Friday, November 20, 2015

A Pinch of This, A Dash of That

The Porsche's been home for going on three weeks now, and I'm getting accustomed to driving it. It's been a bit disconcerting to be out on the road with no instrumentation, though; no clue about the voltage, current consumption, temperatures, or state of charge. Only the speedometer from the classic gauge panel functioned, and rather poorly at that.

Pretty as the they are, the old gauges need to be replaced with something a bit more in keeping with electrifying nature of the car. I chose an Andromeda EVIC (Electric Vehicle Interface Controller) display that is custom designed for the GEVCU controller at the heart of my electric drive. This single display panel covers all of the useful driver information, save for speed.
The speedometer should be at least generally compatible with the digital nature of the EVIC, so an Intellitronix Digital GPS unit in a complementary blue hue was chosen. This speedo also has performance tracking and will measure 0-60, quarter mile, and top speed, along with a trip and cumulative odometer. Add turn signal, high beam, and precharge indicator lights and we have a full complement of function for the replacement dashboard.

To build the new dashboard, we start with ... a board! A scrap of 1/4" plywood will do nicely. I dug out my trusty 40 year old jig saw, got a new blade for it, and proceeded to ruin two blanks before I got to this point. I did cheat and got a 3 1/4" hole saw for the speedometer. Since the speedo needs a 3 3/8" opening, I also picked up a rotary rasp for my drill. New power tools will always warm my heart.

So here's a trial fit with most of the bits in place:

And here's the final fitting after many coats of flat black from a rattle can:

Yet another terminal board was needed to manage all of the connections. The large black box is the GPS controller for the speedometer. The relay turns on the brake lights under regenerative braking. That was actually the first thing I did on this dashboard project because with the aggressive regen produced by the Siemens motor, you can literally drive with only the power pedal. I don't want drivers behind me crawling up my tailpipe (sorry, no tailpipe) when I stop without signaling. The terminal board was installed under the dash in the space vacated by the gas engine Electronic Control Module.

The unit looks pretty nice when in place, but getting it there was a multi-day effort and wiring everything took hours of laying on my back with my feet in the air and squeezing my hands into very tight places with sharp edges.
All of it was worth the effort, because the effect is really quite stunning.

Now I need to figure out what's up with the Ah reading, but the rest of the info looks like it's accurate. I was a bit concerned about daytime visibility, but it appears to be a non-issue today in bright sunlight, and even is readable with sunglasses on - all good. Took the opportunity to remount the steering wheel in a more straight ahead position so I don't feel like I'm driving crabwise down the road. This has been a satisfying refinement of the car, next item will be to dampen the sound on the power brake vacuum pump.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

On the Road Again

Bob called yesterday to let me know the Porsche was ready to be picked up. Pro Automotive had delivered on everything I asked of them and much more!

In front of the shop with my Leaf in the background

Here's the team that made it all possible: on the left are Colton, Bob, and Keith, three generations of a wonderful family business, with Robert on the right. Many thanks, Guys!
Master Craftsman Robert Juarez in front of his creation. Robert did all the fabrication, body, and paint work. He's taken a very personal interest in both of my EV projects and has been a source of great ideas and practical applications.

PorschEV arrives at home after the short jaunt up Highway 620 and down Anderson Mill Road. The car drives great!

The PorschEV takes its place alongside its sister ship, the evTD, both products of the care and craftsmanship of Pro Automotive.

And I can't overlook the role played by Jack Rickard and EVTV. The EVTV Store was the source for nearly all of the major components inside the PorchEV, and it is Jack's vision, persistence, and the programming skills of the team he's assembled that are making OEM quality parts available for custom conversions like the PorschEV.

A project like this is never finished, and there is still much to refine, but this can now be done in small chunks while the car is in service. Not The End ...

Monday, November 2, 2015

Details and More Details

Went over to Pro Automotive this morning to do some under-hood work in preparation for the air conditioner bring-up. Found Robert hard at work on the rubber window channels and waist seals.

The old ones were hardened and brittle to the point they crumbled when they should have flexed. The new rubber is supple and dark and should seal the windows and prevent rattling. A bit of a struggle to install, but Robert figured out how to bend and guide the new parts into the two separate channels in the window frame.

