The SCORE Baja 1000’s loss is, at least potentially, the military's gain. Jeffrey Smith, whose Strategic Recovery Institute (SRI) has developed a state-of-the-art, all-electric dune buggy racer for desert competitions, failed in his effort to raise $800,000 to compete in the 1,000-mile race that begins Nov. 15, but he did finish building the prototype of the ultimate off-road machine — which has potential military, Border Patrol, state park and other customers.


The 535-horsepower EV1 race car can hit 100 mph in the dirt, bouncing high on its big coil springs. Under the hood are twin 9-inch NetGain electric motors, spun by 138 ruggedized China Aviation lithium-ion battery cells totaling 83 kilowatt-hours. The results are as rip-roaring as if the EV1 had a gas-guzzling V-8 under the hood. Watch this video of the EV1 tearing around the desert:



According to Smith, founder of SRI and a veteran Baja 1000 racer (he won his class in a Baja Bug last year), the company hoped for a “race on Sunday, sell on Monday” effect. But how can a battery racer with 80- to 100-mile range and five-hour recharge times compete in a 1,000-mile race? Simple enough — with four $32,000 swappable and water-cooled battery packs, three chase trucks and a big support infrastructure. The team could have switched packs in a few minutes and the car would have been off again.


Unfortunately, the team could get their hands on only one battery pack of the type that could survive bouncing around in the desert, and outfitted only one truck with generators, cranes, 110-watt radios and other necessary equipment. They spent $450,000 of their own money, but it wasn’t enough. Now, Smith says, the team is looking at smaller races such as the Rage at the River in Laughlin, Nev., next month.


The initial idea for the EV1 came from retired Lt. Gen. James Pillsbury, who opined that the use of fossil fuels in combat is no longer viable. He says that taxpayers are inadvertently paying $435 a gallon for fuel used in theaters of operation such as Afghanistan. What’s more, the fuel convoys are highly vulnerable to attack. Electric trucks have no heat signature and can be recharged from solar panels set up at forward command posts.


Several branches of the armed forces have been exploring fossil fuel alternatives. The military’s biofuels program came under attack from Sen. John McCain and others during the presidential campaign, but Navy Secretary Ray Mabus fired back, “The whole Navy is committed to pursuing alternatives to foreign oil, and the whole Navy believes it is critical to our national security and combat capability,” he said.


The EV1 would seem ideal for desert missions, and it’s not hard to imagine one patrolling Yosemite and other large parks. (Might work better than a Hummer.) SRI, which has teamed with respected converter EV West, has 5,000 square feet of manufacturing space in California, and Smith thinks his youthful team could churn out five EV1s every six months. They’re ready for orders, from the armed forces or from someone with deep pockets, access to sand, and the need for an adrenaline rush.

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

A macho electric Baja racer for the U.S. military
The EV1 was built for the Baja 1000, but now the armed forces are taking an interest. Why not, when this thing can go anywhere and combat-ready gasoline is $435