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Dark Horse: the story of a record-shattering, all-electric ’68 Mustang

The story of a record-shattering, all-electric ’68 Mustang

The world’s most expensive supercars can hit 60 miles per hour in less than three seconds. The fastest production car in the world, the Hennessey Venom GT, does it in 2.7; Lamborghini’s 602-horsepower V-10-powered Huracán has been unofficially clocked at 2.5. If you were sitting in a Huracán right now, you could go from zero to 60 in less time than it takes to read this sentence. But somewhere in a Texas garage sits a strange car that’s even quicker: a 1968 Mustang fastback known as the Zombie 222, and it’s entirely electric.

Zombie 222

Dark Horse

The story of a record-shattering, all-electric ’68 Mustang

By Michael Zelenko

The world’s most expensive supercars can hit 60 miles per hour in less than three seconds. The fastest production car in the world, the Hennessey Venom GT, does it in 2.7; Lamborghini’s 602-horsepower V-10-powered Huracán has been unofficially clocked at 2.5. If you were sitting in a Huracán right now, you could go from zero to 60 in less time than it takes to read this sentence. But somewhere in a Texas garage sits a strange car that’s even quicker: a 1968 Mustang fastback known as the Zombie 222, and it’s entirely electric.

Tapping an array of giant motors, controllers, and batteries — cast in a fluorescent green with blue LEDs for effect — the Zombie 222 produces over 800 horsepower and a mind-numbing 1,800 pounds of torque. Those numbers translate into a 0–60 time of just 2.4 seconds, a remarkable eighth-mile time of 6.8 seconds at 101 mph and an estimated quarter-mile time of 10.7 seconds at 125 mph.

But forget numbers: smash the accelerator of the Zombie 222, and you can feel your internal organs abandon their rightful homes and fly against the back of your rib cage. That kind of acceleration will make a 5’11", 245-pound cameraman giggle like a little boy riding his first roller coaster. That’s not hyperbole — I’ve seen it happen.

The Zombie 222 is the brainchild of Mitch Medford, a muscle car enthusiast who left a career in tech to launch Bloodshed Motors, a garage that offers an unusual service: converting classic cars into high-speed electric machines that can pummel the most powerful supercars in the world. The ’68 fastback is Bloodshed’s first — and so far, only — project. Medford hopes that one day his four-wheeled creatures will be roaming streets and highways around the world, but first, he has to prove what the Zombie is made of.

In late February, I traveled to Austin, Texas, to visit Medford and the Bloodshed team. It was unseasonably cold and wet, but Medford had been tinkering at the garage since 4AM. The Zombie sat hunched in the middle of the shop, its menacing green-and-black paint job immaculate, every inch of chrome polished. Medford was working feverishly to prepare for the Texas Mile, a bi-annual racing event where he hoped to demonstrate the Zombie’s mettle by breaking two speed records. The event was exactly one month away.

Mitch Medford may as well have been born in an auto shop and delivered by a mechanic. He comes from a long line of mechanics and moonshiners — in fact, he’s named after Robert Mitchum, the producer, writer, and star of 1958’s Thunder Road, a seedy noir about a fast-driving illegal booze runner. At 53, Medford still has the good-humored energy of a middle school class clown: eager to tease friends, offer up a groan-worthy joke, or riff on a plot for a Fast and Furious film starring himself and the Zombie. He’s also a born storyteller, peppering his anecdotes with expressions that reveal his roots in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains — an underpowered car, he’ll tell you, "can’t pull a greasy string out of a cat’s ass."

Medford’s love for cars started in high school, when he salvaged his first ride — a 1966 Ford LTD Galaxie 500 with a tattered vinyl roof and wires snaking out of the tires — and fixed it up with his dad. Eventually, a policeman clocked the Galaxie going 137, even though its speedometer only went up to 120.

"That car was woven into my high school years," Medford says. "It’s a part of my memories of getting girlfriends and going to the drive-in movies and trying to outrun my friends down the backside of the river… It was the way we settled arguments. We’d see who could lay down the most rubber in the parking lot, who had the loudest pipes — putting on glasspacks, cherry bombs, straight pipes, cutouts. It was just seeped into my whole childhood."

Medford's steel gray hair is trimmed with military precision, a throwback to his time as a drill instructor. After the army, he turned to computer engineering, and made a successful career of it — first at IBM, then heading startups. In June of last year, Medford left his post as CEO of Austin-based RF Code to build Bloodshed Motors. In its announcement of his departure, Austin Business Journal said Medford left to "pursue personal business opportunities." But to Medford, Bloodshed was far more than that.

