When the engine in his 1985 Ford Escort failed four years ago, Robert Beasley gave a mechanic a shot at repairing it, which only made matters worse.
So Beasley, 61, decided to do himself and the environment a favor. Using how-to books and his knowledge of cars, he converted his sky blue, gas-fueled Escort into an electric car. The job took two years -- he finished in 1994 -- and about 200 hours and cost $5,500.
Beasley uses the car, which is powered by 18 six-volt Deep Cycle golf cart batteries, to make the 25-mile round trip from his home in Brooklyn Park to his job in Dundalk, where he is a public health engineer with the Maryland Department of the Environment.
"It was originally diesel, but the engine had failed. Somebody tried to fix it and screwed it up even more, so I took it and converted it," Beasley said. "I did it out of concern for the environment and for the challenge."
The car -- noticeable for the absence of a tailpipe and its Maryland BATTPWR license plate -- draws power from electricity stored in the batteries, rather than from the combustion of liquid fuels, as with gas-powered vehicles. It costs about 3 cents a mile to operate compared with about 30 cents a mile to operate a gasoline-powered car.
The electric car can travel about 60 miles before its batteries need to be recharged, and it can hit speeds in excess of 65 mph. Not bad for a home job.
"It doesn't go from 0 to 60 in 8.1 seconds. It may take 14 seconds. But who cares?" Beasley said. "I don't have any problem blending into traffic."
The Escort had 134,597 miles on it before the conversion. Since then, it has been driven another 8,000 miles.
Electric-car enthusiasts point out that the cars are great for short trips, but you still need to turn to fossil fuel-powered cars for longer trips. At least for now.
"You got to keep [the electric car] as a commuter and not something to take to New York," said Beasley, who owns a gasoline-powered 1978 Ford Grand Marquis.
Beasley removed the Escort's back seat to make room for some of the batteries. He relies on a green crystal display on the dashboard to keep track of how much power is left in the batteries. When they get low, he recharges them overnight, using an electrical outlet on the side of his house.
His wife, Rosalie, 59, who drives the car occasionally, said she and her husband are concerned about the environment, "but it would have never occurred to me to do this."
The couple belong to the Electric Vehicle Association of Greater Washington and the Electric Auto Association, a group of hobbyists, car enthusiasts and environmentalists.
Though most electric vehicles are operated by utility companies and government agencies, "there's a growing number of private owners who are converting cars," said Dave Goldstein, president of the Electric Vehicle Association and an electric-car consultant.
"People like Bob Beasley have been buying the components and doing the work themselves and driving the cars around for years," Goldstein said.
Pub Date: 12/22/96