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[Datsun 1200 encyclopedia]

CHW Electric 1200

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Categories: Magazine Articles | Electric Vehicle | Tech Section

Magazine article Car and Driver October 1973 pages 72-75


Fullfillment at last for those seeking a modern-day Baker

NOTE: Baker Motor Vehicle had the most popular automobile prior to World War I. The Baker was a battery electric vehicle.


Page 72


Fullfillment at last for those seeking a modern-day Baker

Meet Chandler H. Waterman—self-made czar of America's electric automobile industry. For the past eighteen months, he has offered the public an alternative to fuel shortage. Instead of lining up at the gas pumps for a ration of petroleum, his customers simply plug their cards into a wall socket at night. The shortage of crude oil could be in Siberia instead of the U.S. as far as Waterman and his followers are concerned. Their automotive sustenance flows out of a wire instead of a hose. As long as clocks and refrigerators keep running, the CHW electric car has ready access to all the energy it needs.

CHW Industries is no mushrooming megalofirm that will revolutionize our energy needs overnight. Instead, Waterman is essentially a one-man company. He is president, chief engineer and car fabricator, as well as sales manager His duties extend to sweeping the floor, but he is proud of the origin of it all.

A high school physics class unveiled to Waterman his guiding light. There, electricity and magnetism experiments grabbed his fascination with a crab-like grip that has not slackened in the last twenty years. Confronted by the need for a wage-earning skill, Waterman automatically drifted toward electronics and electro-mechanical devices. Within that context, he rose to Project Engineer status at Simplex Time Recorder, but it was not to be for long. That same physics class also revealed the amazing fact that it takes but 15 horsepower to move a conventional automobile down the road at a steady 40 miles per hour. With that salient piece of information imprinted in his memory bank, there would be no mental tranquility for Chandler H. Waterman until his car moved down the road at 40 mph—powered by the magic flow of electricity.

Why should his mouth water at the sound of a humming electric motor? Waterman says that electricity always seemed more efficient to him; a simpler, purer, more direct form of energy. It's been that way since high school. While his friends were aroused at the rumble of blown-out mufflers, Waterman fantasized the day when he would purr softly down the avenues in his electromobile.

For years those thoughts trickled through his mind but came no closer to physical embodiment. Until 1968, that is, when prosperity and a 1967 Datsun in the driveway provided the proper setting for those high school experiments to continue. After some perfunctory calculations to estimate the hardware needed for the job, Waterman plucked the seething, shaking gasoline engine from its bay. And into those yawning confines, he mounted a brace of batteries and a surplus electric motor.

Even that primordial Datsun was a success in electric car terms because it worked as expected from the first turn of a wheel. And that is due as much to Watermans's personality as it is to his genius. He is the very antithesis of the Mad Scientist image. Every hair on his head is neatly in place. He wears heavy black-rimmed glasses that lend a certain scholarly refinement but not the air of an unbelievable intellectual. And his words are those of a man with his feet on the ground. Waterman will tell anyone that a high school kid could duplicate the technology in his car. That is but a small exaggeration. Still, Waterman knows it is they key principle allowing him to be a car manufacturer with microscopic means.

And microscopic they are. Waterman is a handy man. He built his own house overlooking a lake, shielded from civilization by a one-mile periphery of trees. And when his electric experiments bore fruit he built his own "factory". It's an overgrown two-bay garage with some extra storage space. In place of the monstrous stamping presses, transfer lines and tape-controlled milling machines that dominate most car factories, there's nothing but a few shiny hand tools. Waterman does use a table saw to cut out the Benelex 401 material he uses as an adapter plate between the motor and transmission. A Detroit engineer would without hesitation specify steel or aluminum for that application, but Waterman chose the masonite-like Benelex because it does the job and can be fabricated on much simpler machinery. You can easily hold all the battery and motor mounting brackets for the CHW Electric car in one hand. Waterman, or one of his two regular employees, cuts them out of hardware-store angle iron and bends them to shape on a homemade press. In the few places where welding is necessary, it's done with acetylene because an arc welder is still beyond the means of Chandler H. Waterman Industries.

