Students driving Pontiac electric conversion forward

by rcnewsblog on October 9, 2012

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Did you see the old, shiny maroon car on campus last month?

The vehicle is actually a project that RC Electric, one of Roanoke’s student organizations, has been working on since 2010.

With the hopes of a spring 2014 completion date, students in this club are moving forward with work to restore this 1939 Pontiac Silver Streak and convert it from gas to electric power. The Pontiac will be one of the few classic cars to be converted to electric power on a college campus nationwide.

Roanoke’s slogan, “Classic for Tomorrow,” inspired this project, said RC Electric students.

When RC Electric was created to oversee this long-term project, its members were primarily environmental science majors, but the club has grown tremendously since its inception.

This semester, RC Electric doubled its membership to a total of 63 students, who are studying a variety of subject areas, including business, biology and history.

The car’s presence on campus may be one of the reasons why more than 30 students were eager to attend RC Electric’s first meeting, which was held at Salem Pizza on Sept. 6. For a few weeks last month, the car was on display in front of Trexler Hall to attract new members and to showcase the progress that RC Electric has made in the past two years.

“Everyone is highly accepting of new-comers and how they can be involved with this project,” said Anna Noble, a Roanoke College junior and new member of RC Electric. She is the head of the beautification committee, a subgroup of RC Electric, which oversees the aesthetics for the car.

One of RC Electric’s biggest goals for this year is to raise money to complete the conversion, said Kyle King, a junior at Roanoke and president of RC Electric. The students will also try to complete the other smaller projects for the car, including the wiring and upholstery of the car’s interior.

“I have loved working on this project because I love mechanical stuff and working with my hands,” King said. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

The Pontiac conversion project has received a lot of buzz on the national stage in the past year.  In the spring and summer, the project was highlighted with stories on several websites, including Discovery Channel, Auto Week and USA Today.

In addition to press, the Lynchburg chapter of Electric Auto Association, which specializes in electric cars, has expressed its interest in helping RC Electric by providing their expertise, said Cawley.

“This will be a huge resource for the students,” he said. “They have a lot of talent, and they are really happy with what RC Electric is doing.”

RC Electric has also received a lot of help and guidance from one of the oldest car conversion centers in the nation—Electro-Automotive in Felton, Calif.

The car’s transmission is currently being shipped to California, so Electro-Automotive can help “design and build the adaptor plate that will connect our transmission with their electric motor,” said Cawley.

Meanwhile, some Roanoke students have been researching the Pontiac’s historical significance.

The Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia originally owned the vehicle. Politicians and other famous figures frequently visited this well-known hotel. The car may have transported the rich and the famous in the 1940s, Cawley said.

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