Beyond The Zombie

“It’s the battery, stupid.”

Everyone who designs and builds electric vehicles understands this axiom, John Wayland included.

“It’s all about the battery.”

But John isn’t just anyone involved with electric vehicles. He’s the man behind the legendary White Zombie, the all-electric Datsun 1200 that has been blowing the doors off of gas-powered competitors at the drag strip since the mid to late 1990’s (posting 13.479 seconds @ 95.4 mph in the quarter-mile – circa 1999* – before electric cars even existed in the minds of the American public).

“Here’s how it goes: batteries, batteries, batteries, batteries, batteries…followed by aerodynamics, weight, (and) efficiency of the drive train.”

For more than two decades, John’s been pushing the limits of motors and controllers in a quest for speed – a passion that has been inspired by both the thrill of winning races, as well as the desire to demonstrate that electric vehicles can be more than just transportation. They can be exciting.

John first discovered just HOW exciting in 1980, when he connected jumper cables to the three car batteries powering a converted 1972 BLUE Datsun 1200 (the Blue Meanie – not the White Zombie) and it “burned rubber all the way out of the driveway, broke the transmission – cracked it in half. I was ecstatic. I had discovered a new source of powering a car.”

Fourteen years later, when John learned of a drag race being planned by the local electric car club in Portland, Oregon, he decided to crash the party.

“Their intentions were wonderful. But they had no clue how to get there.”


He started tearing down a white 1972 Datsun 1200 to create the first iteration of what would eventually be christened the “White Zombie.” It not only won the race, but more importantly, it won the hearts and minds of the viewing public. Even I – who pay no attention to the local racing scene – had heard of the White Zombie, through friends who frequented PIR (Portland International Raceway).

“If we’re going to go to the public and tell them electric cars are exciting, I’m going to make something that will make them excited.”

But as fast as the White Zombie might be, the Holy Grail of electric vehicles isn’t speed. It’s range. And proving that an EV can go way beyond what’s currently available (270 miles for a Tesla Model 85D) – is the driving force behind John’s ambitious Silver Streak Project.


The Silver Streak – aka the “EV2” – is a Honda Insight (like the one pictured above) converted into a long-range EV that will go 400 miles. Yes, you read that correctly. From Portland to Seattle and back again on a single charge. Wayland will accomplish this by exploiting the lightweight, aerodynamic aluminum body of the Insight (with a drag coefficient of just .25) along with a 71.5kWh battery system using Dow Kokam lithium polymer cells (the Tesla has an 85 kWh lithium-ion battery, a drag coefficient of .24 and weighs 2.3 tons). But why EV2?


Propelling the Silver Streak is an actual EV1 AC drive motor/transaxle – exceedingly rare – owing to the fact that GM crushed about every EV1 ever built (with a few deactivated exceptions). John has also acquired four original EV1 wheels. Finding these original EV1 components involved untold hours of searching, networking and finagling – an entire story in and of itself.

Why go to this kind of trouble?

To pointedly demonstrate that GM stopped short – way, way short – in achieving a long-range electric vehicle the masses would love. In 1999, a NiMH EV1 had an EPA certified range of 140 miles – with owners reporting even longer ranges. Thirteen years after GM killed the EV1, the Bolt EV concept was introduced at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit with a much-ballyhooed 200 mile range.

It’s the battery, stupid.

Perhaps it’s because John drove an EV1 while on business in California, and knew what potential they held. Or maybe it’s because the White Zombie beat an EV1 (driven by a GM engineer) at the 1998 Phoenix APS Electrics Races, giving John, the giant-killer, a taste of what’s possible when you have true passion and a desire to succeed.

I’m guessing passion is something the bean counters at GM wish they had.

Because right here in Portland, Oregon, a 400-mile-range electric vehicle is being born in Wayland’s workshop. John, and a team of folks dedicated to making this dream a reality, are nearing the point of unveiling their remarkable back to the future machine: the EV2.

Stay tuned for updates on the Silver Streak project.

*As of Sept. 2010 White Zombie set a quarter-mile record 10.258 @ 123.79 mph. By comparison, a 2006 Bugatti Veyron (1,001 HP 8.0L V16) is capable of a quarter-mile in 10.7 seconds. (Source: Zero to 60 Times)

A video compilation of the White Zombie.

What is the Electrovair II?

ABOUT The Road Electric

3 thoughts on “Beyond The Zombie

  1. Darrell, great blog on the White Zombie, The Silver Streak, and the EV2. You have rekindled my passion for electric vehicles and pushing their capabilities and ranges further.

  2. Very interesting article. I’m rebuilding a 1932 Chevy four-door hot rod. I really want it to be electric. Do you think anyone at The white zombie project would be willing to chat with me on some motor and controller applications?

Comments are closed.