Pasco man giving car an electric rebirth
MIKE CAMUNASLUTZ - Steve Azzoli is looking to keep it simple.
Published: August 1, 2012
Published: August 1, 2012
Despite the complexity of his current project, the end result will live in simplicity.
"You can go broke doing this," Azzoli said, "but in the long run, the savings on gas make up for it."
Azzoli, a 63-year-old retiree, is restoring and converting a 1997 Saturn into an electric car. After paying just $400 for a junker from International Auto Parts in Spring Hill, this Land O' Lakes resident is just months away from having a brand new car that doesn't emit a single molecule or require a drop of gas.
"You've got to do it right the first time," Azzoli said. "I needed a new car, but if you buy a junk gas car, you're going to get a junk electric car. … Gas prices are going up and they're not going to stop, but to say this is an ambitious project is the understatement of the year."
Azzoli isn't looking to reinvent the wheel, or, in this case, the electric car. He's modeling his vehicle after the EV1, which General Motors developed and leased from 1996 until 1999. The EV1, like its successor, Chevy's Volt gas-electric hybrid, only got 40 miles to the charge.
Azzoli is looking to redesign the wheel, meaning he's going to get more range from his electric car. With the help of Rebirth Auto, Azzoli is pushing for a world-record 200 miles per charge.
The St. Petersburg-based Rebirth Auto LLC specializes in electric vehicle conversions.
"I've learned from people's trial and error," Azzoli said. "What's the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. … This will come down to the lithium-ion batteries, which weigh less and get a better charge."
Each lithium-ion battery will weigh just 28 pounds compared to the 75 pounds of lead-acid batteries commonly used in conversions. Azzoli is keeping the weight around 2,800 pounds, which in part involved stripping out all parts from the Saturn.
"We're going to stuff as many batteries in it as we possibly can," said Rebirth Auto sales and engineering representative Steve Messerschmidt. "Most people wouldn't restore a car and convert it to electric at the same time. That takes twice as long and is a pretty ambitious project."
And costly. Most conversions done by Rebirth Auto turn a vehicle into "a soccer-mom car," says Messerschmidt, meaning it gets just 40 to 50 miles to the charge and is "the perfect grocery getter — get-the-kids kind of car and run errands in it."
In the end, Azzoli will spend around $23,000, including about $3,000 on the restoration of the car, which includes new parts from brakes to struts to springs to gas lines, plus installing new, lighter seats, tires and getting a paint job at Diamond Auto Works in Lutz.
The electric conversion will be more expensive, which includes $7,000 for electric-motor parts, while the batteries with a charger will be about $14,000.
"We're proving a point," Messerschmidt said. "He's going to do something GM did, then quit doing and then do it even better than GM did. We're pushing the envelope pretty hard."
Azzoli hopes to make the inaugural trip in December. He works on the car when he has free time and his budget permits. Azzoli hopes, however, to have a "brand-new" car that will take just four hours to charge and get him around town.
For now, Azzoli will take his current car, a Dodge Intrepid, and continue his work. He looks forward to the day commuting will be more simplified.
"You know K.I.S.S? What's that mean? ... Keep it simple, stupid," Azzoli said, leaning into the open hood of his soon-to-be electric car. "You don't try to change what's been done, just make it better.
"Having this car will make things simple, and it shouldn't be hard to do because it's something we all need in this day."