Archive for August 2009

All clean!

August 31, 2009

Today I cleaned the engine compartment and front trunk.  They are now ready to have electric components installed.  The front trunk wasn’t too dirty, but it looks nice now.

Front trunk all clean

Front trunk all clean

The engine compartment was a mess.  The engine leaked oil, so there was oil all over the back portions.  A gallon of degreaser and a few hours with the putty knife and it’s almost as good as new.

Engine compartment all clean

Engine compartment all clean

I also attempted to remove the flywheel from the gasoline engine for reuse with the electric one.  First I went to the auto parts store and bought a 36mm socket.  A neighbor lent me a big socket wrench (thank you Scott!) and another neighbor lent me a long cheater (thank you Marcus!).  But it wouldn’t budge.  Marcus checked online and we learned that you have to make a custom tool (a long steel bar with two holes), screw it to the flywheel and then you can exert enough force.  Too much for me – I will try to buy a used flywheel at the VW part store and leave the old one with the gasoline engine.

Speaking of the gasoline engine, it is now on Craigslist for sale, along with the fuel tank and computer.  Hopefully somebody will come relieve me of it soon.  It looks a little tacky sitting on the front porch on a pallet.

Electro Automotive sent another part – the adapter plate assembly.  This is a complicated piece of machining that will marry the electric motor to the legacy transaxle.  The assembly instructions are very intimidating.  It looks like I will have to buy a digital micrometer to do it right.  Fortunately, I can’t start on this until the transaxle comes back and the electric motor arrives.  So I have some time to think about it.

Adapter Plate

Adapter Plate

Next up – make some cardboard templates of the various components so I can figure out how to install everything.  And clean out the interior of the car.  It needs a good vacuuming.

The Prodigal Returns

August 27, 2009

The car is back home in its driveway!  Integrity Towing picked up the car and the gasoline engine (on a pallet) and brought it home.  For those keeping score, the tow cost $92.50.

Towed home

Towed home

As you can see, the rear end of the car is riding high.  That’s the engine on the back of the flatbed.  And here it is on our front porch.

The old engine

The old engine

Hopefully it will be gone soon.  Scot at Rife Motors put all the leftover engine parts in the trunks of the car.  I have to sort through them and make sure I keep the few that I need.

Here is the engine compartment, sans motor.  Next step – a thorough cleaning.

Where the gas engine once was

Where the gas engine once was

Good News, Bad News

August 25, 2009

Today I went to the shop to look at the car.  Scott (of Rife Motors) has repaired the brakes.  He’s removed the engine and fuel system, along with all the related wiring.  He fixed almost all the wiring problems – now the right headlight works.  Plus he removed the wiring that had been done when the car was towed behind an RV, plus an old alarm system that didn’t work anyway.  What a guy!

Scott also removed the transaxle and put it in his part cleaning machine.   It looks brand new!  Still to do – replace a lever inside the transaxle that is almost certainly broken and causing the sloppy shifting.

We jointly decided to defer replacing the rear torsion bars until the conversion is done.  It is possible that the car will ride level if I get the weight distribution right (batteries, etc.).  We can always replace the bars later if needed.  Right now the back end is sticking up like a funny car.

There was one bit of bad news.  I was misinformed about the engine mounting on the Fastback.  Unlike a VW Beetle, the motor in the Fastback has engine mounts (in a Beetle, the engine just hangs on the transaxle).  It is a triangular setup – one set of bolts at the front of the transaxle and a pair at either side about midway back in the engine compartment.  This means I will need to fabricate an engine mount for the electric motor.  Fortunately, the mounts are low, so I may still be able to get my battery packs in above them.  Still, this is a setback that will take extra time and cost.

The back seat is also removed.  Some good news – the heater ducts are directly accessible here, so I can mount the heater under the seat instead of in the engine compartment.  Bad news – there is not as much room under there as I hoped.  Some stuff may wind up in the engine compartment (like the charger).   But there seems to be more room in the engine compartment than I thought.  The ruler will know for sure.

Scott expects to remove the engine’s mounting bracket tomorrow and will then call a towing service to bring the car, and parts, back to our driveway.   He will keep the transaxle at his shop until it’s fixed – maybe a few days depending on parts availability.  It only weighs about 40 pounds, so I can go pick it up with the old oil-burning car.

All this work cost $728.  Of that, $168 was for two new brake calipers and the rest was labor.  There may be a bit more, depending on the transaxle repair.  A real bargain – Scott’s the best.

Once the car is home, I will add the towing charge to the expense ledger.  And then take some photos so you can see how it looks.  After that – cleaning the engine compartment and under the back seat.  Then it’s time to do some serious measuring.

