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Alternating Currents: The electric hot rod ushers in new era of performance

(Editor’s Note: Bradley Brownell brings his years of automotive experience to EV Pulse as our new weekly commentator. You’ve seen his work at Jalopnik, Flat Sixes, and others. We’re excited to bring his takes on electric to you each and every week.)

Hot rodding has been deeply woven into the fabric of America’s love affair with the car since at least the Prohibition era when bootleggers would modify their cars to evade law enforcement and revenue agents. Americans like to go fast. We always have. In post-war America that meant match racing down the long drags of idled military airstrips, or powering flat out across the vast salt pans of the West. 

The hunger for going real damn fast has always gone hand-in-hand with a scrappy, anti-establishment, use-what-you’ve-got, run-what-you-brung attitude. There has been a deep underground electric hot rodding scene for years, but it’s bubbling to the surface as these incredible speed engineers figure out how to extract more power and bigger fast from their EVs. The National Electric Drag Racing Association has been around since 1997 and has potentially ushered in the birth of a revolution. 

Electric dragsters are getting faster as Current Technology 2.0 recently broke the 200 mph barrier in the quarter mile. There are electric motorcycles running deep into the 6s. Even hot rod legend Don Garlits has been running his Swamp Rat 38 dragster on battery power since 2014. Okay, so they aren’t running as quick as the Tony Schumacher’s Top Fuel record of 3.6 seconds at 336 mph, but Top Fuel has been running with multi-million dollar teams for decades and EV racing is just gaining steam. 

In the 1950s the hot rod scene was democratized by companies like Edelbrock and Iskendarian delivering those professional grade hop up parts to the ordinary Joe with a Chevy sedan in the garage. Today it’s companies like Cascadia Motion, AEM EV, and the mad scientists at EV West delivering the electric power to the people. If you want to go quick in the quarter mile, a phone call and a credit card number can get you everything you need to put down an elapsed time quicker than just about anything this side of an NHRA Funny Car. 

What if going fast is your thing more than going quick? Yeah, electric can go fast, too. Speaking of EV West, those lunatics just built a Tesla-powered Lakester for chasing land speed records at Bonneville. In just over two months the EV West team built an entire streamlined car from the ground up and set a two-run average world record of 229.363 miles per hour to take the SCTA E2 class record for EVs under 2200 pounds. It was a phenomenal effort by the team, and one they hope to repeat in 2021 by extending the record even further. 

Electric-powered cars own the record at Pikes Peak, and hybrid race cars hold track records at basically every major track in the world. The racing world is being taken over by electric racer. As momentum continues to build in Formula E, evermore series—like FIA World Rallycross, flat-track motorcycles, hillclimbs, short track oval, etc.—adopt and embrace electric power. Hell, even NASCAR has discussed a transition to hybrid electric power. 

Mustang Cobra Jet 1400. Photo Credit: Ford

We’ve all heard the highly clichéd marketing adage of ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ and it continues to ring true. If electrics have any hope of catching on in the U.S. market, they’ll have to be proven in the crucible of motorsport first. Grabbing headlines and hearts with speed and power will only help to normalize and lend a level of credibility and desirability to the electric car. Ford this weekend showed off its 8-second drag racing electric Mustang Cobra Jet 1400, which was an incredibly smart move. Manufacturers the headlines to get people interested and into showrooms, but ultimately the affordable EVs with 100-150 miles of range and 110 horsepower will be the big sellers.

Even in the 1960s when Dodge was dragging people into showrooms with Hemis and 440 six packs, it was the slant six Polaras that were actually selling. It’s all marketing. And right now, I think it’s working.

 

Written by Bradley Brownell
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