A New Zealand grandmother has converted a 29-year-old wreck into a homemade, solar-powered electric vehicle, “to show it can be done.”
Rosemary Penwarden, 63, has been driving her converted vehicle around South Island roads for three years now. The project took her and a friend more than eight months of solid work and tinkering.
“You do have to be a little bit mad,” she said. “I want to thank the oil companies for the motivation.”
Penwarden bought a 1993 car body from an auto wrecker, and took the combustion engine out herself. She replaced it with a new gearbox and electric engine, then packed the front and back of the car with batteries — 24 under the hood and 56 in the trunk.
In total the project, including labor, cost Penwarden NZ$24,000 (US$15,612). The vehicle is registered and warranted. After several years on the road, her project came to the attention of local reporters.
Refrigeration engineer Hagen Bruggemann, who helped Penwarden convert the car, has now converted about eight vehicles to electric engines.
“You can talk as much as you want about all this environmental crap, but you have to implement it,” he said.
Without free labor, converting a car is not a financially viable option for most people — but there is a strong commercial argument for converting trucks and larger vehicles, where the body tends to be worth much more than the engine, he said.
Converting a diesel truck would pay off within five years, he said.
“Really, the polluters should be paying — I don’t see why they’re not,” he added.
A longtime environmental campaigner, Penwarden said the time and money she devoted to converting her car is not possible for everyone.
“I’m in a very privileged place,” she said, adding that as the world adapts to the climate crisis, she wanted to illustrate the possibility.
She charges the car at her home, which is fully solar-powered.
While Penwarden believes the car would pay for itself — she had once spent up to NZ$100 a week on gasoline for commuting — she said it was not a cost-saving exercise and called on the government to support conversions.
“Just to be able to show that it can be done is a priceless thing,” she said. “The biggest thing is to help stop the biggest polluters as soon as possible — and nothing that we can do as individuals I think matters quite as much as that.”
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