What is a renaissance man? Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “a person who has wide interests and is expert in several areas”.  Perhaps Leonardo da Vinci is the best example of someone who was expert in the arts, science, and engineering. Fred Behning is such a renaissance man, being an accomplished musician, actor, and builder. He plays in several local symphonic bands and orchestras and has starred in musical productions as well as performing in pit orchestra for Broadway shows.

From the start, Fred always looked for the fun in things he did. He went to college like so many others, studying radio and television broadcasting, but he really majored in extracurricular activities like band and drama. That led to a lot of extra classes, so he graduated with a double minor in theater and music. All the while he was keeping his rusty old Triumph sports car on the road. Of course, all of this made him eminently qualified to follow in his father’s footsteps with a career in the technology sector and International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). His career in IBM took him from administration and finance to tech support and marketing. Growing older and further into his career, Fred found new fun in electric cars.  While his initial interest in EVs was mostly geopolitical, the longer he used them the more he did it for the fun of it, filling out his retirement with challenge and enjoyment. 

In order to act out in his opposition to the oil market, Fred bought his first electric car, a 1st generation Toyota Prius hybrid. As a result of sheer play and trial and error, Fred made a discovery.  If he drove consistently at 18 miles per hour or less the Prius would run on only the electric battery and Fred grew to love the feeling of that sweet spot. When the car ran on the battery alone it ran smooth and quiet.  It was really luxurious! As a hybrid it still burned gas though, so Fred bought his first all-electric car, a ZENN Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV). To his delight, Fred had discovered that electric vehicles gave him an opportunity to not only stand up for what he believed – but also to have a total blast.

Back in the day, state regulations required NEVs to stay under 25 mph (miles per hour) on the road. After owning a couple of ZENNs, Fred decided that he really wanted to drive faster than a tricycle which would require a bit of change.  First, he and a group of other electric vehicle guys went and got the speed limit for neighborhood electric cars raised from 25 to 35 mph.  He then modified his ZENN to reach 35 mph so he could ride on the highway while only mildly obstructing traffic.  Second, he realized that if he wanted a car that ran electric exclusively, he would have to make his own.

Fred’s adult science project converting cars had begun.

Fred was convinced it was totally possible to make running a fully electric car into a legitimate and legal reality – not just something for wishful kid’s science projects or Popular Mechanics magazines.  A fully electric car that he could drive down the highway going 50-60 mph without using a drop of gasoline.  He wanted to be able to chase the sunset in his fully electric sports car.  That was the dream. Fred started working to make that a reality.  He owned a 1960 Austin Healey “BugEye” Sprite, a delightful little British sports car. Converting that car into an enjoyable electric only ride, his EV goals started to unfold.

With time, Fred invested in more and more advanced pieces of technology for making his conversions.  His garage started filling with lithium batteries, electric motors, and charging stations.  He started making social connections and going to conventions.  He found lots of new friends who, like himself, just loved making their old cars into something new, cool and fun.  He discovered EVTV, a YouTube channel that helped newcomers starting their EV journeys and showed them how to convert cars themselves.  The head of EVTV helped Fred to get more of the parts that he needed as he gathered them from across different businesses.  While you may have thought it was mostly car guys or hot rodders building these electric cars, it turns out there was a community of nerdy tech guys applying their computer skills along with their mechanical abilities. These people’s love for EV laid in the craft, so Fred felt right at home.

Fred found so much fun in conversions.  Over time he honed and improved his knowledge and skill with his newfound hobby.  He converted several cars after his first Sprite, a 1952 MG TD replica and a 1988 Porsche 924.  All of them were exotic vintage models, which made them perfect for car show events and weddings.  Three brides including his daughter chose his conversions for their reception getaway cars. As a retired man with a wife who liked to keep her hair put together, Fred decided that he was a little too far along to be driving around exclusively in vintage sports cars.  He kept his hobby intact but to support comfort and security bought a brand-new Nissan Leaf.

Asked to pick a favorite, Fred laughs and says all his cars are his pride and joy. Like having high achieving children, he wouldn’t think of picking a favorite. They are all so delightful and he loves that he made them himself.  He says that while he started his EV journey for the more serious and political reasons, the farther he got into the actual lifestyle the more it became about the natural fun of it. He learned more about technology and expanded his group of friends.  Building electric vehicles in your garage is an art form – and, besides, what else is a Renaissance Man going to do?