EV Conversions Are Awesome, But You’ll Have to Wait

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There’s a lot to like about electric vehicles. The smooth but instant low-end torque, the quiet ride (if you soundproof them), and the lack of maintenance work make them an attractive option. Not everyone wants newer cars, though. Plus, with supply chain shortages, it can be hard to even get a new EV. So, people with old cars they love would often rather perform EV conversions and switch them over to electric power and get the best of both worlds.

The LA Times recently went out and talked to the owners of EV conversions and the shops that do it. They started with Mark Wagner, who is not only involved in several cool space and education initiatives, but is also the owner of an electric 1962 Volkswagen Beetle.

“People see a classic car like this pull into a charging space, it’s like, ‘Well, that jerk’s blocking the charger,’” he told the LA Times. “But then I open up the back, pull the charging cord and plug it in, and then it’s like, ‘Wait — that’s electric? Can I see it?’”

Instead of a small and weak 40 horsepower flat-four air-cooled engine, his Beetle now has a Curtis C-50 motor and around a third of a Tesla Model S battery pack. It doesn’t give Tesla range, but with around 100 miles is enough to serve as a daily driver and even the occasional trip up into the mountains if he stops for a charge along the way.

They also talked with Tony Hawk, who has a classic Corvette in the shop for a conversion. It was his first sports car that he bought before he made big money and could afford other electric cars (he’s now the owner of several). But, he still loves his first cool car, despite the fact that it’s problematic even for around-town trips. He could have had it restored to gas, but has learned the advantage of electric power from his newer EVs, and wants that for his older car, too.

To get the job done, he’s working with EV West. They have a good reputation in the EV conversion community for doing the complex work it takes to get good EV conversions done. It isn’t really a matter of pulling out one motor and replacing it with another one that uses electric. They have to figure out where to put battery modules (often salvaged from wrecked Teslas) and do many other things to the car to make it not only work, but work well. It’s a complex task that requires obscure and even hand-made parts, including some 3D printing.

Because an EV conversion is so much work, it’s not easy to do many vehicles in a year. EV West has a five-year waiting list, as do other shops that EV West refers people to when they know someone can’t wait. Unlike the shortages plaguing auto manufacturers, parts aren’t the problem, as there are plenty of Tesla owners wrecking cars. The problem is just having time to work on them and people to get it done.

You’d think that such a green, clean car business would be focused on the environment, but according to Michael Bream, the shop’s owner, that’s just a side effect. “I care for the environment. But I’m a hotrodder, and I’m the son of a hotrodder. We’re not environmentalists. We’re here to save the cars.”

Featured image: Screenshot from the EV West video above.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

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