Our petrolhead mates across the ditch have had their feathers rustled by a fellow countryman. A bloke named Tom from Taupo built an electric Datsun and won a drag racing championship against NZ’s V8 establishment, all while barely making a sound.
Tom’s lightweight Datsun 1200 isn’t his first electric rodeo. The mechanic originally built a battery-powered Subaru WRX but struggled to achieve the performance he wanted due to the car’s relative portliness.
And so the Datsun came into the picture. It was picked up for $2500, stripped back to its factory pink duco, covered up in yellow then charged with 52 12-volt batteries and two electric motors.
“I’ve raced all sorts of petrol cars from a V8 Toyota Corolla to a 600hp Skyline and crewed for NZV8,” Tom tells us. “But this idea has always been in the back of my mind, right from when I was a kid. Racing something that cost near to nothing is cool.”
It’s not spectacularly quick, crossing the quarter mile in a little over 14 seconds, but with 800lb-ft available the moment the throttle is touched, the little Datto hits its 140km/h top speed by half track – well before most conventional drag cars – and carries that speed to the end.
Entering the car in NZDRA’s street car class championship was done for a lark, but after placing second on its first outing, Tom knew he had a car that was in with a shot at something special.
Finishing runner up was not without its fair share of detractors. Many among the die-hard V8 fraternity shunned the electric racer. “The response was very negative. At the prize-giving, they wouldn’t even shake my hand,” says Tom. “We knew we had a car that was consistent, so we pushed on from there.”
Tom and his crew, known as Team Electric Taupo, took part in four of the six championship meetings and came away with enough points for the overall win. By nature electric cars are ideal for bracket racing. “But you always have the human factor, just to make it interesting,” says Tom.
“Now the response from a lot of the petrol guys is huge. When we go to events, it attracts so much attention – there will be 20 people around it, and you don’t see that around any other car.”
Racing in silence isn’t quite the drag racing spectacle we have become accustomed to, but Tom has a plan for that.
“Next year we’re going to go to Lithium batteries, move the engine slightly back and we’re hoping to do wheel stands off the line. We’re going to put on a good show.”