Bright yellow, battery-powered 1972 Datsun 1200 gives drag-racing fraternity a shake-up.

There's something strange about Tom Short's little yellow Datsun 1200. It might be that it can clear a quarter mile in a lightning-fast 14 seconds.

It also might be that you won't hear it when it does.

The Taupo mechanic's battery-powered 1972 coupe has just caused shock among horrified V8 petrolheads by winning the street car class in the New Zealand Drag Racing Association's latest season.

On the back of his surprise success, Mr Short is now on a mission to show the country just how fast electric cars can be.

Close-up of the batteries Tom Short has installed in his electric 1972 Datsun 1200. Photo / Alan Gibson
Close-up of the batteries Tom Short has installed in his electric 1972 Datsun 1200. Photo / Alan Gibson

His track to championship victory began with a Subaru WRX saloon he tried to electrify, but which couldn't perform well enough when weighed down with more than 500kg of batteries.

Then he and mate Kent Wakely noticed a Datsun listed on Trade Me for $2500.

"Kent and I jumped in the car, shot down to Palmerston North just on a maybe, then got there, started it, and drove it on to the trailer - it was unreal."

The pair stripped it back to its factory pink, quickly re-painted it yellow and then replaced its engine with a controller and dual electric motors.

In the rear, they installed a fearsome power-pack of 52 12-volt batteries, capable of delivering 700 volts when fully charged.

"Three 12-volt batteries have enough amps to kill you, so it is a very dangerous sport if you don't know what you are doing," Mr Short said.

Unlike most street cars, the Datsun can take off in the equivalent of top gear, achieving in a split second a stunning 100 per cent horsepower at only 1 per cent of throttle.

"Basically, it's no different from a kid's radio-controlled car or a mobility scooter - it has no clutch or gearbox - and that's what makes it so reliable and consistent."


It reaches top speed of 140km/h just halfway down the track - V8 drag racers typically do closer to the finish line - and does so in near silence.

"It does skid at the start, but because the engine is so quiet and doesn't rev, it actually sounds like someone is dragging something down the road."

Entering the NZDRA's street car class championship had at first been "a bit of fun" but, to the shock of their V8 competitors, they quickly realised they'd created a drag-racing phenomenon.

In its first meet at Meremere Dragway, the car placed second, securing 100 points.

"At the prize-giving, they wouldn't even shake my hand," Mr Short said with a laugh. "But coming second changed it for us - and we knew we had a car that was consistent and could actually win this championship, so we pushed on from there."

After racing in four of six meetings, Team Electric Taupo racked up 230 points, finishing the season with a lead of 22 points.

"Now the response from a lot of the petrol guys is huge - they love it."

Competitor Dean Hastie, who races a 1968 SS Camaro with a 509 big block V8, said the electric car had caused a stir among his staunchly-petrol fraternity.

"When we go to events, it attracts so much attention - there will be 20 people around it, and you don't see that around any other car."