My job this morning was to move the power brake vacuum pump valve out of the way. It was directly over and blocking access to one of the air conditioner fill valves.

Also on today's work list is finishing the high voltage wiring for the electric ac compressor so we can test it after it gets its freon charge.

With the terminal connections done, all that remains is to run some orange accordion loom over the wiring so we're consistent in identifying high voltage cable runs for emergency response personnel. Hope we never need it!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

I Love it When a Plan Comes Together

Only one picture today, but it's beyond exciting!

After two years of gathering parts, planning, head scratching, thinking and rethinking, and trial and error, Robert sends me this and says that the hood closed with plenty of clearance.

I can't get over how beautiful the front end looks!

I'm heading over to Pro Automotive tomorrow morning to finish the wiring for the air conditioning compressor. Now I'm anxious to have a look. There are still many details to take care of, but I think by the end of the week we'll be able to declare victory!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Trial Fit

Quick update: One fender and the nose panel are loosely in place, checking for fit.

The paint and finish on the front is gorgeous! The rest of the car looks faded and dusty now, but Robert thinks it should polish out nicely.

Still concerned about hood clearance on the front of the inverter, but the fender line is about an inch higher than the reference point on the inner fender wells, so we could just make it.

Robert has finished the headlamp covers and is working on the nose panel.

You can't see it, but one air conditioner hose is connected to the compressor and the other is out for fabrication and should be here early next week. Things are happening fast now, I'm very pleased with the progress!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Back to the Shop!

You'll recall that there were several contactor casualties from the precharge drama, along with some mysterious memory loss in the charger and DC/DC controllers. First the precharge situation: after frying the second set of contactors, I wired a couple of indicator lights to check the GEVCU precharge function and noted that they BOTH came on momentarily when the system was powered up, then followed the precharge sequence. That momentary inrush of current was all it took to weld the contactors closed. I also noticed during that momentary start-up period that the cooling fan spun just a bit.

At EVCCON, I checked with Collin Kidder who wrote much of the GEVCU code, and he said he had heard of this from several other guys and that it seemed that in the split second it took for the processor to boot up, the mosfets that were supposed to connect to ground under program control, all connected by themselves. Not good.

Nick Smith suggested taking the GEVCU out of the equation by using a time-delay relay to control the precharge sequence. I found this on Amazon that seemed to fill the bill, and picked up two more contactors from the EVTV store. All mounted to a panel, it looks like this:

The contactor on the left closes at startup connecting the negative side of the pack to the inverter. The gold colored precharge resistor then restricts the current flow from the positive side to allow the capacitors to come up to pack voltage at a lower current. The time delay relay closes after roughly five seconds and connects the positive contactor allowing full current flow. An indicator light is wired to the normally closed terminal of the relay so there is a visual cue on the dashboard while the precharge is taking place. All of this works very well and has kept the contactors healthy.

In the controller situation, Jack Rickard had reloaded the flash memory on my DC/DC controller and re-enabled the WiFi function on my GEVCU while we were at EVCCON. I reinstalled the DC/DC when I got home and BLAM! lost the memory again. Jack asked me to return the controller along with the Volt APM. He found that the plug was bad, and built a whole new controller. Thanks Jack - great customer service!

The DC/DC controller came in a new style enclosure that included tabs that made it so much easier to mount.

While all that was going on, I noticed that the charge controller kept losing its settings. So here we have wiped out the flash memory on the DC/DC controller twice, the EEPROM on the charge controller any number of times, and the WiFi function on the GEVCU. What's the common denominator? The USB cable! I broke out a new USB cable, one with gold contacts and perhaps a little better quality, and everything works just fine now. Moral of that story, don't overlook level 1 diagnostics; Is it plugged in? Is the cable good?

Took son Freddy and daughter-in-law Tiffany for a ride around the block and I'm becoming more and more pleased with the way this car drives. I was wrapping up some of the detail work, installing the hood release cable, running wiring for the dashboard, and generally tidying up the motor compartment when Bob called from Pro Automotive to let me know that they had a relatively slow week ahead and this would be a perfect time to get the car in for reassembly of the front bodywork. Called for a flatbed and now the PorschEV is in for finishing.