After the Galaxie, other cars had come and gone: a 6-cylinder ’67 Mustang, a ’66 Impala Super Sport, two ’69 Toronados (one with a mile-wide set of horns fastened to the hood), a ‘67 Mercury Cougar (in which he first kissed his wife), a 2011 Shelby GT500 — all-American gas guzzling classics, new and old. And then Medford saw an episode of Top Gear that piqued his interest.

In it, the puckish Jeremy Clarkson races a first-generation Tesla Roadster against its more conventional twin, the Lotus Elise. As the Tesla hurtles down the track, Clarkson screams, "12,500 RPM — I cannot believe this! That’s biblically quick!" The Tesla left its sibling sucking ozone fumes.

Watching the clip, an idea banged around Medford’s head. He felt sure electric cars would transform the car industry, but he also wondered whether they could penetrate the restoration and modification car community, where wealthy buyers shell out tens of thousands to breathe new life into classic vehicles. So Medford started doing his research, and that’s when he stumbled onto John Wayland and his White Zombie.

The White Zombie, hitting 126 miles per hour in a quarter-mile drag race.

On the outside, the White Zombie is a humble 1972 Datsun 1200. But concealed beneath its milquetoast shell sit two 9-inch electric motors, giving the White Zombie enough power to hit 60 mph in 1.8 seconds. It runs a quarter mile in 10.3 seconds — almost a whole second quicker than a Nissan GT-R.

"The power and the numbers and performance that that car was putting out was almost unimaginable," Medford recalls. A light bulb went off in his head and he sent John Wayland an email outlining his vision: beautifully restored, iconic vintage cars coupled with world-class electric performance. He knew it’d be a niche business and the creations wouldn’t be cheap — $200,000 and up — but he felt confident the market was ripe. With Tesla monopolizing the luxury electric car field, it was becoming harder for wealthy buyers to distinguish themselves from the crowd. Bloodshed Motors offered a solution: top-of-the-line electric performance in one-of-a-kind packages.

But weeks passed with no word from Wayland.

Zombie 222

John Wayland built his first electric car in 1980 with a proto-Tesla philosophy: if electric cars have any hope of success, they needed to quicken a customer’s pulse. "Electric cars were never going to take off if you tried to lay guilt trips on people about burning gasoline," he says. In 1994, a local electric vehicle club hosted a drag race on the streets of Portland to prove that electric cars weren’t a complete bore. The problem is, they were: "Nothing but dog-slow and embarrassing," Wayland recalls.

So he built the White Zombie. Wayland procured seven helicopter batteries from an aircraft surplus outfit and stuffed them into the diminutive Datsun. Most of the batteries were in bad shape, but the car still laid rubber in all five gears, Wayland says. "I remember women and children running for cover as I was going sideways down the streets of Portland."

White Zombie 222

The White Zombie. (Image courtesy of Carrol Brown)

In the two decades since, Wayland added another motor and swapped out the nickel-cadmium batteries for modern lithium-manganese-nickel-cobalt polymer cells. But by the spring of 2014, Wayland had stopped tinkering with the car as much — he’d been devastated by the loss of his wife a few years prior and was keeping to himself. He remembers receiving Mitch’s email ("it was well-written, intelligent; he was very articulate"), but it took him weeks to respond. The two hit if off as soon as they got on the phone — "it’s a good thing we’re not neighbors," Wayland says, "we’d be in trouble constantly."

The concept of an all-electric muscle car wasn’t new to Wayland: in the '90s, he’d converted a ‘65 Mustang to run on lead-acid batteries. It had a range of 35 miles and a top speed of 85 mph — it was even featured in a ‘95 issue of Mustang Illustrated magazine. Wayland’s late wife loved Mustangs, and he thought Medford’s was the right project to get back in the game. "It was a marriage meant to be," he says.

Zombie 222

Medford knew from the start that Bloodshed Motors’ debut project had to be a first-generation Mustang. The Mustang needs no introduction, but its significance in the saga of American motor history cannot be overstated. It was an instant classic after its introduction in 1964, firmly woven into the cultural fabric of its era. If Medford wanted to attract buyers with fat checkbooks, he’d have to electrify the vehicle that stood at the very heart of American automotive culture, and the original pony car was it.

To handle the kind of power Medford was envisioning, he needed a rust-free, wreck-free small-block fastback (he was reticent to take a rarer big-block off the market) and found one in Houston. In the meantime, he assembled the core Bloodshed crew: John Wayland would act as mentor and guide; Jack Lapenta, Medford’s longtime friend and colleague at IBM, would manage electronics; and Allen Koester, an electrician by trade and a talented mechanic, would be in charge of everything else.

