced with a 12-Volt starter motor and I “borrowed” our boat battery. I managed to get a starter relay. I added some battery cables and a cut up a short brown extension cord (to hook up the switch to control the relay) – and I was ready to go. And boy did it go! Dad and I finally took it to a little strip shopping center early one Sunday morning so I could see what it could do. We measured off the distance, checked my time, and figured that the go-cart was “going” as fast as 30 miles per hour! I soon discovered that the motor was the weakest link; I had to put wet rags on it after about 5 minutes of driving in an attempt to keep it cool.
A few years later, when I was in high school, I began my real quest to build electric cars. First was the result of a high school physics report. This project started with a junked golf cart bought for $60 and NSU Prinz purchased from a junkyard. The car was rear engine drive (like the classic VW Bug). I removed the entire rear assemble and replaced it with the golf cart rear end. Of course, I had to have extensions made for the differential so it was the same width as the car and would mount to the car’s rear wheels. I then used a belt drive to provide power from the 36-volt, series-wound, 3.5 horsepower motor to the differential. I hooked up the golf cart’s resistance coil speed control system and the car was ready to test drive. I finally got the little car up to about 30 miles per hour when I put an extra 12-volt battery into the system. That was when I first learned the benefit of just a little extra voltage going to the motor.
My research and experiments continued and by the time I graduated from college, I was driving a completely street legal electric car, built on a full size VW chassis – with a custom styled wooden body. The car was power by a very old, nine horsepower, series-wound, 36-volt, forklift motor. Top speed was 38 MPH (running on 36-volts) and 45 MPH (running on 48-volts). The car was fun to drive and a real “attention getter” and was even featured in the local newspaper. It turns out that the old forklift motor is a durable workhorse. I have used it on as high as 72 volts and it is still in running condition today. All I have had done is replace the brushes (in 1980) and cleaned the commutator (with toothpaste a couple of times).
John McMillian, Sr. climbing out of the electric dune buggy. (1977)
This EV was powered by a 48 volt system composed of 8 golf-cart batteries., located on each side of the chassis.
Later I increased the system to 72 volts by adding additional batteries behind the seats.
After majoring in Transportation and earning an MBA from the University of Tennessee, I spent eight years on active duty with the Air Force. My last assignment was certainly most unique. I was as a Missile Combat Crew Commander for the Titan II, ICBM System at Little Rock, AFB. While in the Air Force, I continued to design and build electric cars.
While stationed at Blytheville Air Force Base, AR in the winter of 1978; an ice storm and blizzard knocked out power and I plugged in extensions cords to the battery and had power for lights, a toaster oven, and electric blankets while the power was out throughout base housing!
Over the years, the conversions got more elaborate and the performance of the electric cars improved. I learned a lot and decided to build a new roadster from the ground up. I took a clean sheet of paper and with an open mind I begin to design the Defiant EV3© Roadster. I knew designing a vehicle with the commuter in mind would mean doing things differently. For example, most people commute alone and drive less than 30 miles a day. I also kept in mind that the vehicle would need to be able to reach highway speeds and not be limited to just inner city streets at 25 miles per hour. I knew that three wheels would mean less rolling resistance at low speeds and that I could put a more aerodynamic body on it for less drag at high speeds.
A few years ago, I wrote a couple of books, “Electric Cars: The switch is on!” and “The Leader’s Guide to Quality in America”. Having been eyewitness to most of the last five decades of electric car research, development, promotion, propaganda, misdirection, and outright lies; I can truly say I believe that the time is now and the Switch Is On to electric cars.