Thursday, September 1, 2011

Feature: Retro Electro

The Steam Whistle brewery, like many small production breweries is always looking to get the good word out to the public, and one such way to do so, was to combine two passions. Company founder, Greg Taylor, while loving beer, also has a passion for vintage vehicles. As a result, the company boasts an extremely unique fleet of nine company sales and delivery vehicles that has everything from a 1956 Dodge Fargo to a 1964 Jeep Wagoneer, and everything in between.

The fleet is managed by Tim McLaughlin, a fellow classic car lover and a marketing manager. Each vehicle is painted in the breweries own “Steam Whistle Green” a rather loud version of the color for obvious advertorial reasons. However, the goal of the project was not just to find some old trucks and paint them in a loud color. These are car guys, and they wanted something different, something that stuck out in a crowd, and something that they could uniquely call there own. As a result of being on the constant search of such uniqueness, each vehicle has created a character of their own, each given nicknames as though they were fellow employees.

The fleet started off with 1949 International Stake Truck that was restored to original condition, with the addition of a more efficient diesel engine mounted in the front. This extra hauling power means that International, affectionately nicknamed Lumpy, can carry ¾ ton of bear, or 16 kegs to retailers.

Then there’s “Grande Verde” a 1964 Jeep Wagoneer based out of Edmonton, which has received a minor lift with heavy-duty suspension to handle the added weight of liquid refreshments. To get all that weight moving, the company dropped in a 360 cubic inch AMC mill.

One of the most unique members of the fleet is “Chuckles,” a 1956 Dodge Fargo that makes an ideal delivery vehicle with improved hauling power thanks to the addition of a 350 cubic inch small block. The old Dodge also boasts a great turning radius for narrow streets, so Chuckles makes an ideal vehicle for the home delivery department, and is used to deliver beer to private house parties.

Another interesting vehicle is the 1967 Ford Econoline nicknamed “The Steam Machine” that has been kept fairly stock as finding engines that would fit into it is hard to come by. However, what makes this vehicle special is the two taps that are fitted right the exterior of the vehicle. If the party won’t come to you, Steam Whistle loads up some kegs, and goes mobile, setting up shop where ever the action is.

The “Party Bus,” a 1965 Ford Blue Bird, you would think would also be a mobile bar on wheels, however, this once is strictly a shuttle, moving execs, VIP’s or thirsty drinkers to the brewery for private parties, tours and tastings.

However, one vehicle in particular caught our eye, that of Vancouver representative, Mike Kiraly. This, the latest vehicle to dawn the Steam Whistle colors, is not only unique in its shape, it has something you likely will never find in another hot rod. It’s electric, and uses no gasoline what so ever.

A dilemma had formed at the brewery, as these lovers of old classic vehicles, like a growing number in our ranks, were feeling guilty about the rather harsh pollution these vehicles emit. Not to mention the fuel bill that comes with hustling heavy beer kegs all over the city. The issue becomes even harder to bear as Steam Whistle has taken on a massive set of green initiatives in an effort to become the greenest brewery in the country. Everything from using natural products in the beer itself to using clean energy to power the brewery, and everything in between. Making their intentions quite public, the brewery was loosing some green cred when kegs were showing up in one of their many classic V-8 powered hot rods.

Kiraly came up with the perfect solution. Take a vintage Chevrolet Apache, rip out the powertrain and turn it into an EV, thereby keeping hold of a unique vintage vehicle, while holding true to the companies core social and environmental ethics. But turning this classic into a golf kart just wasn’t going to cut it, this hot rod needed to be electric, and do burnouts. And so, Kiraly pitched project RETRO ELECTRO to Greg and the team back in Ontario, who gave their approval. In November of 2009, Kiraly bought a 1958 Chevy Apache after the owners left a note on the windshield of the ‘57 Chev pickup he was using at the time. With the unique truck in hand, it was sent off to Vern Bethel of False Creek Automotive and Joe Mizsak to begin the restoration side of the build, with a complete ground up restoration.