Early last summer, Wayland and his partner Mark Mongillo drove down from Oregon, and the team spent a month tearing out the Mustang’s internal combustion engine, replacing it with dual 11-inch electric motors and two controllers to manage the battery packs (the "222" in Zombie 222 stands for "two engines, two controllers, and too damn fast"). For Koester the mechanic, that meant fabricating sturdier motor mounts and installing frame rails to keep the car’s body from twisting under the strain of 1,800 pounds of torque. For Lapenta the electrician, it meant figuring out a way to monitor, regulate, and care for a system that could safely harness enough energy to briefly power a few hundred homes.

The Zombie’s first incarnation was massively overpowered. Through an acquaintance, the team got hold of drag racing legend Don "Big Daddy" Garlits’ battery pack. Garlits made a name for himself breaking 200 miles per hour on a quarter-mile strip in 1964. Now in his 80s, Garlits wants to be the first to do the same in an electric powered dragster. Accordingly, his battery pack produces 1.5 megawatts, equivalent to roughly 2,000 horsepower.

That’s enough electric muscle to trigger what Lapenta calls a "catastrophic event." "If something goes wrong," Lapenta says, "it doesn’t just burn things, it vaporizes [them] instantly." To avert disaster, the team installed what it calls the "‘Oh Shit’ lever," which instantly disconnects the battery from the drivetrain.

After multiple all-nighters, the crew finally had the Zombie in one piece and trucked it down to a San Antonio drag strip for a terrifying round of tests. Medford asked Wayland to take the wheel for the first drive. "I’m not easily scared in a car," Wayland recalls, "and it was one of the scariest rides I’ve ever done."

As soon as Wayland punched the accelerator, the Zombie’s front end leapt into the air. It came down, but bucked again at 60 miles per hour. "It had a buttload of power, but it wasn’t properly set up," Wayland remembers. In their rush, the team had neglected to fasten critical components or align the steering. A second run was equally treacherous. "We proved it had a lot of power; it excited the crowd — it excited everybody," Wayland says. "But I probably should’ve worn a set of Depends on the two runs."

Zombie 222

Every Friday afternoon, a few miles down the road from Bloodshed Motors, Sandeez Hamburger Hut hosts an impromptu classic car meet-up. On the morning of my visit, Medford offered to check it out, so we hopped in the Zombie.

The car had come a long way since the San Antonio runs: the steering system was honed, and Medford has installed the first of two overdrives, which will extend his top speed — in theory — to roughly 200 miles per hour. The Zombie is high-tech, but it’s not a refined driving experience — it lacks the silken comfort of a Tesla or the luxury you’d expect from a car with its price tag. The racing battery pack currently installed had a charge time of 45 minutes, and only offered a 40–50 mile range. There’s no power steering, and the brakes are heavy. The car feels stiff, tense with power. At high speeds or tight turns, the steady whine of the electric engine is joined by wind noise and creaks from the frame. But the Zombie was built for performance, not promenades.

Drop your foot on the pedal, and the car transforms into a missile. Power flows to the drivetrain effortlessly, and the car jumps from 10 mph to 30 as gracefully as from 60 to 90. "This car is the most exciting thing I’ve ever driven in my life," says Medford. "It’s literally like crack cocaine." As we turned onto the highway toward Sandeez, Mitch leaves six-foot-long tire tracks.

Apart from a lonely silver Chevrolet SSR, the parking lot around Sandeez on that bone-chillingly cold morning was largely devoid of interesting cars. Medford popped the Zombie’s hood and trunk, revealing the motor and battery pack, and stepped inside the restaurant. He’d baited the trap and watched as passersby craned their necks to figure out just what it was they were looking at. The driver of the SSR — an older gentleman — circled the Zombie. He looked under the hood, sauntered to the back, and stared into the trunk. He considered the car a moment longer. Finally, he shook his head, muttered, "It’s fucking cold," and headed inside.

"Let’s face it," Medford told me later, "growing up with muscle cars — why did we make them loud? To get attention. Why did we try to make them faster? To be the guy that wins…and gets the attention." And with the Zombie, Medford built the ultimate conversation piece. Sometimes he says he sticks GoPros in the engine bay, props open the hood, and leaves the Zombie at a Home Depot parking lot. Then, he watches people’s faces as they crane their heads over the electric motors. "To be totally candid," he says, "it’s an amazingly addictive feeling."

