Project Spotlight: Custom Fiero-Based Performance EV "White Lightning"

Every day, Americans from all walks of life embark on a quest to build their very own electric car. Creig Freeman is just such an individual, building a performance EV based on the body of an old Pontiac Fiero. What started as a modest EV has become a performance vehicle with lofty ambitions. This is his story in his own words.  – Ed.

My name is Creig Freeman, and I am a friend of Todd Perkins, and helping him with the Inhaler Race Rod project here in Columbus, Ohio. When you did the write up on his project he was kind enough to send me the link to the online article and suggest I tell you about my electric sports car project as well, tentatively named “White Lightning.”

In early 2008 I was annoyed with the War in Iraq and the high cost of gasoline, and decided to do something about it. That something was build an electric car. Initially, I had modest goals; build an EV I could drive back and forth to work. My educational background after all was in biological sciences and languages, not engineering, but as the build plans progressed and I did more research on the subject, my design goal objectives became more ambitious. At the time I was working for OSU almost across the street from OSU Center for Automotive Research (OSU CAR). So of course I went to CAR to pick their brains on their electric car projects, like the Buckeye Bullet and their Formula Lightning cars.

Concurrently I was studying what the pioneers of electric drag racing (John Wayland et. al.) had been doing and gathering as much information as was available on the Tesla Roadster design specs. As I gathered all this information I began thinking that it was possible to build an electric car with Tesla like performance but at around 1/3 the cost.

I knew that a $109,000 Tesla or $400,000 Venturi is not going to save the world from global warming or prevent oil resource conflicts in the Middle East, because most people can not afford to buy them. We don’t need the equivalent of electric Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s, we need the equivalent of electric Ford Mustang’s or electric Chevy Camaro’s.

My East Asian language background has given me entrepreneurial friends in China, and I knew that by manufacturing components there and assembling the car here in the USA an affordable electric sports car that the average person could afford to buy could be made. So I set out to build the first prototype of such a car.

With a thorough understanding of the requirements of a practical and affordable electric vehicle, a knowledge of the available technologies, and an understanding of the importance of weight reduction and drag coefficient in building an efficient, high performance electric sports car, I set out to build an electric sports car with the acceleration of a Ferrari 355 Spyder or Porshe Boxster, a top speed of about 125 mph, and the potential retail price of a Chevy Camaro or a Ford Mustang.

Designed to compete with a Tesla Roadster in performance, but cost one third of what a Tesla does, this car could do for electric cars what Ford did for the ICE (internal combustion engine) car more than one hundred years ago….make them affordable and desirable for the masses.

Since I funded the first prototype entirely on my own, I opted to utilize an old GM frame/chassis from a Pontiac Fiero, which was completely stripped, sandblasted, primed, painted, and rebuilt with new high performance, lightweight suspension, brakes, fiberglass/carbon fiber body panels, polycarbonate windows, et. al. White Lightning uses a Ferrar-replica coil-over suspension, and the rear hatch was inspired by Porsche to eliminate the drag on the original Fiero design. Of course the ultimate goal for further prototypes and production cars is to design and build a Chrome Moly tube or aluminum frame of similar design which would reduce weight even more, potentially by as much as 400 pounds.

The hatch was inspired by Porsche, and reduces drag significantly on the design.

The first prototype is now basically complete and has taken its first several test drives. Adjustments and improvements continue to be made to its brakes, suspension alignment, lighting and battery/monitoring systems. Its current seats and side windows will eventually be replaced with lighter versions. The experimental hybrid lead acid AGM/LiFePO4 battery packs will eventually be replaced with all Li ion pack/packs. Although the hybrid battery pack works, it complicates battery monitoring/management and is not sufficiently economical to be worth the increased complexity and weight.

Since many people still hold the idea that electric cars are slow, this prototype will be entered in NEDRA sanctioned drag races and probably some autocross events as well once funds/sponsorship becomes available to support this venture. To this end the prototype’s motor controller system may be upgraded from its current 170 volt nominal street going system to a 300 volt custom race version, which will give it at least 100 additional peak horsepower.

The race ready car should have about 300 peak horsepower and500 ft. lbs. of torque from 1 rpm. With a predicted drag coefficient of 0.30 and a weight around2700 pounds, this should give performance competitive with a Tesla Roadster…or a Ferrari 355. At that point it should have a 0-60 of around 3.0 seconds and with all that low end torque from 1 rpm, should actually outperform them.

The prototype I current specifications are given below:

Body Style: 2 door, rear wheel drive, mid engined sport coupe

Body Material: Fiberglass/Carbon Fiber

Wheel base: 2385mm  (94 inches)
Width: 1778 mm (70 inches)
Height: 1191 mm (46.9 in)

Seating Capacity: 2 adults

Motor: WarP 11 Series wound DC motor, 11.45″ diam. (48-170V), w/ forced air cooling

Transmission/ Drive Train: 4 speed manual: Muncie/Getrag M-17 Transmission, stock axles

Controller: DC Power Systems Raptor 1200A @170V with custom forced air, 700 continuous amps, 1800A motor amp (pulsed)

Batteries: hybrid battery pack: (Thundersky LiFePO4 prismatic battery powered) 100 Ah, LiFePO4, 52 cells,405 lbs. , 13 Excide Orbital, 50Ah, 1800A capable AGM cells in parallel. Total pack weight:905 lbs. Energy available 25.0 kwh.

Curb weight:2900 lbs. currently (2700 with 27 kwhr all Li ion battery upgrade)

System Voltage: 170V nominal

Power: 163 kw (218 h.p.),400 ft. lbs. torque (Peak power)

Top Speed/ Acceleration: 120-130 mph (estimated based on gearing & power available), 0-60 in 5.0-6.0 seconds

 Average Range: 90 miles, with current pack (estimated from 25.0 Kwh pack, assuming 275 Wh/mile energy consumption), (180 miles with upgraded pack)

Triple redundant electrical safety features
Recharge from 110V, or 220V house plug   –

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.