Once the Apache looked the part, it fell to Azure Dynamics to supply the vital motor and electronics controller the Retro Electro would need for propulsion. Ironically, the same rules of hot rodding apply to hot rodding an EV. You want to go faster, put a bigger engine in it and dump more fuel into it. With the Retro Electro, Kiraly opted for a large motor, Azures massive AC90 electric motor, and fueled in with masses of powerful batteries. Using an AC motor meant that it is easy to hook up regenerating braking while peak torque, all 465 ft-lb, comes on between 200 and 300 rpm, staying strong up to 3000 rpm. However, a motor is nothing with out the electronics to keep everything running. Azure supplied the control unit needed to convert the stored energy into power for the motor in a civilized manner.

With all the goodies in hand, Kiraly was going to need help to put it all together and make it all work. He then turned to Greg Murray at Electric Autosports. Electric Autosports are EV conversion specialists in Vancouver, and set about making the Electro a working reality. To power that big motor, you need big power that comes in the form of 96 Thundersky Lithium-ion phosphate batteries mounted in series. These are very stable and safer than cobalt technology as they melt down instead of exploding when overheating, always a good thing.  In total, the 96 batteries put out 160 amp/hour cells that put out 3.35 v which weight about 1,100 lbs spread equally throughout the vehicle giving it an ideal 51/49 weight distribution. While making the handling ideal these batteries also give the Electro a range 150 km when Kiraly isn’t lighting up the tires.

Electic Autosports then went to work mating the motor right to the driveshaft. Unlike conventional vehicles, the Electro is direct drive with the only gearing being in the rear-end. For maximum acceleration and burnout photo ops, Kiraly runs a 6.3 gear ratio mated to a positraction differential courtesy of I.W.E. Rear-ends. However, for more relaxed driving in the city and the capability of 130-kmh top speed, Kiraly uses a 3.11 ratio for every day use. The truck looks a little barren inside as there is no need for a shifter with no gearbox, only a select drive switch mounted to the dash that either keeps the motor in neutral, drive, or a reverse setting which simply reverses the motors rotation, giving reverse drive.

Charging, as you might have wondered, is operated just like plugging in a clothes dryer at home. A 220 volt charging outlet mounted on the sidestep body panel simply receives a standard 220 extension cord, plugged into the garage 220 volt outlet. For the majority of Kiraly’s driving, he notes that the Electro never needs more than three hours charge.

With the truck up and running this spring, Kiraly lit up the tires for the first time in an impressive show of smoke and power. With the added weight of the batteries and the direct drive of the motor, this burnout was the equivalent to spinning the tires in fourth gear with about 600 lbs of cargo sitting in the rear bed of a conventional V-8 powered truck. All of a sudden, electric power doesn’t seem so golf kartish, as the AC90 definitely delivered on Kiraly’s expectations.

Today, the Electro is used as a daily driver for Kiraly, dropping off beer, making sales calls, and just used to attract attention for the brand when he’s driving around town, and attention he gets! While following Kiraly to the photoshoot location, nearly every pedestrian on the street did a double take when the Electro drove by. It wasn’t so much the uniqueness of the Apache, or the brilliance of the color, but the unnatural silence of the truck driving by. With most trucks like this, you expect to hear the rumble of the big V-8 under the hood, but with the Electro, all you get is the soft wine of the electric motor. Kiraly notes that he gets a lot of “why would you go and do something like that, why not put big power in,” but Kiraly always proves the haters wrong with a chirping of the tires at 30 kmh. The trucks performance is outstanding, and while Kiraly has yet to get out to the drag strip, his ability to power through traffic in impressive.

So while we are still torn dumping our beloved internal combustion engines out of our classics, Kiraly and his Retro Electro has given us some food for though. Maybe not the beloved classics, but possibly the daily driver, which will be more useful to the environment and our wallets. What ever our decision, there is no doubting that the Steam Whistle brewery is getting some very well deserved exposure for having the courage to built something so unique and forward thinking.

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