Gavin Shoebridge, the creator of Kiwi EV Adventures on YouTube, has a goal to convert a 1982 Lada Niva into an EV. He has his eye on one and is using ebook sales and the extra help from supporters through his GoFundMe to raise the funds to purchase it. I reached out to him through email for an interview and am excited to share more about his project.
The Dream to Convert a 1982 Lada Niva
JC: You want to convert an ICE vehicle to an EV. The vehicle you chose has a bit of a hefty price tag due to its rarity and uniqueness. Tell me more about this vehicle and why you want to convert it into an EV versus any other ICE car.
GS: “There’s a bit of a strange story behind choosing this car to convert to electricity. Back in the 1980s, New Zealand and Russia formed an odd trading partnership, whereby New Zealand sent meat, dairy products, and fertilizer to the Soviet Union, and in return, Russia would send us tractors, vodka, and Lada vehicles. The result is that quite a few Ladas flooded New Zealand’s roads, and my dad ended up buying a brand new Lada Niva 4×4 for fun.”
“Since then, I’ve had an affinity for these plucky Soviet off-roaders with their three gear levers, spare tire under the hood, and surprisingly good off-road abilities. In fact, I ended up buying a lime green one myself in the late 1990s. I had a lot of fun hauling my friends around, puddle jumping, and driving up to New Zealand’s beaches, but as you’d expect, Soviet engine technology is about as high-tech as the printing press, which meant that my engine soon self-destructed. And yet, despite the noise, smell, and unreliability, the Lada Niva paved its way to my heart and I’ve wanted another one ever since — but this time I want to eliminate the most troublesome aspect of the car by converting it to run on batteries.”
JC: You mentioned in your video that you were kind of stuck here due to the pandemic. How has this affected your goal to convert the vehicle?
GS: “Moving to the USA to be with my wife was one of the best things I ever did. However, soon after gaining US residency, COVID-19 struck. This meant that my plans to return to New Zealand for a Christmas vacation were dashed, as New Zealand closed its borders to get the virus under control. The good news is that the coronavirus has been eliminated there, but the bad news is that if I want to see my family, I’d need to spend two weeks in quarantine once I got off the plane. Not only that, at present, only a handful of planes are flying there each week, so the cost of airfares is often around $3000.
“I decided to reluctantly cancel my plans to head home this year and use that saved money to speed up the process of getting my hands on a Lada Niva off-roader to convert to electricity. I’ve found one for sale in Seattle which is in excellent condition, and thanks to a year’s worth of saving, I’m getting tantalizingly close to having the $10,995 needed to buy it. I know it’s a lot of money for a 38-year-old Russian car, but here in the USA, a Lada Niva is rarer than a Lamborghini and — in my opinion at least — a lot more fun. Driving it from Seattle down here to Florida would also be one heck of a road trip. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?!”
JC: You mentioned in your video that you have funded this project with your ebook sales. Tell me more about your ebook.
GS: “In 2018 I was going through a bit of a rough patch after my ex-wife ran away with another man. Anyone reading this who’s been through a similar situation can attest to the mental damage it does. So I tried to use this energy to write a book I’d had in my mind for years and in January 2020 I finally self-published it on Amazon to an absolutely incredible response.
“The book is called Unprepared and tells the story of how people would react if all technology suddenly stopped working due to a strong electromagnetic pulse, akin to a massive solar storm or nuclear detonation. Essentially anything relying on electricity, such as cars, phones, radios, refrigerators stops in the blink of an eye. The two main characters are forced to adapt, forming an alliance with their neighbors, and learning to forage for food, water and ammunition in a new, lawless world. There are already a few books like this, so I tried to make mine more human, by giving the characters flaws, adding a fair amount of stress-relieving humor, and making them much less prepared than the average ‘prepper.’
“The book has since sold incredibly well and I’ve put every single cent earned from sales (almost $7000 so far) into my electric car savings fund. I priced the ebook and paperback version as low as Amazon would allow me in order for readers to take a chance on an unknown author and it’s really paid off. I wish I could thank everyone who bought a copy individually, as they’ve helped push me further to make my electric dream come true.”
JC: How long have you been an EV enthusiast and what inspired you to make the switch to EVs?
GS: “Ever since I was a boy I’ve been in love with all things electric car-related, often taking apart my toy electric cars (and failing to put them back together again), but it wasn’t until I saw the movie Who Killed the Electric Car? back in the mid-2000s that I finally had my Eureka moment. That film inspired me to hunt through the classifieds and buy a dead Mitsubishi sedan to convert to electricity.
“It also completely changed my view on ‘Big Auto’ and their reluctance to offer non-combustion alternatives to consumers, despite clearly knowing the damage their products do to our environment. So I took it upon myself to be part of the change, and over the course of nine months, I removed all the internal combustion parts from the car and gradually replaced them with a motor, controller, and batteries, all while developing a bit of a cult following on Youtube from documenting the project. You have to keep in mind that this was 2007; a time well before the Tesla Model S existed and not long after General Motors had infamously recalled and crushed the iconic EV1.
“These were the days of EV freaks and pioneers with very little documentation or instructions available for early converters. This meant that I amassed a bit of an online following and made many great friends which I have to this day. The thing is, I didn’t want to create another slow joke-mobile. I was aware of the reputation that electric cars had back then, so I wanted to convert a car that could accelerate briskly.
“Even though I was broke and selling DVDs of the project to help raise money, I put a high voltage (for the time) 144-volt system in the car, which meant it was able to do wheel spins if I put my foot down and (just between you, me and the readers), I even raced the occasional car away from the lights! The result was a functioning, highway-capable electric car and plenty of media attention, as well as a list of things I’d do better next time. In fact, there’s a saying in the electric car conversion community that “your second conversion is always your best” and I’m finally on my way to making it happen!”