Joe Badger likes AMC Pacers so much he collects them.
One of his Pacers, an electric car built by Electric Vehicles Associates during the 1970s energy crisis, is believed to be the only one of its kind remaining.
If you wonder down to Genoa’s Cruisin’ classic car show and street fair on Sept. 21, you might catch Badger and his “Change of Pace.”
Badger, a Genoa resident, owns JBI Corp., an independent battery testing laboratory not far from his home. So close, he can plug in his electric Pacer overnight and drive it to work the next day without spending a cent for gas.
EVA was started by high school vocational education teachers in Cleveland as part of s student project. The aptly-named “Change of Pace” reached top speeds of 55 miles per hour and went from zero to 30 in less than 12 seconds. The range was 30 to 50 miles.
According to Dennis Eichenberg, EVA made well over 100 Change of Pace Pacers, and then turned to Ford Fairmonts and Ford Escorts.
Badger got his chance to meet Eichenberg, one of the original electrical engineers to work on converting Pacers and other cars to electric power.
Badger bought his Pacer from a “car jockey,” who bought it from a New York engineer, inventor, and art gallery owner. He believes he has the only one remaining that is all-electric.
“There might be some with gas motors in them because they were experimental, and most of them were sold to the government and electrical utilities and all torn apart,” Badger said.
He saw it on e-Bay, and the temptation was too much.
“I test batteries for a living, I collect AMCs, and I thought, ‘Man, that’s a rare car. I have to have it,’ so I bought it,” Badger said.
Badger’s Pacer only had 25 miles logged on it when he bought the car, but it was rusted, and it took the Genoa businessman two years, five months, and two weeks to finish restoration.
“I took it completely apart,” Badger said. “I mean, you could not disassemble it any farther. I didn’t paint it or reassemble the body parts first, but I can’t take all the credit. A lot of people helped me.
“I restored the original controls. I’ll say that they worked, but they didn’t work very well and even the engineer who had worked on it originally said they were dangerous, and that’s one of the reasons they were all disassembled after testing. I have all those original controls, which is very unusual. I don’t think you’ll find another set, and I put in a modern controller.”
Badger also drives a 1973 German electric moped his father purchased to work, but he doesn’t take either vehicle much farther. He could drive the Pacer to Toledo or Sandusky, but would have to find somewhere to plug it in and wait for a charge, which usually takes overnight.
“If you’re driving 35 to 40 miles per hour, I think you might get 50 to 60 miles. If you get up to 60 miles per hour, I’m not sure you’ll get 20 miles out of it — you’ll probably get 10 to 15,” Badger said.
“It’s very complicated because it depends on how far you drove it — how many amp-per-hours you took out. To fully charge a battery, you have to put in more energy than you took out. So, if you took out 100 amp-per-hours, you’d have to put back in 120 amp-per-hours to fully charge the battery,” Badger continued.
“It has a little two-gallon gasoline tank because it has a gasoline fired heater, like a Volkswagen, to keep the cockpit warm in the winter. I’ve never used it, but other than you have to plug it into the wall to recharge it. I have a charger built into the car, you open the gas cap. “
It has automatic transmission, and if you’re tired of changing oil, this might be the car for you. Very little engine oil is necessary, if any, and also not necessary are many engine parts needed to run a gasoline fueled automobile.
“You have transmission fluid, but if you have no leaks you would use none or a very minimal amount,” Badger said. “But, if you have flooded batteries you have to keep distilled water in them. I don’t have any idea how much it costs to charge it offhand — I haven’t figured that out. But it costs less per mile to operate.
“It’s all manufactured very well with 120-volt golf cart batteries, and it is actually programmable. I have a laptop that I carry in the front seat and I can monitor its performance.”
The original owner invented a “hydraulically operated hybrid vehicle recharging system,” which he patented and put on the car. Badger believes the 1970s-era patent has expired, and he removed the system so that the Pacer can be restored to its original condition. But, it did serve a purpose.
“It has air cylinders next to all the shock absorbers, and if the car bounced up and down over bumps, these air cylinders would compress air in a tank, and that compressed air would run a generator which would help recharge the battery,” Badger said. “I’d compare it to regenerative braking — when you put on the brakes, you use the energy developed to recharge the battery. This car doesn’t have that, but it had this device on there, which was patented, but it’s not very practicable. It gives you a hair more range.”
And, if you’re driving and don’t want to hear engine noise, then this could be the car for you, too.
“You can hear an electric motor hum, but actually when you are driving it 50 or 60 miles per hour all you’re hearing is road noise. There’s no engine noise,” Badger said. “It’s built the way an electric car should be built — with minimal devices that require electricity. You can get them as options, but there is no radio. There is a fan, but there are no power windows. There are no electric seats. You need to use the energy to drive the vehicle to make it function.”
Badger says until the technology happens the auto industry is waiting for, he would not encourage most car owners to buy an all-electric vehicle. He also owns a Ford hybrid, which he says is a better bet, for now.
“There are a lot of new technologies, but it will take some breakthroughs,” Badger said. “But you didn’t want to ever say never. It could happen now or a long time from now.
“Lead-acid batteries, which my vehicles operates on, are probably the most reliable and understood battery. Lithium batteries, they know how to make a lithium battery and the chemistry of it is well-understood, but the problem is manufacturing techniques have to be perfect. There can be no error, and I know we’re great, but we’re not that good.
“I work for all these companies — Ford, Chevy, and a hybrid would be the way to go because that’s the American lifestyle — you’d be able to fill it up and go. If you want to get the mileage the government wants, you’ll have to go with hybrids. I’d hate to give up the muscle cars and stuff and I wouldn’t, but a pure electric car in the city, or if you are running back and forth to Genoa a few times, for my transportation needs, which are very minimal, which is just getting around town, a pure electric vehicle would be OK. But they require some understanding.
“To drive from here to Rayz’ Café and back, it’s handy. To drive from here to Cleveland and back, it’s not handy. For the average person, if you wanted to participate in the green movement, I would tell you that a hybrid would be a better choice.“