by Derek Hockenbrough

In a society whose heart beats thick with obsidian oil, a man stands on the front line carrying the flailing banner of the electric army. He calls himself Reverend Gadget and in his shop, Left Coast Electric, he creates electric warhorses that ride proudly into the gasoline slinging artillery. Greg “Gadget” Abbott looks like a grease-clad mad scientist, fitting right in beside the likes of “Back to the Future’s” Dr. Emmett Brown and the Nutty Professor. Gadget had starring roles in the immensely popular documentaries, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” and “The Revenge of the Electric Car.” The world of alternative energy has adopted him as a sort of poster boy, and his name has become synonymous with electric car conversions.At the ripe age of 15, Gadget built his first car from scratch. He started out building a go-cart, but realized that he would be driving all too soon. So, what is a 15-year-old supposed to do? He built a street-legal custom car with mix-matched parts from the Ford Model A and a Ford Mustang and completed it with a Volkswagen engine. While learning the process and how to weld, the car became his first experiment. He jokes about his learning curve, citing a visible difference from the boxy front end to the more sleek and aerodynamic rear. His custom car got a whopping 56 miles to the gallon. He then set out in his creation to discover America, but before long realized that the idea of energy conservation didn’t really exist outside the big cities.

Photo by Myles Saron

He remembers his revelation, “Cars are a big problem. What you don’t realize is that refiners buy electricity to make gasoline and the amount of electricity they buy is enough to run a car on. So, it seems like an easy solution to take the fuel out of it. We are already making enough electricity to do the job.”

Upon his homecoming, he built a shop for metal fabrication but quickly grew bored with it. The switch to outfitting the shop for car conversions was an easy one and a few months later he was converting cars to electricity. He considers his first real conversion success to be when he was able to successfully incorporate a lithium battery. The car was a Porsche Speedster and the lithium battery’s charge has a full 100-mile range. Today, Gadget runs the only auto shop given the Diamond ranking by the IECC (International Energy Efficiency Committee), an organization that champions energy avoidance rather than energy efficiency. His shop has all-natural lighting and ventilation, while every tool and motor he brings into the shop has a high efficiency level that uses 40 percent less energy than the leading brand. The power bill for the entire shop runs about $160 a month, only $80 more than the average California household. Did I mention that he also lives in a separate part of his shop? So the power use between both his fully operational auto shop and his house is only double the California standard. And soon, he hopes to install solar panels that will take him off the grid completely. Talk about green living!

Gadget considers converting gasoline cars to electric autos an art form. “The first thing I do is look where I can fit batteries. … And that is the creative part. Where do I put these batteries? How do I get them to fit so they least impact the whole rest of the car? A car has got to be usable. You can fill the whole car with batteries and the trunk. Fine, but then it is just a people mover.”

Photo by Myles Saron

It takes a creative mind to convert a car yet still retain the original aesthetics. It’s all about looking great and keeping it simple. That is the part of the process that he fell in love with: the design. His future concepts include an Aston Martin electric replica, a completely electric 1965 Ford Mustang, and an E-type Jaguar with a body built out of bamboo and resin. But, currently, he is elbow deep in his ultimate design: an electric motor that can run up to 300 miles on a single charge. He envisions driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas without ever having to stop at a 7-Eleven to unplug the Coke machine and recharge. He is also currently trying a new approach in which he posts his newest designs on his site and gives the first taker a discount.

His main focus still lies on conversions. However, conversions do come with their own set of problems. Occasionally, he will have someone approach him with a conversion done by an alternate shop, but since each conversion is a unique design, it is extremely difficult and time consuming to repair. But Gadget has already worked out the solution: standardize. He has contacted electric conversion shops across the country about putting together a package that has the battery, the controller and the motor pre-assembled; he will then sell the package to other converters.

It is essentially a box with bundled wires, pre-wired batteries, and a tray to hold the package. A converter shop would send him a schematic and he would assemble the package. This would strip the busy work of custom fitting the system into the car. Instead of a conversion taking months to assemble, the entire process could take a few days. Furthermore, it would strip the problem of repairs because the shops would be familiar with the system and be able to hook up a computer to the cars with a Gadget-developed program that would tell you exactly where the malfunction is. Any future competition would become the dealer of his package.

The future of electric cars is in the most essential element: the battery. With the development of new batteries comes a longer mileage range and faster EVs (electric vehicles). Gadget is very hopeful for the future of batteries. He says the chemistry is there, mentioning a newly developed carbon nanotube battery that can hold 10 times the charge of the current lithium battery. However, the battery expands and contracts four times its size. And seeing as the tin foil inside the battery must be in constant contact with the chemicals inside, it could wrinkle with the contractions and eventually begin to fail. So now, it is a waiting game to see who can develop a dependable version, and it is just a matter of time.

Photo by Myles Saron

Yet, the naysayers of alternative energy still have their doubts. Gadget was approached by a man at a screening of a documentary who said, “I understand that it costs more energy to make a solar panel than the panel could ever get out of its life.”

“Then how is it you can run a solar panel factory off of solar panels?” he responded. The conversation didn’t last long after that. The electric revolution grows stronger daily. The main concern with EVs is that you could potentially get stranded when your charge runs out. But with Gadget’s forthcoming 300-mile-per-charge motor, that concern is rendered irrelevant. Some gasoline vehicles cannot manage 300 miles on one tank. “The writing is on the wall,” Gadget said, shrugging, “Bob Lutz (former vice chairman of General Motors) says that ‘the electrification of cars is a forgone conclusion.’ If he is buying it, it’s done. We’re going to electric cars.”

Photo by Myles Saron

The fight for alternative energy is far from over and the road ahead is long and winding. But innovators like Gadget will lead us to a more sustainable society. I asked him what he would say if he walked across the war field to meet oil companies for negotiations before the final battle. His response?

“It’s just a matter of time ’til you go down, so why don’t you work with us now so that you can survive?”