Zombie 222

But admiration won’t pay the bills. Medford will need customers, and to attract them he needs to establish Bloodshed as a business. That’s why he’s headed to the Texas Mile, a biannual event where drivers are invited to hurtle their machines down a runway to see just how fast they can go. The Texas Mile draws million-dollar vehicles, big buyers, and thousands of spectators. "If we’re going to focus on building a brand that represents extremely high-performance electric vehicle conversions of classic iconic cars, we’ve got to really prove it," Medford told me.

To do that, he aims to break two records: the first is for fastest electric street car at the Texas Mile. John Metric, the president of the National Electric Drag Racing Association, currently holds that record at 155 miles per hour for a run he did in 2012 in his highly modified Pontiac Fiero.

The second record is unofficial, but for Medford, it carries greater personal significance.

In 1967, Carroll Shelby — an icon of American muscle as big as the Mustang itself — was invited by Goodyear to its San Angelo, Texas testing facility to demonstrate the durability of their new Thunderbolt tires. Shelby took the opportunity to outfit what was already a very quick pony — the Shelby GT500 — with a race-ready 427 big block engine and christen it the "Super Snake." The day of the run, Shelby’s car ran 500 miles at an average speed of 142 miles per hour. At one point, the story goes, the Super Snake hit 170, making it the fastest first-generation Mustang in the world.

Footage from Shelby's run at Goodyear's San Angelo facility

For Medford, Shelby is an inspiration as much for his racing prowess as his business acumen. "In a way he was ahead of the whole world in the resto mod business," Medford said. "Think about his business: he aligned himself with Ford, took their products, and made them better than they ever would be, and still got them repaired and warrantied by Ford. That’s inspiration."

And like Medford, Shelby knew marketing was key — in the ‘60s, Shelby allegedly repainted his only Cobra different colors in order to fool the world into thinking he had a full inventory.

"The man, the legend has shown it’s possible," said Medford. "If you want to say that you’re going to put the ultimate muscle in a muscle car, you better be able to outdo the man who represented ultimate muscle."

But Medford knew 170 was a reach — the fastest he’d gone was somewhere in the 120s. He had no idea what would happen when he pushed a 60-year-old car beyond its limits. "I’m gonna hold that pedal down until my nut sack pops," he shrugged.

"You may watch me die down there," he added, half-jokingly. "Just take care of my wife."

Zombie 222

Twice a year, the town of Beeville — population 13,000 — welcomes the Texas Mile and the fleet of high-performance cars and motorcycles that come with it. The three-day event takes place on a one-and-a-half-mile runway located on the decommissioned Chase Naval Airfield, surrounded by wide open country on one side and the Garza East Unit correctional facility on the other. The prison is close enough that guards can watch — and inmates can hear — cars howling down the drag strip.

And it’s a true Texan affair. "We always say our event is in honor of God and country," says Shannon Matus, co-founder and owner of the event, when we sit down to talk in her trailer. Matus has the robust mane and warm smile of a classic country singer. Each daily driver meeting starts with a prayer, she tells me, and a couple dozen members of the Christian Motorcyclist Association volunteer their time here every year. "I always tell them, ‘You’re here to provide direction,’" Matus says. "…and hopefully the opportunity comes up where you can provide the real important direction."

Wayland was derailed by an emergency repair on Michael Jordan’s high-performance electric golf cart

Apart from John Wayland — whose plans were derailed by an emergency repair on Michael Jordan’s high-performance electric golf cart somewhere in Las Vegas — the entire Bloodshed crew showed up for the Mile. As Shelbys, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Porsches, Camaros, Ford GTs, and Nissan GT-Rs roll by the Zombie’s trailer on their way to the track, drivers poked their heads out to see what the ever-constant crowd was gawking at. There are other classic cars here, but nothing even remotely resembles the Zombie.

Medford was less jovial than he’d been a month ago, and the Zombie was meaner than ever: the sideview mirrors and windshield wipers were gone, an aluminum plate hid the grill and headlights, two blowers were installed to cool the engine, and a wing had been attached to keep the car grounded. Power came from a 1.1-megawatt battery pack, capable of producing 1,400 horsepower.

Zombie 222

The two records Medford wanted to beat — 155 and 170 — had become a rallying point for his team, gathering gravity and significance over the last month. The team knew the car had enough brute force to hit 200, but they were concerned about its aerodynamics. If supercars have anything in common, it’s that they’re wedge-shaped to slice through wind. A Mustang has the aerodynamics of a cinder block.

