Gas price talk leads trio to build electric car on their own terms

The Sheleys – (from left) Shannon, Josh Sheley and their dad Rowdy Sheley — converted a 1993 Eagle Summit to an electric car. The project, which started last Fourth of July, was completed early this spring.
The Sheleys – (from left) Shannon, Josh Sheley and their dad Rowdy Sheley — converted a 1993 Eagle Summit to an electric car. The project, which started last Fourth of July, was completed early this spring. Photo by Andre B. Laird.

Originally published Aug. 20, 2009.

When guys get together to "shoot the breeze," most talk about sports or politics.

However, last year, with the escalating gas prices, Rowdy Sheley and two of sons, Shannon and Josh, were discussing options.

"We saw how the prices were rising and how everybody was complaining and were just thinking of how we could figure it all out," Rowdy Sheley says.

He says that's when the research into electric cars started.

"We spent a lot of time researching on the Internet," states Josh Sheley. "None of us have any prior auto experience, so we had to research to make sure we knew what we were doing."

The first thing the men had to do was find a suitable vehicle to convert. The men at first searched for a small truck, like a Chevy S10 or Ford Ranger.

"A lot of the stuff we looked at had rust problems of just wasn't in the condition we were looking for," says Shannon Sheley. "We ended buying a 1993 Eagle Summit, in Auburn, which was in good shape."

He adds that the first order of business was to strip the vehicle of all non-electric components.

"We took out the engine, exhaust system, fuel pump and line and cooling system," Shannon Sheley states. "We also took out the back seats of the wagon and built a Styrofoam casing for the batteries."

The men say that a lot of time was spent figuring out where the new parts would be housed in the vehicle.

And there are a lot of components. For example, the vehicle uses 20 26-volt batteries, which is why the back seats were removed. The men also had a few choices in the type of motors they wanted to install.

"It all depends on the performance you want out of the car," states Josh Sheley. "We went with a mid-level motor, a seven-inch, which gives us about 50 miles per charge and hits speeds of 70 miles per plus."

Sheley adds that a lot of time was also spent simply waiting for the parts to be delivered, because they were ordered off the Internet.

"We all have other jobs, so we mainly worked on the project on the weekends," he adds.

"One of the biggest differences between this car and a regular gas-powered car is the sound, because there is none," states Rowdy. "There are also no fumes or vibration."

He adds that he likes the fact that he never has to deal with filters or oil or gas again, while driving this car.

"I like driving down the road with the gas tank latch open so people can see the cord that we used to charge the batteries hanging out the window," he states. "I also like pulling into gas stations and messing around under the hood, then drive off without getting gas."

He adds that after the car was fully assembled and operational, he got to take the first test drive.

"At 70-plus miles an hour, I think the car performs with regular cars on the road," says Josh Sheley. "A quick charge takes four hours or you can fully charge it overnight for 8-10 hours on a regular 110-volt household outlet."

The vehicle is used by Rowdy Sheley to drive and from work each day. So far the men have logged 2,500 miles.
The family owns and operates Midwest Alternatives, a dealer of Interstate batteries and also specializes in electric car conversion.

"We would love to help anyone with converting the vehicle or just to answer questions on how to do it," states Josh Sheley. "It seems complicated at first and can be overwhelming, but it relatively easy and simple to understand."

"I enjoyed working on the project," adds Shannon Sheley. "We would definitely do it again."

For more information, contact Rowdy at 388-1118; Shannon at 468-2396 or Josh at 403-3583.

Midwest Alternatives is located at 17499 Indianapolis Rd.