They’ll turn your gas guzzler into an electric vehicle

Mark Wagner isn’t sure what he likes more: the look he gets when he pulls his vintage Volkswagen convertible into an EV-charging parking space, or the look he gets for what he does next.

Wagner’s car was rolled off the VW Beetle assembly line in 1962, the year Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev played nuclear games with President Kennedy.

But Wagner’s Bug no longer carries an upgraded Cold War-era 40-horsepower engine and 12.5-gallon gas tank. They have been replaced by the Curtis C-50 brushless electric motor and part of the an 85kWh battery pack taken from the Tesla Model S.

Wagner, 46, said: “People see a classic car like this pull into the charger, it’s like, ‘Wow, that bastard’s blocking the charger’. in, and then it’s like, ‘Wait – that’s electricity? Can I see it?'”

With gas prices at a nosebleed and concerns about climate change and pollution soaring, interest in electric vehicles is greater than ever. based on Google search trends. Mike Spagnola, chief executive officer of Specialty Equipment Market Assn, said supply chain problems have led to a shortage of new electric vehicles, which has pushed up prices for used cars.

Rear view of a painted Volkswagen Beetle.

Mark Wagner’s 1962 VW Beetle convertible features an electric motor and an 85kWh battery from a Tesla Model S.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

As a result, converting internal combustion-engine vehicles to electric “is becoming increasingly common,” especially among classic car owners, Spagnola said. “It’s a market that will continue to grow into 2022.”

“These are people who love their cars and want to keep driving them without worrying about the scarcity of spare parts for these old cars,” Spagnola said. “It’s about extending their lifespan and sometimes, it’s about having less impact on the environment.”

Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk can’t afford any car on the market, and he already owns a Tesla Model S and a Lucid Air, among others. But one of his favorites was a 1964 Chevy Corvette Stingray, black with a red interior, which he bought in 2004, he said, after retiring from skateboarding competitions.

“This was the first great looking sports car I saw as a kid, and it reminded me of the Batmobile,” says Hawk. “I told myself I would buy one when I got older if I could afford it.” But lately, steering the car has become an exercise in frustration, so Hawk decided to switch the car to electric.

“As much as I love the Mopar transmission, starting is always a hassle and I can never drive it more than 20 miles without worrying about it breaking down,” he says.

Auto enthusiasts like Wagner and Hawk are driving the EV conversion boom, but there aren’t enough companies to meet the demand. Waiting lists are sometimes two years long.

A man with a car.

Michael Bream, owner of an EV West, based on Tony Hawk’s 1964 Corvette being converted from gas to electricity in San Marcos, California. EV conversions are skyrocketing thanks to high fuel prices and concerns about climate change and pollution.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

For EV West, one of the West Coast’s most popular electric and internal combustion engine car makeovers, it took even longer.

“Our store has a five-year waiting list,” says EV West owner Michael Bream, who founded the company 13 years ago, which is partly — you guessed it — a giant leap. earlier on fuel prices.

“If you call us and you’re like, ‘Hey, Michael. I absolutely want to convert this car. ‘ We can’t get you in, so we’ll have to send you to one of our sister stores,’ which EV West works on a partnership basis, Bream said.

“I care about the environment. But I am a maniac, and I am the son of a maniac. We are not environmentalists. We are here to save cars. “

– Michael Bream, EV West . owner

On a recent afternoon, Hawk’s car was lifted by a car lift at EV West’s headquarters in San Marcos outside of San Diego. It’s also where Wagner’s 62 Beetles were converted at a cost of $32,000.

Bream says a typical conversion starts at around $18,000. Some of the more expensive, high-performance builds can run well over $30,000.

For comparison, a 2022 Toyota Prius starts at $24,625; a 2022 Chevrolet Bolt starting at $31,500; a 2022 Tesla Model 3 starts at $41,940. But supply chain problems have led to a shortage of semiconductors, which means new electric cars can be difficult to find in some markets.

After the conversion, maintenance becomes primarily a matter of keeping the classic parts of the vehicle in working order, which can be handled by the vehicle’s regular mechanic, Bream says.

A worker removes parts from a total Tesla for use in converting a gas-powered vehicle into electricity.

At EV West, Chris Kilkenny scrapes Tesla parts altogether to use in converting gas-to-electric vehicles.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Turning an electric vehicle is complicated and time consuming; It doesn’t just fall on an electric motor and battery and take customers their way. Each type of car, truck or van requires its own complex solution.

