Published on June 1st, 2020 | by Jesper Berggreen0
Volkswagen T2 Camper Van Electric Conversion — Part 1
June 1st, 2020 by Jesper Berggreen
A couple of months ago I introduced you to a UK company that converts classic cars to electric propulsion. The company, named eDub Services, was founded by a young man named Kit Lacey, and since my piece on his business, he and I have been in conversation about this fascinating field of entrepreneurship. I have an old Volvo 240 in my garage that one day will need an electric drivetrain for sure, so getting acquainted with someone like Kit is a good bet.
I talked to Kit about the concrete and chronological information on his rebuilds and how we could make it accessible for all of us curious about how such projects can be carried out. This series is the result, in Kit Lacey’s own words. So let’s begin at the beginning.
Part 1 — Finding The First Donor Vehicle
It all started with a road trip. All the best ideas do, in my opinion. Driving down the A1 with my mum in the driver’s seat and my wife in the back. The year is 2013. “How hard would it be to convert a camper van to electric?” I ask my mum. “Not too hard,” she replied. … Maybe a strange question to ask, but there is some context.
I am personally the wrong generation to love classic camper vans. I disagree with, but appreciate this observation. Born in 1988, our family never had one. I fell in love with images of them on tea towels and mugs. Plus, spotting one on the motorway on bank holiday travels. My wife and I were married in 2009 and had a splitty camper as our wedding car. It suited us nicely but we never imagined we could ever own one. Like many, it was a dream of ownership but the concern for ‘issues’ also kept my cash in my wallet.
The classic camper vans, VWs up until the late 1980s, were just as famous for breaking down as they were for their looks and charm. I heard stories of AA vans parking outside VW shows to save them making a long journey for a call out. I guess this is why they have such a “hobby shop” following. People forever tinkering and fixing; making new or just patching up the old. Even specifically VW camper vans have a huge industry built around keeping them on the road. Maybe this is what caught my interest as a conversion. These beautiful steel boxes were already set to undergo any transformation. They can be campers, minibuses, ambulances, mobile bars, the list is endless. So, for me, a camper van would be perfect, but which one?
Early campers were iconic. The classic split-screen camper has carried the image of the hippy vibe for over 60 years and it’s still going strong. But they were rare, and expensive, and normally filled with rust. The later “classic,” the T25, fixed a lot of the running issues plagued by the early campers, but we weren’t going to care about “running issues.” Plus, in my opinion, the T25 is a little ugly (send angry letters to my editor). Note from Kit’s first-in-line editor, Jesper: I like the T25 — it’s boxy!
This left us with the perfect T2. 1969–1979. Early or late was no issue to us.
Now, back to the road trip and my mum’s response. She’s a bit more qualified than you might expect. In 2020, (Dr) Gilly Lacey is a Senior Lecturer in Electrical Engineering at Teeside University. Her PhD was The effect of smart grid utilisation on the degradation of an EV battery and she was one of the first in the country to have a Nissan Leaf on trial. As a family, we’ve since gone through 3 Nissan Leafs, 2 BMW i3s, and a Kia e-Niro.
So, back to the camper. After deciding that the plan was a good one, we started the business dimensions. Classic campers are regularly used for hire, so we figured, as a good return on investment, we should run our electric camper for hire. So, to start us off, we needed the following;
- Camper Van(s) — Expertise
We sourced a startup loan to get us started, with a business plan to convert a camper to electric and then hire it out for holidays around Yorkshire. I started a Photo Stream from day one of the project and my first picture was the eDub Logo. The whole plan for eDubs came together very quickly in my mind — from the logo, to the style, to the interior, it all had to be perfect. We budgeted £30,000 ($37,000) and planned a 100 mile (161 km) range conversion. Follow the series to see how accurate those plans were…
We originally looked for a camper van business for sale. We thought we’d run a few petrol campers for a while to feel out the market, then slowly convert them to electric. We had some good chats with a company on the south coast of the UK that was for sale, but there were disagreements within the business and they didn’t follow through. So we decided to bite the bullet and go all electric with van number 1.
A friend of mine has a mechanic friend who we called to see if he would be interested in the idea of helping us with the conversion. He agreed and we met for a pint at the local pub to talk it through. I always find important decisions like this are best decided over a local Yorkshire pint! So the decision was made to find a van!
Our mechanic was based in a small village near Whitby and found a VW specialist in Sunderland, a few miles north. They had an imported American van that was bought for a customer. The customer had bought the van, gutted it (and I mean gutted!), and then run out of money. So the garage had bought it back and now had it on sale. One phone call later we were on our way up north.
The van was perfect, a perfect shell with nothing in it. It was stripped and primed but nothing else. The engine was removed, so we asked the garage to keep that and in return they reduced the price. It had the windows removed, and in the back, it had a bit of yellow/green interior seating (no thanks). The garage agreed to paint the van and do a left- to right-hand drive conversion for a reduced rate. The papers were signed and we had a van. She was immediately named Indie, as she was from a town called Andrews in Indiana.
At eDub Services, we take any form of donor vehicle. We specialise in VW camper vans because we know how they work, and more importantly, know what components fit where! Classic cars deserve to live on for many more generations, and electrification is the way to do that. If you have the vehicle and the dream, we have a conversion pack to suit.
So, as I said, road trips are how the best ideas come together, with my wife in the back keeping an eye on me.
To Be Continued…
Tune in soon for part 2, where we talk about how much of the donor vehicle we keep and how much we throw away.
All photos courtesy of Kit Lacey, eDub Services.