John Wayland’s electric car isn’t some sedate runabout, but a racer capable of 0-60mph in 1.8 seconds
Electric-powered vehicles have their critics. For many people, they’re just not powerful enough. In order for manufacturers to make the cars affordable and cover a reasonable mileage in between charges, power is usually kept to a certain level.
John Wayland has gone some way to proving that electric cars can “blow the doors off” their petrol-powered cousins, however. Wayland built his first electric car – a converted 1972 Datsun 1200 – in 1980 and has been at it ever since. His most recent electric project is called the White Zombie (driven by Tim Brehm) and, like his first foray into the world of electric cars, it is based on a ’72 Datsun.
This isn’t just any electric eco-hatch, though. This is a fully-fledged dragster that is capable of doing 0-60mph in a staggering 1.8 seconds and the standing quarter mile in 10.2sec at 123mph.
“It’s not been easy to make it that fast,” Wayland tells me. “There are two aspects of electric power – energy density is how far you can go on a charge and power density is how fast you can go. We knew we were building a dragster so we could concentrate on the power. We got rid of a big obstacle right away.”
Even without focusing on energy density, John can still drive to his local drag strip 16 miles away, race the car all night and then drive home without going anywhere near a plug.
“It’s taken many years of hot-rodding to get the technology to work, because when we started we only had a 24-volt motor and we were trying to put 300 volts into it. It didn’t like that at all and it got real pissed off.” Years spent fettling the design – and the current specification (right) of a 330-volt motor, a 2000-amp controller and 355-volt battery pack – mean that the car now regularly beats its petrol-powered equivalents.
However, it’s still not that easy to race an electric dragster. “I’m a founding member of the NEDRA [National Electric Drag Racing Association] in America,” says Wayland. “Before the NHRA [National Hot Rod Association] adopted the rules we drew up in 1999 they had no classes for us. In fact, they wouldn’t even let us race because they thought we were dangerous. There they were running liquid fuel that can melt city blocks and they were worried about our batteries!
“We still don’t have classes, but we do now have voltage divisions. What I really like doing is the ‘heads up’ racing, which means you compete against whoever draws up to the line next to you. We go down there with the electric cars and everybody will say ‘what’s that electric piece of crap?’. Then we blow their doors off in front of all their friends. When we do, we say ‘you just got beaten by the future’.”
The future? “Absolutely. Electric dragsters really are the future and I’m sure we’re going to take almost all the records away from the normal machines. We’ve got a long way to go in the [most powerful] Top Fuel category, but if you look at the motorcycle classes, the fastest bikes are running six-second quarter miles. There are some running nitromethane in the fives, but we’re already approaching the sixes with electric bikes.
“Yes, the battery packs are heavy,” adds Wayland. “A lead acid battery pack used to weigh 400kg, but you can now get a lithium one that only weighs 68kg and which gives you 800bhp. Our motors are only 68kg, and when you compare that to a 230kg engine it’s not actually too bad.” With standard bodywork, windscreen and windows Wayland’s Datsun weighs in at 1065kg. That’s only 200kg heavier than our MGB racer, and that certainly doesn’t do 0-60mph in 1.8sec.
Whether electric dragsters are the future or not, you have to admit that Wayland is making a convincing case for them.