Bream has collected a large amount of parts on site, and the 3D printer is used to fabricate other parts and to perfect details that make it feel like everything belongs. Some similar fuel tank gauges are there, but now “F” through “E” are reporting remaining battery life.

For example, “this Corvette is in fiberglass,” Bream said of Hawk’s car. “You don’t want to cut it. You don’t want to change it. You want to keep it as original as possible. ”

Bream said the company’s engineers and technicians used a bolt-on assembly containing a Tesla Model S engine for part of the installation.

“This way you can also get back to the combustion process,” he said. “It was important for us to keep the conversions reversible. So we didn’t take any of the car’s value.”

Customers looking to convert at EV West have an initial decision to make. One option is a hot rod switch, like the one for Hawk’s car.

“We pulled the entire rear of the car out. We’re doing different things on the front of the car. We swapped out the entire powertrain,” says Bream.

“But a lot of what we do is convert vintage cars,” he says, which greatly limits the number of new components and preserves as much of the original as possible, using a 1969 Karmann Ghia as a wallet. example.

The face of Michael Bream, owner of EV West, is reflected in the mirror of a Karmann Ghia.

Michael Bream, EV West owner, sits in a Karmann Ghia about to be converted from gas to electric.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“Most of the powertrain in this car will be original, like the clutch system, the paddle shifters, so you can still shift gears,” Bream said. “We do that for a lot of clients who want to keep as much of the original background as possible.”

Bream is a very difficult guy to beat. He drives an EV and has solar panels on the roof of his shop and enough storage batteries inside to generate more power than his business needs, but don’t call him an environmentalist . Putting trams on the road is just a side effect or maybe even a tertiary effect.

“I care about the environment. But I’m a maniac, and I’m the son of a lunatic,” Bream said. “We are not environmentalists. We are here to save cars.

“I can’t be an environmentalist when we’re still doing 200-foot wildfires. If we are environmentalists, then I am telling my customers what to do. We just leave the bowl of candy on the table and let people dip in for their own reasons.”

With shortages still affecting most aspects of the supply chain, it seems likely that there will be stiff competition among switch companies for the most prized batteries made by Tesla. . But there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of Tesla owners who have gone out and damaged their cars, while still trying not to damage the battery.

“There is no competition, because everyone is really busy. We helped other stores build their firsts to get them into the business,” says Bream. “We have a good relationship with most of the other stores. We’re all on the same page, just trying to make fun electric cars. ”

The back of a DeLorean car is being converted into an electric vehicle at EV West.

A DeLorean being converted to an electric vehicle at EV West.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The appeal of electrification is also strong for owners of diesel commercial vehicles, whose prices are still well above the average price of a gallon of conventional gas. A gallon of diesel fuel cost an average of $6.36 a gallon in California on Friday compared with regular gasoline of $5.69, according to AAA.

Ralph Biase, perhaps best known for his work as the producer and host of the “Gared Up” TV show on Motor Trend, has more work to do than he could at Titan Car Restoration in Commerce.

“I have a two-year job backlog,” says Biase. “I’m not even taking on any new clients at the moment, because I have a ton of ready clients, waiting in line to complete the rollback.”

Most of the EV conversions his company makes are for commercial vehicles, with customers including Adidas and Nike.

For a Canadian mining company’s recent conversion of a pickup truck, “they needed batteries to fit between the bars underneath the truck, but none were commercially available,” says Biase. “Everything has to be 3-D scanned. I’ve got it all [computer-aided design] drawing for the space between the frame rails, and I basically had a battery box made for it. ”

The dashboard of the VW Beetle is electric.

In the dashboard of Mark Wagner’s 1962 VW Beetle, the fuel gauge has been replaced with a battery display.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

For his Beetle convertible, Mark Wagner wanted to imitate the original car as much as possible, and the interior has been carefully upgraded.

“Gas meters are now battery monitors. They also give me these buttons which give them a real vintage feel,” says Wagner, 46. Bream says that there are about a third of Tesla battery packs in VW.

The car’s 100-mile range, when driven with caution, is enough for him to use it as his daily driver, commuting to work and running errands. He was even driven to Big Bear from his home in Irvine. One charge will take him to the base of the mountain, where he stops for a bite to eat and relax a little while his car continues the final 30 miles uphill.

“It’s my forever car,” Wagner said.

Tony Hawk has some pretty specific plans for the first thing he wants to do with his finished Corvette Stingray conversion. When asked where he could drive it first, Hawk said “to and from half my pipeline!” They’ll turn your gas guzzler into an electric vehicle

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