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Two Sibling Cars: One Easy, One Mischievious

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The first drive of our prototype electric vehicle with a temporary electric system and no body. Tom D. is our driver and the team's student director. (Photo courtesy Saint Thomas Academy Experimental Vehicle Team)

Will spilled resin wash out of my uniform pants?

Oh no! Not that question again! I warn students that they should bring a change of clothes to the shop, and it should be something they will never wear in public again. How many times will youthful enthusiasm override common sense? Someone’s mom is not going to be happy when her son gets home from school! Welcome to a typical day at EVT.

The Saint Thomas Academy Experimental Vehicle Team has been building one-person alternative energy vehicles for 15 years. Each project has been as unique as the contest they were designed for, ranging from cross-country solar cars to enclosed electric motorcycles. Even though each project is very different, the group of budding engineers that build them have two common themes: a new vehicle will be tested in the school parking lot and someone will need new uniform pants.

This year our team of young Thomas Edisons are working feverishly to finish two new vehicles for Shell Eco-marathon. Choosing to build vehicles for both the urban concept AND prototype categories seemed like a good idea seven months ago! Now the growing list of details that need finishing makes me wonder what we where thinking. The tick…tick….tick of the clock in my physics room serves as a cruel mistress, always reminding the team that the cars leave for Houston in less than two weeks!

Choosing a favorite vehicle is like trying to choose a favorite student. They all make you smile, but some give you less trouble than others. Our prototype electric is composed of a carbon fiber body and a CNC cut carbon frame. The frame was designed to fit together like a three dimension jigsaw puzzle with tabs and slots. A high strength epoxy was used to bond things together. The three-wheeled prototype is fully suspended and is powered by a 1000-watt Heinzmann electric hub motor. The prototype has been the easy child of the family, while his brother, the urban concept vehicle, has proved to be a little bit more mischievous.

The urban concept vehicle is electric like its little brother, the prototype, and while they share a carbon fiber heritage, the application of the magic black cloth has been very different. The straight cuts on the prototype car’s frame look sterile when sitting next to the organic looking seat/frame of the urban concept car. Using the seat as a structural part of the frame was a stretch for us, but has proved to be a lightweight solution to a troublesome problem.

As our project moves forward into a well-timed Spring Break, we will keep you informed and provide a little more insight into what works (and perhaps more importantly what doesn’t!) as we rush to complete our vehicles and get them “On the Road to Houston.”