Horsepower heaven in Magnolia

Electric cars and muscle cars share the stage at Magnolia Auto Show

Bill Spagnola stood next to his neon orange 1939 Chevy Town Sedan during the Magnolia Auto Show on Aug. 20.

As the metallic paint job shimmered in the brilliant sunshine, the Kirkland resident, retired Boeing employee and car aficionado explained some of the special accessories that adorned the car he has dubbed the "Orange Smoothie.”

Little on the car is original. The seats, dashboard and even the gauges are all custom made. The all-steel body has been redesigned. The final bill he says came to about $175,000.

But this is no wimpy showroom toy. Spagnola claims he got it up to 151 miles per hour on a desolate stretch of highway outside Reno, Nev. But then he had some difficulties with the law.

Spagnola’s beauty was just one of nearly 80 special cars that showed up for Magnolia’s annual Auto Show. The event, organized by Eric Berge, the owner of Werner’s Car Shop, an auto repair shop on Queen Anne, is a chance for old friends, major collectors and anyone who likes cars to take a look at a street full of classics.

This year’s crop of cars offered a little something for everyone, from classic Ford Model-As to a silver Lamborghini that looked fast even when it wasn’t moving an inch. Other standouts included a cream-colored 1937 Packard Victoria Convertible that was owned by Mike Peck of Ballard. He said that when he turned 60 he decided he was going to buy himself a classic car. The Packard cost him $130,000 when he purchased it. In the last five years, he’s done a little more work on the car to keep it in mint condition.

Collector Gilbert Lynn also showed three of his cars, including a 1956 Nash Ambassador that he maintains was the official car of Disneyland. The unique green, black and white paint job makes this model really stand out in a crowd.

This year, there were two electric automobiles that didn’t quite fit in with the muscle cars lining West McGraw Street. One was the all-electric Tesla sports car that was about as flashy as any machine at the show. 

The other, a somewhat more modest car may have more of an impact. Jeremy Smithson, the CEO of Puget Sound Solar, brought a Nissan Leaf electric car to the show.

With a solar panel to one side, Smithson talked with many curious people about the car and how it worked. 

The car starts at about $35,000. That may sound expensive, but keep in mind that it is very cheap to run. Smithson estimates it costs about 2.5 cents a mile to power the car. An internal combustion engine that gets 25 miles to the gallon costs about 15 cents a mile to run at today’s gas prices. 

There is also savings in the lack of maintenance electric cars require. There are fewer parts to replace, including no transmission, and it doesn’t use any oil.

“You can also get all the energy you need for these cars off of your roof by using solar panels,” Smithson said. 

He estimates that five solar panels on the roof of a Seattle home can generate enough energy to power the Nissan Leaf for 4,000 miles in one year. And what’s left over can be used to power a home.

Smithson said the car runs great and there are no emissions. Unlike loud combustion engines, Smithson said the Leaf is so quiet Nissan added a high-pitched whistling sound that comes on automatically at low speeds to alert people around the car that it’s moving. While it doesn’t irritate people, the sound is said to catch the attention of every dog in a neighborhood. 

If there is one major problem with the Leaf, it is that the car takes awhile to charge up. Smithson said it takes about five hours to completely recharge the car’s batteries using a 240-volt utility outlet such as you might find for a clothes dryer. 

That level of charging allows the car to travel about 80 to 100 miles. It then has to be charged again. 

So, for instance, if you were traveling to Walla Walla, it would require two five-hour stops to recharge the battery before you would just barely reach your destination.

This kind of repeated charging makes the car only really practical for short commuting trips around town that don’t require traveling very far.

However, Smithson said the answer to this problem is coming soon. Organizations are talking about developing fast-charge stations in the near future that would fully charge a Leaf in 20 minutes. 

Exactly when the fast-charge stations will be completed isn’t known.

But in the meantime, Smithson is enjoying the Leaf’s 100-mile limitations. His first electric car, The Solectria, had a range of only 30 miles per charge.

"I've been driving nothing but electric cars for the past five years," Smithson said. "I think it works great."

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