Three men in a hy­brid

It’s pos­si­ble for a good me­chanic to add an el ec­tric driv­e­train to any car … well almost

Weekend Witness - - Arts - AL­WYN VIL JOEN

“… SO the diff ra­tio is ba­si­cally one to one, which gives us a the­o­ret­i­cal top speed of 230 km/h, not cal­cu­lat­ing the rolling cir­cum­fer­ence of the tyres of c ourse …”

This was Jens Denk, his baby blues red­rimmed after he had spent three nights build­ing the world’s first hy­brid Dae­woo Matis 4x4, us­ing a fork­lift mo­tor, motorcycle sprock­ets, an old Corolla rear axle, bits of a Ge­landewa­gen’s ex­haust, and f our madein­SA bat­ter­ies from Bat­tery Cen­tre.

The b at­ter­ies were c on­nected in par­al­lel, the fork­lift mo­tor was whin­ing away and the enor­mous sprocket was a blur of t eeth. If w e were not so tir ed and dirt y, this w ould have been the high­five mo­ment. In­stead, happy smiles cracked our oily faces.

Mine snapped shut sud­denl y. “Did y ou jus t sa y t wo HUN­DRED and thirt y!?

“Well, that’s the the­ory ; in prac­tice it w ould be a lot slo wer,” said Denk.

Un­der the oil, my face was pal­lid. No way was I go­ing to drive my Matiz faster than e ven 100 km/h over the flat surf ace of H akskeen P an. One wind­blown sand rif­fle hit­ting those tiny front wheels askew and the first thing t o flash thr ough m y mind would be the lit tle car’s t ail light s.

It turns out I need not hvae feared, but that knowl­edge came only a day later on the fir st t est run.

Tech­ni­cal chal­lenges to sur­mount had alr eady made us a da y lat e f or the an­nual K ala­hari Speed W eek, which no w ur gen­tly w aited at the end of a 1 7­hour road trip p ast the sun­set. M ean­while ther e w as the last­rush jobs, seal­ing the lid vero the rear mo­tor against the dust, re­fit­ting the back seats and adding the ac­ti­va­tion lever with its lit­tle “nu­clear but­ton” r ed cap .

The fir st t est run w as a disas ter — the bolts on the sprocket touched a side, mak­ing a noise bet ween the rolling echo of an ex­plo­sion and one about to hap­pen. “IT JUST NEEDS A LIT­TLE ADJUSTMENT!” shouted Denk o ver the r acket.

The “lit­tle adjustment” was first tried with a f oot­long t yre le ver, which was dis­carded as too short. At the end, a two­me­tre long nyala did the job .

The sec­ond test run was a beauty — right up t o the point w here the bridg­ing wire on the f ork­lift mo­tor started to melt, filling the car with acrid smoke. “Still t oo thin,” mut tered Denk. The thir d t est run sho wed ther e lurks a ge­nius at Denk’s Mo­tors. The old f ork­lift mot or spin­ning at t op revs, the lit tle D ae­woo w his­pered along, a smaller spr ocket mak­ing less am­bi­tious speed, but giv­ing the bat­ter­ies a r ange of at leas t 40 km.

This would be more than enough for our record­at­tempt at the Speed Week and g ood for any­one driv­ing less than 40 km a dya in the ciyt com­mute.

The hy­brid Matiz was ea­ger on tar roads, but laden to the roof line with camp­ing g ear and t ools, it s thr eecylin­der en­gine was never go­ing to cover the 1 700 km to Hakskeen Pan in time t o make the r ac­ing.

My sug­ges­tion to hook up the Matiz on an A ­frame w as dis­mis sed. “What’s the point of build­ing a car that you have to tow?,” asked Denk.

A pile of “not r eally ne ces­sary stuff ” formed on the floor, com­pris­ing of the w eek­end’s food, cook­ing gear, clothes, gui­tar and tent, but still the lit­tle car hun­kered too low when three men added their weight to that of the f our, deep­c ycle b at­ter­ies.

“She ain’ t g onna, ain’ t g onna make it fr om Mar­itzburra t o Mier, to Mee­hirr,” sang Ar­mand v an Aswe­gen, the gui­tar/cam­era­man roped in t o film this his toric mo­ment in Watch this sp ace Wit­ness Wheels edit or Al wyn Viljoen will ne xt point the no se of his made­in­Mar­itzburr a hy­brid t o f ol­low the tr acks o f for­mer Wit­ness edit or Hor ace Rose, who in 1904 dr ove a lit tle 25 km/h, f our­horse­power Ori­ent Buckbo ard “east­wards t owards the horiz on wher e the dawn mar ched gl ori­ously”, t o make the fir st c ar journe y be ­ tween Pie ter­mar­itzburg and Dur­ban. Viljoen’s jour­ney will be the first in a hy­brid t o cel­e­brate 110 y ears o f tr ans­port his tory, made fr esh e very w eek in Wheels. trans­port his tory.

The trou­ba­dour was right. Our at­tempt to set a speed r ecord on the pan near the dis­tant Mier had failed.

But it had failed hero­ically and in the process, proved that it is pos­si­ble for a g ood me­chanic w ork­ing on a jour­nal­ist’s bud­get to add an elec­tric driv­e­train to any car, so as t o avoid us­ing fuel dur­ing the w eek’s c om­mute; and still have a long­range en­gine f or visit s o ver week­ends.

Apart fr om t aking the run­ning costs of a t yp­i­cal car do wn fr om about R1, 50 per kilo­metr e t o le ss than 40c/km jus t in fuel, elec­tric driv­e­trains have fewer mov­ing parts, al­low­ing its own­ers to amor­tise the ini­tial out­lay of about R20000 with ser­vice c osts sa ved. * F or mor e de tails on ins talling a hy­brid en­gine in y our c ar, e­mail y our que stions t o denksmo­


Ash­ley W ebb marv els as Jens Denk pr epares t o mak e ‘ a lit tle ad­jus tment’ t o the body w ork o f the the w orld’s fir st hy­brid D ae­woo Matiz 4x4, which he had almo st singl e­han­deldly buil t o ver thr ee night s.


If bo th driv etrains o f the hy­brid shoul d f ail, Jens Denk sho ws the l eg po wer o f pl an C.

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