In every way, the car benefits from simplicity. There's not a single transistor in the speed controller (see sidebar) to fail at some inopportune time. Any mechanic


Page 73

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Page 74

familiar with a conventional starter motor can easily repair the CHW electrical system. The batteries are standard golf cart or fork lift units available off the shelf in any large city. And the non-electrical portion of the car falls under a Datsun new-car warranty.

CHW Industries does not yet benefit from a sea of technicians and a NASA-like test program. For that reason, Waterman sends his cars out the door only with the simplest parts that have, in other applications, proven themselves as reliable as an anvil. He talks of solid state controllers and NiCad batteries, but always with the preface that they are far in the future.

Today is most important to Waterman. He sees CHW Industries as an infantile effort to offer electric cars during the interim period before they become genuine consumer disposables. He's convinced that some sprawling corporation like General Motors or Westinghouse will one day roll an electric car off the assembly line, probably within ten years. When that happens, Waterman's miniature effort will either be blown off the map by mega-buck progress or soaked up into the spongy comfort of capital mergers. If he pumps a few hundred cars onto the road before that day of reckoning, Waterman will at least have a very firm base of negotiation.

Right now, there are 23 customer cars whining down the road with a CHW decal on their door sills. Seven dealers are on hand to do business, all located in the Northeast U.S., close to Waterman and his Athol, Massachusetts factory. The bulk of inquiries flow in from pollution-conscious California, but as of yet, a remote assembly point is not justified. Instead, Waterman feels his influence must grow gradually until there are 100 satisfied customers to refer to. He's recently cut the price by $875 (his profit) just to encourage a quicker flow out the door and into his net receivable's column. Now you can buy his Model 906, converted from a Datsun 1200 sedan, for $3995, complete with portable charger.

Waterman seriously believes there has to be a few thousand atypical individuals in the U.S. who would trade in their gasoline credit cards for a utility bill. Electric cars are certainly on the lips of the vociferous ecological alarmists. As a result, energy awareness has penetrated every household, so the time is ripe for a virtuous alternative. But Energy Crisis considerations alone will not sell the car. Waterman knows that, in the foreseeable future, at least, his customers must have electricity instead of blood flowing through their veins.

Nine batteries under the hood, eight more in the trunk

How the CHW works is pure simplicity itself—nine batteries under the hood, eight more in the trunk, a block that keeps you from shifting into fourth and an accelerator that gives four speeds—all slow

It starts with the same key that brought the Datsun's original gasoline engine to life. You turn the switch briefly to the "Start" position and a set of relays click under the hood to prepare the dammed-up kilowatts to work. But until you're ready to move away, there's nothign but heavy silence—and no power drain whatsoever. Put the standard Datsun 4-speed shifter in second for level surfaces, or first whenever a "super-low" is necessary. And then you just step down on the accelerator to motor off into tomorrow. The standard clutch is there, but only for shifting once you're underway. Ever-present is the varying whine of the electric motor—the sound you'd expect to hear from a slow spinning turbine. The crescendo peaks at the car's top speed (45 mph) where the intrusion amounts to 77.5 dBA. That's the same interior level as in an Audi 100LS cruising at 70 mph. Electro-advocates to the contrary, the day of silent propulsion has not yet dawned—at least not in Athol, Massachusetts.

To accelerate, you simply mash down the accelerator into one of four different heavily-detented positions. That connects, through relays, either 12, 24, 36 or 48 volts to the compound-wound, 18-horsepower DC motor. Immediately before you are two meters to relate what's going on in your mobile power station. One is a voltmeter for an indication of the batteries' charge state and the other is a conventioinal ammeter. It registers exactly how much energy you're withdrawing from the saving bank at any given time—which affect the ultimate range on the present charge. In the owner's manual, Chandler Waterman recommends not exceeding half scale or 500 amps for extended periods.

