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Converting A Car To Electric? How About A ’39 Pontiac Silver Streak?

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'39 Pontiac Electric Car Conversion (© Roanoke College)

'39 Pontiac Electric Car Conversion (© Roanoke College)

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For as long as electric cars have existed, enterprising individuals around the U.S. have sought to convert gasoline cars to electric power.

Over the years, we’ve seen everything from classic British sportscars through to SUVs and pickup trucks converted to run on electric power, with conversion budgets running from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. 

These days, thanks to Nissan, Chevrolet, Mitsubishi and Tesla, electric car conversions have taken a back seat to more capable, impressive production vehicles. 

But car currently undergoing conversion to electric power at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, stands out among all the other converted electric cars we’ve ever seen. 

That’s because the car being loving worked on by student organization RE Electric isn’t a beaten up high-mileage car, pickup truck or European hatchback. 

It’s a 1939 Pontiac Silver Streak, with over 70 years of history to its name. 

Originally purchased by The Greenbrier, a resort in West Virginia, the car was used prior to the second World War to transport the rich and famous to and from the local train station. 

By the time it was purchased by the students for $1,500, the vintage car was in need of some tender loving care. 

Since then, it has been sandblasted to remove rust, repaired as necessary and painted a dark burgundy red to match Roanoke College’s colors. 

Replacing its original 4.0-liter, straight-8 known for low inherent vibration and enough “power to get the job done in affordable luxury”, the team of students plan to fit a large direct-current electric motor, and an appropriate amount of off-the-shelf traction batteries. 

The RE Electric team have been working on the car since 2010. With help from various local sponsors, it hopes to have the car completed and ready for the Roanoke Alumni Weekend in spring 2014.

As not-so-secret vintage and classic car fans, we’re glad to see this classic pre-war car is getting a second chance courtesy of a team of young, enthusiastic students and an all-electric drivetrain.

We wish Roanoke RE Electric team the very best luck with their endeavors, and wonder, perhaps not-so quietly, if we might be given a ride in this magnificent vehicle when it’s finished. 

You name the place, and we’ll try to be there. 

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Comments (4)
  1. It amazes me that college kids can find the time with their busy class and social schedules to take an old gas car and convert it to a beautiful electric car, but the automakers can't even find the time to learn how to do that. I wonder if the kids are going to use 4V batteries like they might had had when the car was first built?
     
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  2. James the standard in the thirties was a six volt system before twelve volts were the norm. I do recall some cars after twelve volt systems were "common place" using two six volt batteries in series to achieve the required 12 volts.
    I think the auto makers are into more sophisticated and efficient products andthere are plenty to choose from now. Starting with a heavy conventional car is a non starter for best results but i'm sure they are gaining lots of experience.
     
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  3. Yes, in fact the Volkswagen Beetle stuck with 6-Volt electrics through the 1966 model year (one reason the 1967 model is considered especially desirable). The MGB-GT, among other cars, used two 6-Volt batteries in series for its 12-Volt electrics, due to packaging constraints. Being BMC, it was positive-ground, but that's another story ...
     
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  4. But why? Not too many of those flathead straight 8's still going.
     
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