By Tom Voelk
On a sunny day in May, Steven Lough is holding court among the gathered specialty cars in the parking lot of Triple XXX Root Beer in Issaquah. Triple XXX lays claim to five of the largest car shows in the United States. This gathering is small by those measures but it hardly lacks spark.
Lough, president emeritus of the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association, is proud of the 40-some cars assembled. He and other SEVA members helped to grow the association from just a couple of hobbyists to the second- largest electric vehicle club in the United States.
Seattle Electric Vehicle Association began in 1979 and Lough became president of it in 1981. “Back then it was just a bunch of enthusiasts making cars in the back yard. It was long before Tesla, Nissan Leaf and even the General Motors EV1,” he says.
Lough liked the idea of getting off oil. To first wean himself from it, he spent $10,000 on a Volkswagen conversion kit with a McLaren M6 look. Then he spent another $10,000 stuffing it with lead acid batteries to convert it to electric power. “Sold it for half of what I had into it,” says Lough.
In 1980 he became one of the first electric car dealers in Washington. His family’s dealership, Lough GMC Isuzu, took on four ‘Lectric Leopards (basically Renault LeCars converted by U.S. Electricar Corp. in Massachusetts). He immediately sold two to doctors. “It took four years to sell the remaining two. At half price. So I have paid my dues.”
Lough is drawn to the same qualities that lure others to electric cars. “The acceleration, the efficiency, the instant torque, getting off gasoline are all reasons the club started,” he says.
He now drives a Mitsubishi i-MiEV or, as he believes Mitsubishi should call it, “My EV. It rolls off the tongue easier.”
Its personalized license plate reads ECO MAN.
The assembled SEVA members all have their reasons for being in Issaquah. Frederick Peters from South Everett brought his Kia Soul EV to educate potential buyers on what to expect with a car like his. Tracy Keeling from Bothell was popular since she was fielding questions from people curious about her new Chevrolet Bolt EV. This kind of get-together allows owners to mix and share knowledge.
Curious Triple XXX patrons that wander out of the restaurant end up asking questions. Says Lough: “They might be the next electric vehicle owners. It’s a lot easier than when I started.”
One popular SEVA motto is “Education, demonstration and proliferation”
Along with off-the-shelf Tesla Model Xs, Toyota RAV4 EVs and Cadillac ELRs, the SEVA flock has brought many custom machines.
John Lussmyer from Greenback has a modified Ford F250 Super Cab Long Bed pickup. It goes 70 miles at 55 miles per hour while powered by 120 Nissan Leaf modules.
When the gas engine of Roger Waif’s 1967 Sunbeam Tiger convertible failed, the Mountlake Terrace resident replaced it with an electric motor and batteries.
“I also own a Fiat 500e and really, I believe everyone should own an electric car … and a convertible,” he says.
John Wayland from Portland, Oregon, brought the ultimate sleeper, a 1972 Datsun 1200 that started life with a 69-horsepower 4-cylinder gas engine. Replaced with a twin-motor unit driving the rear wheels, it now wields 538 horsepower and 1,250 pound-feet of torque.
“It’s one of the world’s quickest accelerating street-legal electric cars, doing 0-60 miles an hour in 1.8 seconds,” Wayland says. “A little bit quicker than a Tesla.”
The car’s lithium polymer batteries were originally designed for Apache helicopters.
There’s no shortage of inspiration going on. Stephen Johnsen, SEVA’s president since 2013, is marrying a 1954 GMC delivery truck, a modern chassis, Remy motors and large liquid- cooled battery packs for 21 Acres, which is a center for sustainable agriculture education. One SEVA member showed Lough a device that plugs into his i-MiEV’s OBD-II port, then displays the condition of each of the car’s battery cells using a smartphone.
As for Lough, tracking the developments in electric vehicles still charges him up after all these years.
He brushed shoulders with electric car greats like Chelsea Sexton and Chris Paine from “Who Killed the Electric Car” and General Motors’ Bob Lutz.
Lough has also been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Electric Auto Association.