Speed is controlled by selecting different voltages


Page 75

Extra instrumentation includes a voltmeter and ammeter

During acceleration testing, we made repeated flat-out runs, which kept the ammeter constantly pegged. As a result, the batteries were completely discharged after only 26 miles. In terms of the CHW Electric's acceleration ability, a fully loaded VW bus pulling a trailer would see like a funny car in comparison. Form rest, a quarter-mile will use 29 seconds of your life and by the ened you'll be traveling a leisurely 42 miles per hour. Chandler Waterman does claim to have passed school girl on a tricycle one, but there's not a speck of substantiation. Top speed depends heavily on the batteries' charge, but the CHW Electric easily held 45 mph for a few miles during testing.

The throttle cable controls a simple four-position switch

The ride is choppy at best, not even as good as the original Datsun 1200. With nine batteries up front and eight batteries in the trunk, the car now weights 2450 lbs., compared with an original weight of 1700 lbs. To transport that extra load, Waterman blows up the original tires to 32 psi and adds an additional leaf in the rear springs. Still, the car rides 1.5 inches lower with an equal loss in the suspension's jounce travel. A Conestoga wagon would be more comfortable on New York streets and the CHW Electric is best relegated to the smooth, paved avenues of suburbia.

Probably the greatest hardship in driving comes from the accelerator pedal and its four-position obstinance. It takes a heavy foot to overcome the detents or even to maintain a given setting. And every time you move up or down a step, there is a brief lunge until the motor adjusts to the new speed.
The system does provide a unique experience on deceleration. Pull your foot off one or two steps and the motor not only "brakes" the car, but it also recharges the batteries. The net effect in range may be only 5 per cent, but there's a certain satisfaction in knowing you're pumping fuel back into the tank.

To estimate the direct operating expenses, we drove the CHW Electric after a fresh charge of 15 miles at a typical commuter's pace. Afterwards, the complete recharge took 4.88 kilowatt hours of electricity. Utility rates vary substantially across the United States, but in Massachusetts, they are set at 2.3¢ per kilowatt hours. That 15-mile trip amounted to a direct expense of 11.2¢ or 0.75¢ per mile. At the other extreme, the severe operation during acceleration testing cost only 0.95¢ per mile.

Batteries are guaranteed by the manufacturer for one year. But with conscientious use, their normal life is 500 discharge-charge cycles. Even with daily travel, batteries last at least two years but cost a whopping $500 to replace. That only adds 2.0¢ per mile to operating expenses. As an offsetting advantage, the electrical system is essentially maintenance-free. And Chandler Waterman has relieved the car of the fuel, cooling and exhaust systems which are normally the earliest and most frequent areas of mechanical failure.

For those who must have more range, Waterman offers an extra pack of eight batteries. The maximum at your disposal then goes from 50 to 75 miles, but recharge time also increases from eight to 12 hours. In either case, the car comes with a charger you can carry in the trunk and plug into any twenty amp, 110 volt household outlet. It also charges the original Datsun battery which powers the lights, wipers and other accessories. For interior heat, there is a resistance element in place of the standard heater core.

The casual observer would never detect the electric nature of the CHW without a ride or look under the hood. The interior still accommodates four just as comfortably as Datsun originally planned, but only half the trunk space remains. The instrument panel and all controls are intact except for the two extra gauges and a lockout for fourth gear in the transmission. Above 50 mph, the battery drain from wind resistance is so high that top gear is simply not practical.

Anyone with very regular, but limited travel needs could live with the car. They will have to somehow overcome the distinct sinking feeling as the car's power and speed potential drain away. It's just as if the brakes are gradually tightening up. But to justify the original expense, limited speed and range, and still love the car, it takes a predilection toward electric power at least as adamant as Waterman's. That's the kind of buyer he's looking for.

OCTOBER 197375

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