A Look Under the Hood of the Black Current III

We debunk the myths about what makes this vehicle the fastest electric drag car in the world.

THE GIST

Ever since a custom-built 1965 VW won an electric drag racing competition, rumors have been flying.

This trackside reporter brings everyone back to reality.

Drag racing has long been perceived as a sport reserved for gas-guzzling hot rod cars, modified motorcycles and custom-built rail dragsters. But for years, a team of dedicated electric vehicle drag racing enthusiasts have shown that electric vehicles have what it takes to power down the strip.

In fact, on April 23, 2011, at the Santapod Raceway in the United Kingdom, the modified 1965 VW Beetle became the fastest electric car in the world. It did 0 to 60 mph in 1.6 seconds.

After the record-breaking time, interest in Black Current III spiked, followed by a rather inaccurate article by U.K. tabloid newspaper The Daily Mail. More incorrect posts went up on numerous web sites, including theTelegraph and Inhabitat, creating some pretty impressive myths about the car.

Since we've been trackside, watching the Black Current III ourselves, we spoke directly to Olly and Sam Young, the car's team leader and driver in order to clear up a few myths and set the record straight.

No Milk Floats

The biggest myth floating around the Internet is that Black Current III is powered by a repurposed milk-float motor.

Popular in the U.K. between the 1940s and 1980s, milk floats were slow-moving electric trucks used to deliver milk and other groceries to households early in the morning and have long been blamed for perpetuating the myth that all electric cars are slow.

Where did the confusion come from? Black Current, Olly and Sam's first drag car, made use of an electric motor from a 1960s Morrison Milk float. It could manage a top speed of 55 mph, and reached a 1/4 mile in 21 seconds.

In contrast, Black Current III makes use of a custom-modified twin Netgain Impulse 9" motors built specially for them by drag racing motor specialist Jim Husted, costing nearly $10,000, and developing well over 12,000 foot-pounds of torque.

No Motorcycle Batteries

In drag racing, weight needs to be kept low, and power high. That's why the team behind Black Current III shifted from the motorcycle batteries found in its earlier sibling Black Current II to an ultra-light, custom-built lithium cobalt oxide battery pack, capable of producing up to 680 kilowatts of power. The energy is delivered to a Zilla 2K-HV controller, which propels Black Current III from 0 to 60 in 1.6 seconds.

Unlike the off-the-shelf lead acid motorcycle batteries many of the articles quote Black Current III as having, the custom lithium cobalt oxide battery pack is similar to high-energy density battery packs found in model airplanes, and can withstand the high current discharging required in a drag race.

No Where Near Stock

As you've probably realized already, despite what some of the articles are claiming, Black Current III is not simply a VW Beetle with an electric motor bolted in.

Instead, it's a VW Beetle tub, complete with fiber glass panels, acrylic windows and a full race-specification chromoly chassis and roll-cage. Certified with all the necessary organizations, this places Black Current III in the Extreme Street and Pro Street categories of racing, meaning it isn't road legal.

The drive train isn't stock either, but a Ford 9" rear-custom differential and 27" rear wheels.

Still a Record-Holder

Regardless of the confusion about its specifications, Black Current III is still a very impressive car. With a quarter mile time of 9.51 seconds at an amazing 135 mph, it is currently the fastest non-rail (top rail) dragster in the world. Only three electric drag vehicles -- the rail based Current Eliminator IV dragster -- and electric drag motorcycles Killa-Cycle and Rocket are faster.

Watching any high-power electric drag car race is great fun. Why not check out NEDRA's website to find a race near you.