Ninety-year-old Queenwood School is not what you would expect from a girls school on the North Shore of Sydney, Australia. The school has an active STEM program (Science Technology Engineering and Maths), called Advanced Technologies and Engineering (ATE). With enthusiastic support from the principal, Queenwood is involved with solar racing, LEGO robotics, and Arduino coding, amongst many other projects. Some parents get quite a surprise on their first tour of the school.
Engineer-turned-teacher Andrew Draper is the Head of ATE and manages the after-school group of girls who are rebuilding a 1975 Suzuki Carry and fitting it out with an electric motor and batteries, known as the QUTE Project. Sixteen enthusiastic girls are working a few afternoons a week (3:30–5:30 pm) in two teams to get the job done. Sometimes they even want to work on the project at lunchtime. “They are mad keen,” says Andrew, “they are even keen on the horrid bits restorers don’t like, such as scraping the rust off and scrubbing the oily parts!”
The girls range in age, from 8 to 12 years old, and are building their skillset as the project progresses. Mr Draper, as they call him, organizes them into teams to complete different stages of the project, gaining skills across a range of different automotive disciplines. For example, today they are going to disassemble brakes and document the process so they can put them back together. Try as he might, Andrew cannot find a manual for the 50 year old car that they got for almost nothing, so a photographic record is very important. He says he needs an assistant. I think he’s right.
Andrew has rebuilt other cars with students before — classic British vehicles, including a Morris and Mini Minor — but this is his first electric vehicle, with the generous support of Graeme from DIYOZEV. The girls have the electrical components, what is taking the time is prepping the vehicle. The girls are looking at this as a two-year project. This year’s aim is to rebuild the vehicle to a standard fit for registration, and next year’s goal is to fit the electrics. Some of the girls in senior years may graduate before the project is complete, but this doesn’t dampen their enthusiasm.
The Australian Electric Vehicle Association has helped with advice about conversion kits. Andrew is anticipating more help when the girls get further into the project, as they are not at the electric stage yet!
It is expected that the completed, rebuilt electric Carry will replace an aging Mitsubishi Canter that is used by the school to deliver lunches, pick up the mail, and perform other deliveries. Using an economy pack and a custom-made prop shaft from DIYOZEV, the Suzuki Carry should have about 100 km of range and only need charging once a week to fulfill these duties.
Support for the project has also come from the local welders Northern Beaches Mobile Welding and metal fabrication Marcus Engineering, as cutting out the rot and structural welding are two of the few parts of the project the girls can’t complete due to safety issues. Bevan Dooley, the Managing Director of Janus, is a Queenwood parent. He has been in and chatted to the kids as well as going through the OZDIY kit with them.
The mockup for the electric motor and motor mount will be cut from 3mm ply on the laser cutter, allowing a lightweight dummy to be custom fitted to the existing motor mounts. These templates can then be manufactured locally in steel for a custom fit. The electric motor will be direct drive, partially for simplicity and partially because the engine and gearbox were missing when the vehicle was delivered!
The well-equipped Queenwood timber workshop has shaped the plans for the tray as well; a hardwood back is in the pipeline, with a shallow box across the tray to store the battery pack and lockable tool boxes on top to hold the load.
The big question is: Why?
For Andrew, it is about gender equity. He wants to encourage and empower his girls to get into engineering, both at the university and trade level. “Even if that’s not their final career, it is enabling to send them out with a high degree of tool skill and a can-do attitude,” says Andrew.
For the girls, it is part of the fight against climate change, it’s about reusing materials like an old car body and recycled batteries that would have just ended up at the tip, it’s to create a vehicle that will be recharged when parked from donated second-hand solar panels on the roof of a school building.
The girls are indeed being supported to become young women equipped and motivated to make a difference. Per Aspera ad Astra indeed, Elon would be proud. If your school is involved in its own QUTE project — get in touch, I would love to write your story!