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The Electric Elephant In The Room

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The Electric Elephant In The Room


Electric Shock

Earlier this week, you might have caught my post titled Do New Performance Cars Even Need Modifying? Today, I’m going to follow that up with a part two of sorts.

The future of motoring is going electric and it doesn’t matter if we like it or not thanks to fleet fuel requirements that continue to rise by our governments. But don’t worry, it’s not all that bad; we’ve seen the future and even driven it. It just requires a new train of thought: how do you modify the upcoming generation of electric cars?

Let’s discuss that while we ogle at the Unplugged Performance Tesla Model S.

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To start, we love the fact that you guys and gals have been very civil in the discussions of the need to modify modern performance cars. One part of the topic that many brought up was modifying for personal taste over better performance, and a fitting example of that is this Tesla Model S that’s been improved by Unplugged Performance in Hawthorne, California, located just outside of the Tesla Design Studio and SpaceX. Because, what better way to keep up with a manufacturer’s latest than to have your office right outside theirs.

If you have never driven a Model S before, it’s a car that will make you step back and say, “yeah, this has great acceleration and handling.” Again, looking at motor and drivetrain performance, the S is superb straight out of the box.

Setting The S Apart From The Rest

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Knowing that, the only parts you’ll see Unplugged Performance work with are the body, wheels, interior, brakes, and suspension. You don’t see anything about modifying the motor (or motors for the D models), the controller, or the battery pack. The exterior parts don’t drastically alter the look of the Model S, but the little changes make big improvements when it comes to the car’s character. Wheels range from the lightweight wheel package from Unplugged to BBS two-piece wheels. Inside you can get a sports steering wheel with a carbon rim and carbon seat backs. So far, mostly superficial stuff.

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It’s when we start getting into the suspension and brakes that we see the interesting changes. The suspension is a bracket change that lowers the mounting points of the factory air suspension, or you can go back to a factory height by bolting the air suspension into a different location without changing the brackets. From there, the OEM air settings are retained but you get a far more aggressive height, especially in low, because of that repositioning. These four simple brackets bring on a dramatic change to the way the car looks.

The front brakes, though, are pure performance with a set of Brembo 6-piston calipers with carbon-ceramic rotors. While it may seem overkill considering how much braking power you get out of the S with the regenerative braking system, it also removes 20lbs (9.0kgs) of unsprung weight over the factory 4-piston calipers and iron rotors. That’s less weight the suspension and front motor must deal with, and less overall weight the rear motor must push around. Performance wise, that makes a real difference.

Getting More Than Two Laps

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However, there could still be more performance to be found with the S when it comes to heat from the motor. You would think the limiting factor of running an electric car on the track would be battery capacity, right? That’s potentially true for a home-built car that uses a less than desirable battery pack, however for the Model S it’s the heat from the rotor. The rotor is the part that is doing the actual spinning; think of it as the electric equivalent of a rotating assembly for a piston engine. A lot of power flows in and it creates heat that is removed with a cooling system that flows through it.

It’s great for regular driving or even a quick jaunt around a mountain road, but for a track day and the demands in power generating, the rotor quickly heats up and causes the S to hit limp mode after about two laps around Buttonwillow Raceway (remember, even when the motor is in regeneration mode, it’s making heat because it’s sending 60kW to the battery). Power to and from the motor creates heat, so until someone finds a way to better cool the motor rotor, the S isn’t great for more than a couple of laps.

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This is the biggest thing that Tesla track day enthusiasts are trying to figure out a workaround for. If they can solve this, the next problem will potentially be the heat generated by the inverter or the controller for the motor(s). These are also similar issues experienced by electric RC car enthusiasts, just upscaled. What helps them is that the motor is exposed far more than it is on a Tesla; it’s why you don’t really hear about rotor overheating, but it does still happen.

Once those issues are solved, the doors to performance heaven will open for the S and we’ll start hearing about bigger kilowatt motors, messing with housing timing, and possibly improved inverters and controllers like we see with RC cars today.

This Isn’t The End, It’s Just The Beginning

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So, if you’re worried about that electric car future, don’t be. Unless you like noise that is, then you should probably be a little worried.

No, we won’t have valves, ports, throttle bodies, or even exhausts and turbos to install on our future cars. It sounds so bleak when you keep the blinders on but don’t worry. Take those blinders off and take a wider look at electric cars. It’s not electrification that will kill performance tuning here. Hell, autonomous cars probably won’t kill it. Let’s face it – it’s human nature to tinker, create, and improve. We can’t leave well enough alone.

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So, our conclusion from these two articles with two very contrasting forms of propulsion is this: Tuners will never die, they will just find a new toy take apart and make better. Unplugged Performance has made the start, we just need the next Hasegawa, Shelby, or even “Smokey” Yunick for the electric car world. Someone who finds a way to shove a bigger, more powerful electric motor into an S and race it. It’s coming and it’s going to be an amazing ride when it does.

Justin Banner
Instagram: jb27tt
Facebook: racerbanner

Photos by Larry Chen
Instagram: larry_chen_foto
larry@speedhunters.com

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