Tone Wheeler is an architect who has had a passion for sustainable design since the 1970s. He has won numerous awards over the years, taught at three universities and been on architectural industry boards.
In 1986 he started Evirona Studio, with Jan O’Connor, designing with a clear focus on environmental sustainability. “We have made sustainability the core of our work, and the driving force of our design philosophy”, it says on their website. Tone has even been a judge on The New Inventors programme on ABC TV.
So it’s not at all surprising that he has taken an interest in electric cars. “I wanted to explore electric cars and that started five or six years ago”, he explains. “There were various people I was meeting who were either making them or were interested in making them. I got talking with one guy, Les Puklowski, and he is virtually the godfather of them in Sydney, in that he’s made quite a few of them in lots of different cars.”
“But it’s not his main line. Mainly he makes racing cars of various kinds and he said that with both racing cars and electric cars weight is one of the important factors.”
“If you want to do it as a kind of back-yard arrangement, you have to have an existing car, registered. There are a lot of people doing fairly modern cars, but you need to have extra batteries to cover the brake boosting or the air-conditioning, or the airbags, and all of that.”
For Tone, the choice of vehicle was simple. “I merely went back in my mind to all the things that I liked driving. I’d had a Mini, a Mini Van and two Mini Mokes. I just said, Mini’s are my thing, and I looked up the weight of it and it’s about 680kg, I think. I just went that’s great, I’ll do a Mini because I love them and I used to love driving them and it would be fun, and we thought it would be fairly easy to do it as a conversion.”
Tone found the pictured Mini with a blown engine and paid $1,300 for it. Naturally, the engine/gearbox, the exhaust, the fuel tank and most of the electrics were binned, then it was stripped to bare metal and resprayed in Ducati yellow by Kerry Cooper in Kingswood.
The interior was retrimmed in grey with the seats featuring contrasting yellow piping to go with the exterior colour. The rear seat was removed and the space used for the batteries, which are located under a neat boxed-in structure. One of the biggest drawbacks with electric cars of old was they used normal car lead-acid batteries, which are very heavy. Tone was able to take advantage of modern battery technology, with a bank of LiFePo (Lithium Iron Phosphate) batteries taking up a fraction of the space, and therefore with only a fraction of the weight, of lead-acid batteries.
A custom dashboard was made from Carbon-fibre and fitted with a VDO speedo and volt meter, and a digital multi-function meter that lets Tone know everything that’s going on with the electrical system. There is also a Pioneer multi-function player with CD, radio and GPS.
There are very few changes to the exterior of the body. These are a carbon-fibre grille panel, an electric socket in place of the usual fuel filler, a NACA duct on the side for cooling air to get to the batteries and, most noticeably, a solar panel in the bonnet. This charges a lead-acid auxiliary battery under the bonnet, to power the lights, wipers, radio and demister – a 12v electric hairdryer.
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