The Illuminati car prototype
The ‘Illuminati Motor Works Seven’ electric vehicle prototype. (Photo credit: Freneticquaver / Wikimedia)

Most DIY auto mechanics are content to change their oil or replace brake pads. But in 2007, Kevin Smith of Illinois took on a bigger project: building an electric car from scratch.

He wanted to win the Automotive X Prize, a competition to develop super-efficient new vehicles.

For more than two years, Smith and a team of friends and family worked nights and weekends in a converted barn. They did not have the advantages of major automakers.

“We don’t have the manpower, the money, and the experience behind us,” Smith says.

But he says their scrappy, upstart mentality helped them get creative about efficiency.

“We started going through aerodynamics books and design books and welding and metallurgy books,” he says.

The car they built looks like it belongs in a sci-fi movie. It has gull-wing doors like the car in “Back to the Future” and an aerodynamic teardrop-shaped body.

It placed second in the X Prize. But months later, the car was tested again and exceeded the efficiency of the winning vehicle.

Smith’s team continues tinkering with the car, and they take it to shows and schools to get others excited about efficiency.

“And every time we do that,” he says, “it makes me go, ‘Yeah, yeah, we need to do just a little bit more. So, guys, what do you want to work on next?’”

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.