At high speeds, that profile can be dangerous: enough lift can levitate the front of the car, causing the driver to lose all control. And there are other dangers, too. As John Wayland put it, hitting 170 — or even 155 — is dependent on a lot of ifs: "if the motors don’t fireball; if the brushes don’t melt; if we don’t break a rear end; if we don’t go sideways. […] I’m rooting for him 100 percent. I’m not saying he won’t do 170 — all I’m saying is that it’s a lofty goal."

But Medford was ready. The Texas Mile is a first-come, first-serve, one-car-at-a-time event; it can be a three-hour wait between runs. At 7:30AM on Friday morning — the sun still inching over the horizon — dozens of cars were already lined up. Medford pulled the Zombie into line. There’s a rhythm here: as one car screams down the runway, the next burns out, warming up its tires and getting them sticky for better traction. A speed board instantaneously illustrates a car’s half-mile and full-mile speeds.

In a herd of cars that belch, rumble, and moan at the start line ("there’s a misconception here," Matus told me, "that the louder a car is, the faster it goes") the Zombie stood out for its silence. When the time came, Medford slid the car into position and offered the crowd a glorious, white, cotton-candy-thick burnout. And then, with little fanfare and only the sound of the vehicle tearing through the wind, Medford was off on his first run. He hit a top speed of 154.9, only a tenth of a mile slower than Metric’s record.

"Now I know we’re going to break [it]," Medford said after the run. "Now, 170? I don’t know." The team felt confident enough in the car’s geometry to take the wing off and up the voltage from 190 to 205. On his second run, Medford hit 166.6, breezing through Metric’s record but just short of the all-important 170 figure. Medford was ready to call it a day — and save challenging Shelby for the next two days — but his team was wired. By the time he rolled the car back to the trailer, Allen Koester had the generator prepped to charge. The crew bumped the voltage up again, this time to the battery pack’s limit of 219 volts. As the day drew to a close, Medford pulled up to the start line for one final run.

Medford gripped the wheel and tore down the line, the accelerator pressed flat. The electric motors spun furiously — he later told me the noxious odor of charred ozone filled the cabin. But he didn’t let up. By the time he hit the half-mile mark, the Zombie was flying at 156.2 miles per hour. From where I stood at the start line, the car turned into a black speck, and then vanished. Moments later, a magical number flashed across the speed board: exactly one mile from the start line, the Zombie 222 hit 174.2 miles per hour. Just like that, almost a year of hard work had paid off: Bloodshed motors had created what may be the fastest ‘68 fastback Mustang ever, electric or otherwise.

Back at the trailer, the team was abuzz with high fives and congratulations. As Medford pulled up, Koester and Lapenta leaned into the car, clasping him by the shoulders. Medford was giddy again, as lighthearted as I’d seen him on my visit to Austin.

"I’m ecstatic, I’m proud," he said beaming. "I’m grateful for everything, I’m grateful for these guys," he pointed back to the crew.

"If this doesn’t sell the vision of ultrahigh performance vintage cars that are all electric, what will?" Medford asked me, still clutching the official speed ticket in his hand. "If this isn’t the ultimate muscle in a muscle car, then what is?"

Within minutes of breaking Shelby’s record, Medford’s mind was already racing with possibilities. "We’re so close to 180," he said laughing, "… and once you get to 180, then it’s 190." By Saturday morning, Medford had decided that at this October’s Texas Mile, he intended to take the Zombie to 200 miles per hour.

Zombie 222

From left to right: Jack Lapenta, Andrew Graham, Mitch Medford, Allen Koester, Joseph Mann

The Zombie 222 is a singular accomplishment, but Bloodshed isn’t one car — it’s a company, and it still has something to prove. Despite the team’s success at the track, a $200,000-plus electric muscle car with limited range, no matter how fast it is, still feels like a tough sell — or maybe the perfect car, but for an exceptionally small market. That doesn’t bother Medford.

"I’m still looking for my first customer," Medford told me, pointing across the landscape of trailers, many with six-figure cars inside. "And there’s a lot of money at this track." When most of the crew drove back to Austin, Medford stayed to tell anyone who would listen about the Zombie — to talk watts and voltage with gearheads accustomed to discussing carburetors and transmissions.

On the last day of the Texas Mile, Medford texted me more good news: the Zombie had won "Hottest Car of the Texas Mile" and "Most Exotic Car of the Texas Mile."

I was fact-checking some figures, so I took the opportunity to verify his estimated quarter-mile time. We’d used the same calculator, but had come up with different results. We had a brief back and forth, but in the end, he said he didn’t much care what time I used.

"Doesn’t matter," he wrote, "go with whatever you want. We’re going to break it soon."

Edited by Chris Ziegler

Video by Jordan Oplinger, Jimmy Shelton

Photography by Marc Morrison