OK, so the photo has nothing...
OK, so the photo has nothing to do with this month's editorial. Thanks to Frank Wallic, I do have-without question-the coolest office chair in the biz.
Every hot rod has one significant focal point-the engine. In all my years of looking at, riding in, and writing about hot rods, the engine is always treated with a great deal of respect regardless of the builder's intent. And rightfully so; the American hot rod has always been about the V-8. It doesn't matter from where in Detroit your V-8 came-it is uniquely American. The roots of hot rodding have always been deeply embedded in the V-8, but that is going to change. Not today, not tomorrow, but someday.
Heresy, one might say. I am not talking about fours, sixes, or other combinations taking over the mantle; I am talking about something silent. The electric car, in one of its variations, is here to stay in our everyday lives. Success of our lifestyle, and the health of our planet, dictates that we come up with an alternative yet effective fuel source. Fossil fuels have done yeoman duty for our society, but the time has come.
It will not happen in time for this year's Nats, but we will begin to see street rods with electric power somewhere down the road. They already exist, more as an oddity, a curiosity, and something to entertain, but not to be fully accepted. It's similar to the way people looked at the early days of the car, television, flight, or space travel. But just as we grew up thinking Pluto was a planet only to find out last year it isn't, life brings about change. History is full of inventions people viewed as oddities and surely not to be taken seriously.
However, there are street rods that run sub-13s in the quarter-mile and can cover 300 miles between recharging. Yes, recharging. There are dragsters, drag bikes, stockers, and modifieds that run much more quickly-and they do it silently and emissions-free. Oh, did I mention the electric street rod can also be several hundred pounds lighter than its counterpart, has all of the modern amenities, and "packaging" is no longer an issue? Overheating is a thing of the past, and-in the irony of ironies category-they are easily registered; electric hot rods do not come under the same social disdain that their gasoline-powered brethren currently suffer in the eyes of the local DMV.
The electric car is more efficient than the current internal-combustion engine required to move us from point A to point B. Seventy-eight percent of commuters drive 40 miles or less to and from work. The number of U.S. survey respondents willing to pay $4,000 more for a plug-in hybrid car increased from 17 percent in 2005 to 26 percent in 2006. I am told that electric engines can routinely run at 89 percent efficiency. Generally speaking, the basic street rod motor will be somewhere in the 80th (or lower) percentile. (Although the modern modular V-8s are more efficient than conventional V-8s.) If you recently filled your gas tank, you realize the monetary impact it is having on your lifestyle. Experts are predicting the electricity cost per mile should be about one-half of the cost of gasoline for a regular car. It is also reported that electric vehicles (EVs) can get you to work and back for around $10 per month. While all of this may sound as if I am predicting the doom of hot rodding and the V-8, I am not. But I am saying that we may have to make changes in our everyday lives so we can continue to enjoy the cruise nights, rod runs, and long drives we so cherish.
There was a time in history when the electric car outsold the gasoline-powered car. Early in the 20th century, National City Lines-which was a partnership of GM, Firestone, and Standard Oil-purchased many electric tram networks, dismantled them, and replaced them with GM buses. The partnership was convicted for this conspiracy, but the ruling was overturned in a higher court.
Here's something to give you a taste if electric power intrigues you, but you aren't ready to give up performance just yet. The National Electric Drag Racing Association was formed to provide an arena for battery electric vehicles to compete as performance automobiles. They have classes that allow competition against other EVs, as well as head-to-head competition against today's musclecars.
Still not convinced? Back in January there was a rod run, well maybe an electric run, called the Battery Beach Burnout. It was a two-day event organized by the Florida Electric Auto Association. Held in Jupiter, Florida, at Moroso Motorsports Park and Florida Atlantic University, the event consisted of multiple competitions involving electric vehicles. The 7th annual Power of DC Electric Vehicle competition, held in Hagerstown, Maryland, was also just completed. They had an autocross event set up as a slalom course, and an 8.5-mile Range Rally course, ScooterCross, and Show-'n'-Shine event as well. The event closed out with a Drag Racing EVent that was held at Mason-Dixon Dragway.
Electric street rods may not happen upon the scene in any great numbers for a long time, if ever, but it is fun to think of new, and equally as fun, ways to enjoy our street rods. The benefits are there, the cost is continually coming down, but we do lose that unmistakable V-8 sound-and that may prove to be the unkindest cut of all.