College Students Turn Classic British Roadster Into Electric Car

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In its time, the MGB was one of the most modern sports cars available. Featuring some of the first crumple zones to ever be included in a production car, as well as a fast-for-its-day 0-60 mph acceleration of 11 seconds. It was also a beauty.

So it’s clear why, in 1984, an engineering professor with a brand-spanking new PhD, who had just begun his professional career at the University of South Carolina, would think it might be cool to drive a 1972 MGB around with the top down in that climatically-pleasant area of the US. And so began Professor Roger Dougal‘s obsession with his MGB.

But life chugged by, and Dr. Dougal found he didn’t have as much time for his darling MGB as he thought. So the car sat sadly in his garage gathering dust, and when Dr. Dougal’s devotion to educating his students began to outweigh the gathering dust, the choice for him became clear: turn the MGB over to his students to convert it into an electric car.

“I’ve always played with cars as a hobby,” said Dougal. “I bought the car to rebuild it, but just ran out of time. I decided to do something useful.”

So far the students have spent about $10,000 converting the MGB into an MGB-EV, as they call it. They’ve taken the convertible top off and installed a roll cage with the ultimate goal of entering the car in SCCA autocross events. Most of the work has been done on a volunteer basis — only some of the students have been paid or received class credit for it.

Because of the desire to enter it into races, they’ve sacrificed range for performance. The engine has been replaced by an AC motor with a custom driveshaft. The power currently comes from a bank of 100 supercapacitors, and the team hopes to supplement that with lithium-ion batteries soon to improve the range.

Right now the car looks rather ugly because it’s been stripped of the cosmetically appealing parts — you know, “non-essential” things such as headlights — but the team is waiting to add those back until more of the conversion is done.

The students also want to add “sounds more closely resembling a car” to the converted MGB because right now the car “sounds much like a golf cart.” Personally, I like the quiet of an all-electric car. Adding the “car” sounds back in seems kind of pointless and might actually ruin the experience for me.

In any event, it’s a project worthy of praise. Kind of makes me long for the college days when there were no other worries to take my mind away from projects like this. Now that I think about it, I understand completely why Dr. Dougal turned to car over to the students.

If you live in South Carolina, or happen to be there this weekend, the car will be on display at the Carolina British Classics III Auto Show at Weston Lake on today (Saturday, September 12th, 2009) from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm.

Source: USC Press Release

Image Credits: MGB-EV from project website, smaller picture of a mint MGB adapted from Wikimedia Commons and has been release to the public domain.

Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.