Welcome to CapmWoody's Fiat Land
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The 1500 Cabriolet
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Click Picture for Larger ImageYep, that's right, folks.  CapmWoody has totally lost it.  As if 25 to 32 year old Fiats weren't challenging enough, I've now set my sights on the over 40 crowd.   Imagine the pain of keeping a 40+ year old Italian car on the road.  The mind just boggles. 

But things are rarely as they seem. There's an interesting little twist to this story of auto erotica. As John Prine said "I knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve".

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Notice anything unusual about the grill of this car?


Well, actually it's an extension cord. This dusty, but otherwise fine specimen of the classic Fiat Cabriolet is a pure EV. The only gas in this car will be a by-product of the burrito I had for lunch.  I don't have all the details yet, but I'll lay out what I know at this time. There is no engine, transmission, gas tank, etc. It's powered by a DC motor which is mounted in the transmission tunnel, directly driving the drive shaft through the flexible coupling. This leaves the entire engine compartment free for batteries, controller and charger. Click on the pictures below for a closer view.

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It was originally set up as a 120 volt system comprised of ten, deep cycle 12v batteries, five in the front and five in the back. This gave it a top speed of over 75 mph and a range of about 50 miles of freeway driving or about 40 miles of stop & go driving. Because of the weight of 10 large batteries, the builder decided to remove two of the batteries and run it as a 96 volt system (4 up front and 4 in the back). This dropped the top speed to 65 mph but had no appreciable effect on the range. That is the configuration that the car is in now.  It can be run with up to 12 batteries.  The 144 volt system would give even higher top speeds, but there would be a penalty to be paid in handling because of the additional weight. Smaller (lighter) batteries could be used to reduce weight, but then range would suffer.

So basically, you tailor the system to its application. In his case, 65 mph was fast enough and he had more than enough range to drive from east of Tampa to Clearwater to work, recharge while working and drive back home through rush hour traffic. In my case, I do most of my daily driving in a 45 mph speed zone, rarely leaving the seven mile long island that I live on.  I occasionally drive to Clearwater on business and can do so on the freeway, if I don't mind being passed when the traffic really gets rolling.  Freeway speed limit in the St. Pete-Clearwater area is 65 mph. So I will probably keep it as a 96 volt system for now.

One of the really nice things about this conversion is that there was absolutely NO cutting, chopping, bending or any other kind of mutilation of this car.  It can be converted back to a gas car at any time. The two large instruments in the dash were replaced with the appropriate electrical instruments.  There is an amp meter, state of charge volt meter, temperature gauges for the motor and controller, and a digital speedometer. There is no clutch or shifter.

To drive it you just turn the standard Fiat ignition key to the on position, select forward or reverse, press on the foot pedal and off you go. When you take off from a dead stop, the acceleration is rather slow. (remember that you're starting out in 4th gear) There is only a very faint whirring sound. At any speed, wind and tire noise is all that you hear.  When you take your foot off the accelerator, the motor stops running and you just coast. No noticeable deceleration at all. The brakes are not power assisted but I did not find them to be heavy.  Teresa will have no problem using the brakes.

There are several ways to give it more acceleration.  The most common way is to keep the original transmission in the car.  The disadvantages of that are the additional weight, and the loss of energy through the gears. Because of the torque characteristics of the electric motor, you'd only be using two gears anyway. Another way (as I understand it, and I'm new to this stuff) is the use of a more sophisticated controller. The controller sends out measured pulses to power the motor.  The duration and amperage of the pulses determine what the motor does.  The builder had a controller go out on him once and had to wire it direct to get home, i.e. ON or OFF.  It was raining that day and the roads were slick, but he said that it took quite a while for the rear tires to stop spinning.  A high tech controller would do wonders for the acceleration and possibly improve the range too.

So, there will be no more hassling with the engine, transmission, clutch, pressure plate, throw out bearing, radiator and assorted hoses, no alternator, voltage regulator, distributor, points, plugs, timing belts or chains, carburetors or fuel injection systems, no starter motor,  starter solenoid, gas tank, fuel pump or filters, no oil or oil filter to change or old oil to dispose of, etc.  It has a motor with one moving part.  Maintenance includes replacing motor brushes every 60,000 miles or so, and battery water level checked weekly. Batteries were going on 5 years old when I took possession of the car and while the range is reduced from that of new batteries, it's not so bad that I feel a need to replace them yet.

It's not a panacea though.  If you run out of charge, you're totally screwed. Walking to a gas station with a gas can will do you no good at all. You have to find an outlet to charge from (can take several hours if you have a long way to go to get home), or you can call a tow truck. So obviously there are limitations and for some people it just wouldn't work.  But for me,...well, I'm really excited about it. For local driving here on the island and occasional jaunts up the freeway to a known location, it should serve me just fine. I'll give progress reports of what it's like as time goes by.

I originally went to talk to the owner about the feasibility of converting my Scorpion to electric power.  We talked about it for a while, then he said that he was leaving the area after the first of the year and had too many cars to take with him. (same Italian car disease many of us are afflicted with) And he really wanted an electric pickup truck anyway.  He offered to sell it to me at a very good price and we shook on it. A few days later I sent him a deposit on the car and will take possession by the end of the year, probably in November. That is when my lease is up. I'm living in a condo right now and don't even have a place to plug it in.  (This is my first attempt at condo living - It Sucks) 

The plan at the moment (these things tend to be quite fluid) is to replace the Scorpion with the Cabriolet, keeping the 124 coupe and the Brava for the time being, then later getting rid of the Brava and getting another Scorpion. I'm trying to get down to two cars, but keep hovering around the 3-4 range.  If they just weren't so damned cheap. Anyway, the interior is in good shape. The seats have one seam letting go on the drivers side but show no other signs of wear. The dash top is NOT CRACKED !  How is that possible? The top is in very nice shape, the body has only a couple of very small areas of surface rust that I have seen so far.  Everything looks really solid. And the paint is ORIGINAL!

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Update December 2005