Gene Maggioncalda gets mobbed at car shows when he drives his ’78 El Camino into the lot. Not because it’s been restored to perfect showroom condition, but because it barely makes a sound.
Maggioncalda, a superintendent of engineering, converted his car to electric and now makes his weekly commute on $3 worth of gas – the same amount many spend on just one gallon.
He has always had an interest in cars, and after commuting to Temple for 27 years, he thought, “There just has to be a better way to go back and forth to work.”
So he began researching thoroughly.
“I was on the Internet searching around last year and I thought this electric thing will work, I think I can make it work,” he said.
The total process took him about four months to complete, which he began in October of last year. He took out the motor, mounted a DC electric motor onto the transmission and removed the clutch. He had the car on the road by February 2007, but it wasn’t until June that he first drove it to Main Campus.
“It’s a 30-year-old car, so there were all other things I had to do,” he said.
The battery lasts for about 28 miles, which leaves him just enough power to make a few runs around campus after a 20-mile commute from Bristol.
“I have plenty of battery left if I needed to go somewhere else,” Maggioncalda said. “I plug it in, and I drive home for 35 cents.”
The car runs comfortably at about 65 mph, which sometimes isn’t enough for the early morning commuters on Interstate 95.
“When you’re coming down 95 in the morning and if you’re not doing 80 mph you’re getting beeped at,” he said. “But it eats the battery too fast at 75 mph so I really don’t run it too hard.”
Though he cuts considerable costs for gas, the conversion alone cost him about $7,000.
“It’s an expensive thing,” he said. “It would’ve cost me the same to make a hot rod. If you’re doing it little by little, and you stretch it out over months it’s not as painful. Still it’s kind of a hobby, and everybody has things they spend their money on. I spend mine on cars.”
Because money was less of an issue, Maggioncalda became extremely cognizant of his project’s eco-friendliness.
“The environmental impact of it is large,” he said. “If I’m on 95 and there’s a traffic jam, I take my foot off the accelerator pedal and I’m not using any power. I’m just sitting there, no big deal. Now everybody else, their engines are running, the exhaust is going out, you know you don’t see it anymore, but it’s still bad stuff.”
And at car shows, Maggioncalda is one of the few to sport an electric-powered vehicle. In June he went to an electric vehicle convention where only five other people showed up with their cars.
“It’s not something here that people are doing,” he said. “People are just saying $3 a gallon, the environment, somebody else will do it. We won’t go to the movies this week or we won’t eat out this week.”
Maggioncalda said it will be some time before electric cars take off on the East Coast.
“On the West Coast, this is kind of like a common thing,” he said.
“People have been building cars out on the West Coast and driving them everyday for years. But it didn’t hit here yet. Typically car stuff takes four or five years to filter to the East Coast. The West Coast is typically well-advanced.”
Leigh Zaleski can be reached at email@example.com.