Meet some of the ‘Hot Rodders’ making classic cars run on batteries

Michael Bream, CEO of EV West, has built electric hot rods, project cars and race cars and uses that experience to develop conversion products.
EV West

  • A growing group of enthusiasts are transforming their classic hot rods into electric vehicles.
  • Some take parts out of crashed Teslas to do it.
  • Conversions aren’t new, but some are getting easier as electric vehicle technology advances.

There is a growing group of enthusiasts who are transforming their classic hot rods and vintage muscle cars into go-fast electric vehicles.

“It used to be that it was really just a backyard hobby and guys would take crashed Teslas, take them out and put them into some kind of converted hot rod, whether it’s a ’69 Camaro or whatever,” Mike Spagnola, CEO of Specialty Equipment Market Association told Insider. “We’re seeing more and more, as the next generation of hot rodders come along, they really want to do an EV conversion. It’s a huge booming market.”

1974 BMW 2002 5 speed electric conversion
Bring a trailer

The evidence? Spagnola’s organization needed a whopping 20,000 square feet at its annual conference last year to accommodate companies displaying batteries, electric motors, belts and other components needed to retrofit vehicles. (See things like the Volkswagen conversion kit.) Auction platform Bring a Trailer has started selling EV-converted classics like a 1975 Porsche and a 1974 BMW. And two well-known hot rodders working on these projects, told Insider that business is booming.

1975 Porsche 914 EV Conversion
Bring a trailer

Converting gas-powered vehicles to electric is not a new concept, but it is gaining popularity, especially as EV technology advances.

“The real change was really, Tesla,” Greg Abbott, who goes by the name Reverend Gadget and is CEO of Left Coast EV conversion shop, told Insider.

1984 DeLorean conversion
Left Bank EV

So how do you convert a gas car into an EV?

Converting an EV requires removing the car’s engine and adding a battery, electric motors, high-voltage cables and tools, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center — all while making sure there’s enough room to fit those parts. and the original chassis is guaranteed to be able to support the extra weight.

A gadget that was featured in the documentary Revenge of the Electric Car starts by removing batteries from a crashed Tesla. He started with two or three conversions a year; since then he has worked to convert a dozen.

1972 Brazilian Volkswagen Samba
Left Bank EV

“If it’s a freshwater flood car, no big deal. A saltwater flood car, it’s probably junk,” Gadget explained. “If it’s been in an accident like a frontal or rear-end collision, it’s fine. If it was in a side impact, you might have some battery damage, so you have to take a risk. But the cars are so well made that I’d say 95% of the time there’s nothing wrong with the batteries.”

Then there are many structural, electronic, electrical and engineering tasks beyond that.

“We can’t just take the parts out of the Tesla and use them,” Gadget said. “It’s not just cut and paste, there’s a lot of work involved. Part of that is removing systems.”

Michael Bream, a self-proclaimed “hot rodder,” started EV West in 2008.
EV West

Converters won’t just remake any car

Gadget jokes that his limit is whether the vehicle has plastic parts, like bumpers – in all seriousness, he prefers the classics from the 1960s and 1970s.

Some vehicles make more sense to convert than others, such as those with cult followings and whose values ​​are appreciated, or those that have no other alternative to staying on the road, said Michael Bream, CEO of EV West.

1974 VW Thing with EV West’s Tesla Model S motor mounted and custom Tesla battery
EV West

He started it in 2008, has built electric hot rods, project cars and race cars, taken them to events and shows, and used that experience to develop conversion products. Bream has worked with collectors such as Jay Leno and Tony Hawk.

“No amount of money can make a modern equivalent of a 1965 Porsche. So if you want to continue that experience, one of the only alternatives available to you is electrification,” Bream said. “In other cases, I think it makes sense financially. If you try to maintain a vintage Porsche, it’s going to be a lot more expensive than putting a Tesla drivetrain in it.”

1968 Porsche 912 with EV West’s bolt-on Tesla Model S engine and battery
EV West

The conversion can be the second vehicle for the enthusiast. Despite the misconceptions about electric cars, speed and weight, they have significant horsepower and huge torque.

Either way, it’ll cost you: The two experts estimate the cost to be somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000 in parts and a similar amount in time and labor, up to $50,000 or more. It depends on the performance of the vehicle, the speed, how sophisticated and how updated the customers want their vehicles to be.

1979 VW Bus Adventure Wagon with Netgain Hyper 9 engine and custom Tesla battery
EV West

They are motorists

Not all enthusiasts agree with all-electric conversions. Rick Drewry, who restores classic cars and heads the collector car and motorcycle claims department at American Modern Insurance Group, says he expects more buy-in for hybrid conversions.

“You’re going to see electric cars actually beat gasoline cars of the same power, but when they’re completely quiet, you’re going to lose some people,” Drury said. “That’s really the bottom line: people love the sound and the roar of the engine and it’s hard for them to tear themselves away from it.”

1966 VW Bus 21 Window with Netgain Hyper 9 engine and EV West’s built-in Tesla ‘6 pack’ battery
EV West

For Bream, it’s really about extending the legacy.

“I think what people miss is that we are motorists. We’re not trying to take away anybody’s gas,” Bream said. “Suddenly, I can enjoy hot rides with my son the way my dad enjoyed hot rides with me when I was little.

“We’re here because we’re hot rodders and we like to make slow things fast,” Bream added. “In this quest to make super-fast, super-fun-to-drive cars,” he said, “we’ve inadvertently created cars that are perceived to be more environmentally responsible.”

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