Young hopes to unplug from foreign petroleum
WICHITA, Kan. — Neil Young, the rocker who provided some of the soundtrack to Vietnam-era protests, is trying to change the world again — with his car.
Young has teamed up with Johnathan Goodwin, a Wichita mechanic who has developed a national reputation for re-engineering the power units of big cars to get more horsepower but use less fuel.
The two are looking to convert Young’s 1959 Lincoln Continental convertible to operate on an electric battery. Ultimately, they said, they want the Continental to provide a model for the world’s first affordable mass-produced, electric-powered automobile.
"Johnathan and this car are going to make history," Young told the Wichita Eagle. "We’re going to change the world; we’re going to create a car that will allow us to stop giving our wealth to other countries for petroleum."
Young has poured about $120,000 so far into the project, Goodwin said.
What’s more, the prototype power system worked during a 12-mile test drive of the car last week — albeit with a few glitches.
"She was awesome," Young said of the battery-operated car. "Her acceleration was incredible, she moved with hardly a sound; it was so quiet we could hear the wind through the tags of other cars."
The drive almost ended in disaster when Goodwin, who controls acceleration with a knob in the back seat, twisted it the wrong way while approaching an entrance ramp and the vehicle lurched toward the rear of another car. Young, in the passenger seat, was able to hit the brakes in time.
"Still needs work," said Goodwin, 37.
Young, 62, said he came across taped interviews of Goodwin eight months ago on the Internet, including a segment for the MTV show "Pimp My Ride." Goodwin’s clientele includes California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had Goodwin work on his Hummer.
Young said he set out wanting his car to be able to use biodiesel, but later asked Goodwin whether they could instead power it with batteries and use it as a template to make electric cars more mainstream.
"The technology to make a practical and affordable electric car has been around for a long time," Goodwin said. "There are all sorts of ways of doing it and all sorts of ways to work out how to make it work on a national scale."
For Young, the project may finally complete a mission he set for himself with his music.
"You know, I thought long ago you could change the world by writing songs," he said. "But you can’t change the world by writing songs. Oh, you can inspire a few people, get some of them to change their thinking about something. But you can’t change the world by writing songs.
"But we could change it with this car."