ST. HELENA — Sixteen-year-old Isaac Kelly isn’t your typical teen with a sports car, and his Porsche Boxster isn’t your typical sports car.
For one thing, there’s no throaty roar when Isaac stomps down on the accelerator. And — wait a minute, where’s the tailpipe?
Isaac, an engineering whiz kid who’s built radio-controlled planes and an electric bike, spent the last few months converting the 2000 Boxster to an electric vehicle.
“I had to do a lot of welding, a lot of math, and I got to write tons of code,” said Kelly, a St. Helenan, who attends Trinity Prep in Napa.
The conversion cost $17,000-$18,000 — $4,000 to buy the car secondhand and more than $13,000 in parts. It took about six months of welding, coding and troubleshooting, not counting the time Isaac spent waiting for parts to arrive.
His father John, who financed the project, chose a Boxster because it’s safe, light, streamlined and stylish. The 2000 models are relatively affordable because they share an engine flaw — not that the Kellys would have to worry about that.
They removed the engine, clutch and exhaust system and installed 92 Nissan Leaf batteries in the rear engine bay, housed in custom-made plastic boxes and held in place by a custom-made steel frame connected to the engine mounts.
The car uses four Arduino microcomputers, three of them programmed by Isaac himself, to transmit data from the throttle to the motor controller, regulate charging, and monitor the 92 batteries to ensure that none of them are dying or overheating.
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With a range of about 60 miles, the car can be recharged at electric vehicle charging stations. It goes from 0 to 60 in about 6 seconds — good enough to leave a Prius in the dust, but not nearly as quick as a Tesla. Adding more power is at the top of Isaac’s to-do list. He also wants to fix the tachometer (“I destroyed it, unfortunately.”)
“It isn’t a very useful car in a lot of ways,” Kelly said. “You can’t go very far and you can’t carry very much. But it’s a fun car, which is mostly the point.”
If Isaac shows you the maze of hardware that controls the car, points at one gadget that looks a lot like all the others and says, “Don’t touch that,” you’d best take him seriously. The 400-volt battery system can pack quite a wallop.
“I learned that myself a few times,” he said casually.
Porsche isn’t expected to release an electric Boxster for at least a few years, and don’t expect to see Isaac’s on the market either. He readily admits that the process wasn’t cost-effective, and the Boxster is so jerry-rigged that he’s the only one who would know how to safely start and drive it, let alone work on it.
He wasn’t especially motivated by saving the environment either, although he said the zero emissions are a nice byproduct. So why go to all the trouble?
“It was just fun,” he said. “And, of course, I learned a lot of stuff and was able to apply that knowledge. But mostly it’s fun.”