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Illinois Country Living

Racing To Finish

By Ed VanHoose

Team IMW

Pictured from left to right: Thomas Pasko, Kevin Smith, George Kennedy, and Josh Spradlin

When last ICL visited Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative member Kevin Smith and his team at Illuminati Motor Works (IMW), they were just beginning to harvest parts off donor cars in preparation for building their entry into the Progressive Insurance Automotive Xprize competition. Now the team has passed another milestone; it has made it through as one of only 43 teams to pass the design phase of the competition.

With the deadline for the competition fast approaching, the team members spend most of their free time working together on the project.

The team never forgets the goal at hand. Written in large blue letters on the wall of the garage are the words: Somebody has to do something. That somebody is US!

A spirit of innovative cooperation has served the team well over the past two years. They have gone from chalk concept drawings, with plans involving multiple fuel sources, to a simpler design utilizing an electric motor.

“I believe in the KISS philosophy,” says Smith. “Keep It Simple Stupid.”

Early on, IMW found it necessary to cut back on the use of recycled parts from donor cars.

“What we discovered in this process was that you can’t get the 100mpg required from a standard manufactured vehicle,” says Smith. “Many things get in the way: the way you had to cut the car apart to get the battery in it, the way the car was shaped in general, the sizes of the car. Standard vehicles are meant to hold an internal combustion engine with front or rear wheel drive.”

Josh Spradlin, IMW’s graphic designer and fabricator, explains further saying, “If you cut the entire body off the top, made the whole thing smaller, and rounded out the front end, then tapered the back and made it a lot smoother, you could do it. Of course, then it wouldn’t be the production car that came off the line anymore.”

Only a few parts of the car will now come from existing technologies.

“We stripped the wheels, brakes, basically the lower control arms, the suspension out of an existing vehicle,” says Smith. “That’s what we would have had to start with if we cut it back from an existing vehicle. Those parts meet FMVSS, that’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards already. If we had to engineer a brake caliper, it would have cost us $50,000 for the first one. We hope to spend less than that on the entire car.”

All of the issues with using production vehicles led the team members to build their own body. Constructed out of 1-inch tube steel, the current incarnation of the vehicle looks nothing like a standard vehicle. The end is tapered dramatically, while the front of the car is short and rounded. The compartment for the engine is just big enough to hold a manual transmission and the electric motor.

“The car is tapered on the back end to reduce induced drag on the back of the vehicle,” says Smith.

Unfortunately, the team discovered recently that it would not be able to use its proposed lightweight material for the body.

“In order for us to use the material the rules of the competition say we have to crash test it first,” says Smith. “Since we only have one car, that’s not going to happen.”

Even without the lightweight material, the frame of the car still comes in at an acceptable weight, demonstrated by Spradlin picking up one corner. The electric motor, although relatively small – just slightly larger than a lawn mower engine – will add about 170 pounds.

“Electric motors are measured like earthquakes,” Smith says. “If you measure the difference between a 5.0 quake and a 6.0 quake, a 6.0 is actually 10 times more powerful. That would be the same thing here. It’s a small size, but it has 200 times the power of the electric motor on the standard DeWalt saw.”

Smith forecasts the motor will go a half a million hours, making it transferrable from one auto to the next. The group plans to manufacture an adapter plate to bolt between the stock transmission and the electric motor.

“I will unbolt this motor from the car and put it into the next one, and the next one. This is industrial rated.”

“If you go just 10 miles per hour for 1 million hours, then you’ve gone 10 million miles,” says Smith. “I’ve never had any cars that lasted anywhere near that!”

Sometime during the summer of 2010 will be the start date for the final event, with the actual driving events starting earlier in the spring.

“We have to have the vehicle done sometime during the first of the year,” says Smith. “We might be able to push it till as late as February.”

He laughingly adds, “That doesn’t include paint!”

Two years into the project, the members of the team take time out to reflect upon the reasons they began the project.

“I always wanted to do this,” Smith says. “Then the Xprize competition came and that was the driving factor I needed. Before the competition I never had enough of a reason, but with the competition and then fuel prices topping $4 a gallon just a summer ago, I found my motivation.”

The competition will comprise two vehicle classes: Mainstream and Alternative. Mainstream vehicles will be required to carry four or more passengers, have four or more wheels and allow for a 200-mile range. Alternative-class vehicles will be required to carry two or more passengers, have no constraints on the number of wheels, and allow for a 100-mile range. All vehicles need to meet requirements for performance and features to make the cars attractive to consumers. IMW competes in the mainstream category for a $5 million prize.

For more information about Illuminati Motor Works, and to find information on sponsoring the project, visit

© 2016 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
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