After a full year of work, this project is coming to completion. There is plenty of tweaking and tuning ahead, but the end is in sight.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The EVCCON that wasn't ... or WAS IT?

After announcing the cancellation of EVCCON 2015, Jack Rickard noted with some bemusement that it just didn't want to be cancelled. He left the door open by offering his shop for an open house to whomever might care to visit, and it looks like pretty much all of us did. I had a hotel room and rental car all lined up, so I figured, "for a couple of days, why not?". And since the Porsche wasn't going to make it, I'd be traveling light anyway. Others like Michael Brown and Nick Smith were in the middle of global tours, coming from Thailand and New Zealand respectively. They were going to be there regardless. Speakers like John Hardy from the UK offered to do their thing anywhere there was a laptop and a projector, so Jack set up the showroom/studio of his shop classroom style and EVCCON 2015 took on a life of its own.

Once again Michael Brown did a superb job of live blogging the proceedings, so I'll direct you to his site again for the synopsis:

Day -1:…/…/evccon-2015-day-1.html

The session room was comfortably full and the information exchange with speakers and other attendees was more than worth the trip. 

Jack's direction for EVTV is all about making OEM components accessible to DIY guys like me, so that was the focus of the presentations and most of the break time chatter in the shop. A highlight of my last afternoon was the demonstration of a working Tesla drive train.

And there were cars - here's a sample:

All had been to EVCCON before, but it was good to see them again. Most had some detail improvements, and that's what makes these things fun. I'm disappointed that my Porsche wasn't ready in time because it really models the new direction, being fit almost entirely with OEM components. I brought along some problematic components that needed attention, and Jack was more than kind to give me his time to reload software and reconfigure settings. More on that in a future post.

In the previous four years of EVCCONs, the Thursday night barbecue at the Rickard estate had rained out. Not so for the EVCCON That Wasn't. Beautiful autumn weather and a spectacular setting overlooking the Mississippi river were on tap this year.

Many of the EV conversions made the short trip from the EVTV shop, and looked perfectly at home in front of the garage where the early shows were shot.

Of course Jill's Tesla looks right at home, because it is.

On a cool October evening, the fire pit was a welcome gathering spot. I said my farewells after the dinner because I was heading back to Austin in the morning, but EVCCON 2015 continued on without me. I hope we have not seen the last of these events, because all of us work in relative isolation and hunger for the opportunity to hang out with others who share our passion.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Chicken and the Armadillo

One of the first Texas jokes my then middle school daughter picked up was:

Why did the chicken cross the road?

To show the armadillo it could be done!

The number of armadillo frisbees on Texas highways is proof that for those poor creatures, it's just not in the cards. I'm told that when startled by an oncoming car, armadillos jump straight up in the air to perfect bumper height. Unfortunate.

I tell that story to show you this:

Notice anything different?

It's facing the other direction!

I'm afraid that I did not have a camera crew on hand to capture the first drive, but I needed to show myself that it could be done. It was once around the block and back in the garage. Didn't want to alarm the local traffic patrol with a car that's basically naked in front. 

The good news is that the low hanging battery cage didn't scrape at the end of the driveway. The regen braking will take some getting used to and I suspect that I'll be fiddling with the throttle mapping to get it just right, but my first impression is that it's a smooth and civilized ride.

Now for jumping up to bumper height:

Here is the new configuration for the contactor and precharge relay:

It's considerably more compact than the Better Place contactor module it replaces. I plan to make a cover for it, painted black of course so it disappears.

Pretty as it is, I still don't have the precharge routine figured out - arc welded both this brand new contractor and the one in the back. As long as they are stuck in the closed position, I figured "Why not take it around the block?" And I did, despite the non functional DC/DC converter and ruined contactors. And it was pretty darned satisfying.

We're leaving on a week's vacation tomorrow for a tour of the upper Mid-West with my parents, visiting places that have memories from their childhood. Now I can relax and enjoy the trip knowing that I've at least had one successful spin around the block.

