Electric Vehicle Conversion Project

Recently I’ve been thinking an ideal family engineering project would be an electric car conversion. A bit of googling reveals that this is not outrageously expensive and is well within the realm of our abilities and tools, though it will provide an excuse to buy a welder.

The primary components are:

  • Donor vehicle (engine optional)
  • Electric motor
  • Controller for the electric motor
  • Adapter plate to mount the electric motor
  • Coupler to connect the motor to the transmission
  • Batteries
  • Charger for the batteries
  • Mountings for the batteries
  • Miscellaneous potboxes, shunts, contactors, wiring and connectors.

Step one is to decide on the application of the vehicle Рwhat will it be used for? EV conversions, at least the affordable kind we are thinking on, are limited in speed and range. We live in a fairly small California town without much in the way of gradients, so an EV with the ability to make two across town round trips a day would make it an adequate runabout for the elder teenager who just hit driving permit age.  That is 25 miles on the flat with a max speed limit of 45 mph and mostly only 30 mph. Not unreasonable, and eliminates possible teenage drag-racing tendencies.

What vehicle to use?

A 1971 to 1974 Volkswagen  Super Beetle.

Supper Beetle


  • Beetle conversions are common – full conversion kits are available.
  • Beetles are common – the largest production run of any car, over 22 million from 1937 – 2003. While in some parts of the world they have largely rusted away, here in California they putter on forever.
  • Huge parts availability.
  • Easy to work on – the whole body comes off the frame with about 20 bolts.
  • Lightweight.
  • No power steering – without a constant running engine in an EV there is nothing to drive the pump.
  • No power brakes – without the Infernal Combustion Engine intake there is nothing on an EV to generate the vacuum.
  • Affordable. There are always several runners available on the local Craigslist for under $2000. They are not old enough or rare enough to be collectible.
  • Big parcel shelf behind the rear seat to put batteries in.
  • Super Beetle (1971 on) has lots of room in the front for more batteries.
  • Super Beetle has strut suspension that should be easier to beef up to support the battery weight than the torsion bar suspension on the standard Beetle.
  • Pre-75 Beetles are exempt from smog, making the paperwork simpler at the DMV.
  • They are CUTE!

There are some drawbacks though:

  • Drum brakes. Upgradeable to disks, and there are kits to provide vacuum boost electrically. With the extra weight of the batteries this is a big concern.
  • No airbags, crumple zones or any modern safety gear beyond seat-belts. Hopefully mitigated by limited speed.
  • At 26-29 years old there will be wear, tear, rust and fatigue to deal with.

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