The week after, I'm driving up to Cape Girardeau to participate in the EVCONN that wasn't. Jack Rickard has invited anyone interested to drop by for an open house at his shop. I'll be able to consult with the best and brightest on what I'm doing wrong, and pick up replacement parts while I'm there.

When I get back, we're going to make this armadillo fly!

Disappointment Part Deux

The ink was still wet on my prior posting when Jack Rickard announced the cancellation of EVCCON 2015. Seems the liability insurance bond required for holding an event like this fell through and at this late date that's not recoverable.

Details here.

Jack did offer his shop for an open house that week and since I still have a hotel room reserved, I think I'll drive up for at least a couple of days to hang out with my EV pals.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


No pictures - not a lot to say. The Porsche won't be ready to take to EVCCON this year. The replacement contactor and precharge resistor/relay arrived late Tuesday. Spent all day Wednesday crafting a new mount for them in place of the arc-welded ones. That was all fine.

Also fine was the charger: it started up exactly as I had planned and loaded in 35 amp hours of energy, then terminated exactly as it was supposed to. The charge controller seems to be losing its configuration parameters when powered off, but otherwise ok.

I did notice that the 12 volt battery was dropping in voltage even though the DC/DC converter seemed to be running - at least the fan was spinning. When I plugged the laptop in to the controller, nothing, nada, pushing up daisies, pining for the fjords. You get it, casters up. I know it was working when installed, don't have an explanation for this one, but wasted the better part of today trying to get it to wake up.

So it's an extended game of Whack-A-Mole, and I only have one day left to get it rolling on its own power. With some regret, I decided to cancel the truck and trailer rental and go to EVCCON as a civilian this year. I will enjoy hanging out with my EV pals, and have a much better sorted vehicle to take next year.

Even so, it's a bummer ...

Monday, September 14, 2015

Small Fixes While Waiting for the Big Fix

The replacement contactor, precharge resistor and relay are on the UPS truck scheduled for delivery by end of day tomorrow. In the mean time, I've tackled some of the smaller chores that needed to be done to get everything ready for the road.

I installed the tail light assemblies on Saturday. They use a tar-like windshield seal instead of gaskets. The windshield seal comes in a roll with a wax paper separator between the 3/8" thick seal. It's pretty messy, but should be water tight. Once cleaned up, it looks as if it just came from the factory.

I spent most of Sunday afternoon working on the hood release cable, only to realize that it was frayed with a halo of strands making it impossible to snake through behind the carpet. It's replacement has also been ordered and should arrive midweek as well.

The tail lights don't light yet, I'm thinking they need the front running lights and turn signals to complete the circuits. I did solve the mystery of the pop up headlights, though, and probably cured the intermittent nature of the power windows. All it took was crawling into a heroically contorted position on my back under the dashboard. Oh, and finding the correct fuse reference charts online. These look like they came from the owners manual. How did we ever get by without Google? 

Now that I know where to look for the retractable headlight fuse, here's what I found:

It's obviously blown, and the fact that it's an 8 amp fuse in a 16 amp circuit might have something to do with that. Checking the rest of the fuses lead to the realization that they were placed pretty randomly. These ceramic euro fuses are the same as the ones used in the VW Beetle, not surprising given the close ties between VW and Porsche back in the day. I picked up an assortment of the fuses and used most of them.

Some were just questionable. The new one's on the left - what's with the narrow fuse link in the old one?
Others were just scary, but creative. Kind of like putting a penny behind an old fashioned screw-in house fuse (if you're old enough to remember such things), someone improvised this replacement fuse by cutting a piece of wire and splaying the uninsulated wire strands over the fuse ends. It certainly would complete the circuit, but defeat the purpose for the fuse. This one was in the power windows slot which calls for a 16 amp fuse. Easy to see why the power windows only worked occasionally. Now they'll actually go up and down twice in a row and then do it again!
Almost 30 years of wear and tear have taken their toll on a lot of the convenience items. It looks like I'll be replacing all the interior light fixtures - they're all the same - and only one out of four lights up and dimly at that.

Tomorrow, more clean up and Wednesday we'll hope to get this thing on the road!