While I was at the shop, I took a rubbing of the transaxle bell housing.  Scott then took measurements with a digital caliper, all the way around the flywheel.  These are so Electro Automotive can send the right adapter plates to marry the electric motor to the original clutch and transaxle.  The rubbing looks great, but the measurements were each slightly different by thousandths of inches.  I sure hope EA can figure it out from what we found.

Progress from the shop

August 22, 2009

Today I got a voicemail from the mechanic.  He has finished everything except the torsion bars and the engine is out.  I will try to get by on Monday to take measurements and tracings off the engine and transmission bell housing.  These are needed by Electro Automotive to ensure that the correct adapter is sent.  The adapter will connect the new electric motor to the existing transmission.  It has to be exactly right or the whole thing won’t work.  We suspect that everything is stock VW, but have to make sure.

By the way, the shop is Rife Motors in southeast Portland.  Scott Rife is the owner and sole employee.  He has a beautiful shop, very well equipped and clean as a whistle.  And he’s been working on VW’s for more than 30 years.  If anybody can get this chassis in shape for the conversion, it should be Scott.

First Batch o’ Stuff

August 16, 2009

The other day, the first shipment arrived from Electro Automotive.  It is all the little stuff.  I can start installing this when the car comes back from the shop.  Here is what came, in an old printer box:

A bunch of welding cable, almost 30 feet of it.  This will run between the battery packs and the charger, and from the controller to the motor.  It is very flexible stuff.

Welding cable

A potentiometer.  This connects to the throttle cable.  The harder you step on the pedal, the stronger a signal this box puts out, telling the controller to pour on the coals.


Three relays.  I have to wait for the instructions to know exactly where these go.


Three gauges.  These are designed to be mounted under the dash or by the visor – that’s why it’s “upside down”.  This gauge shows how the battery pack is doing, the others who how much you are drawing at any moment and what your voltage is.


A whole bunch of terminals for the welding cable, along with a special crimping die for connecting them.  The die is very heavy.  You put the terminal on the cable, stick it in the die, and hit it with a hammer.

Terminal Crimping Die

Noalox – goop that keeps the terminals from corroding.


A wire stripper/crimper tool.


A special cutter for the welding cable.  This is VERY sharp and designed to specifically cut copper cable only.  Can’t use it to trim the hedges…

Cable Cutter

A multi-meter.  In theory, this box will tell you if you’ve made good connections, but I will have to learn how to use it.  For some reason, I’ve always been intimidated by these things.


There will be lots more to come, hopefully next month.

My Choices

August 16, 2009

After much hemming and hawing I have finally decided.  My orders are placed and paid, so I’m committed now  The 73 Fastback will have an AC motor operating at 288V.  It will powered by 90 LiFePO4 batteries.  The manual transmission will remain.

The specifics:

1. The power train is from Electro Automotive.  Their kit includes a Solectria AC motor, with matching controller unit, a DC-DC converter, an adapter set to connect it to the stock transmission, a 110V charger programmed to match the batteries, and all the wires, tools, gauges, switches, etc. required to hook it up.  There are several EV kit suppliers, but Electro Automotive seems to be the market leader.  The kit for the Fastback costs $10,025 delivered.

2. The batteries are ninety Thunder Sky LiFePO4, 3.2V, 60Ah.  The Battery Management System is made by Elithion.  All of this comes from EV Components.  Total cost is $9,034.  There is no shipping charge because I can drive up to their warehouse in Lacey, Washington and pick the batteries up myself.

3. The donor car is the 1973 VW Fastback.  It cost $2,900 off Craigslist.  The car is currently in the shop getting its brakes fixed, torsion bars replaced, shifter linkage tightened, and then the engine and gas tank come out.  I don’t yet know what this is going to cost.

4. The total weight of the batteries is about 500 pounds.  The motor weighs 85 pounds.  The other parts together weigh about 100 pounds, so the total weight of the package is 685 pounds.  This will replace the stock engine (250 pounds) and gas tank (80 pounds with gasoline).  Thus, the weight of the car is increasing by about 355 pounds over the gasoline version.  This isn’t too bad – about the same as two average sized passengers.  But it did spur me to consider beefing up the suspension somewhat with new and tighter torsion bars.

The hardest decision was the battery amp-hour rating.  The higher this number, the greater the range of the car.  Sixty amp-hours is toward the low end – 220Ah is the high end.  The higher the Ah, the larger and heavier the battery.  Since I will need 90 batteries, this matters a lot.  I have to find places to put them all.  My preliminary measurements show that I can fit 3o batteries in place of the gas tank (three rows of ten), and two banks of 30 batteries on either side of the engine compartment.  This still leaves room for the motor in between.  The electronics (controller, converter, charger and BMS) will go under the back seat.

If I use a higher Ah-rated battery, they won’t fit in the existing space.  I’d then have to mount batteries in the trunk.  This is technically feasible, but violates my objective of having the EV look as stock as possible.  The Fastback has two trunks – one behind the back seat above the engine compartment, the other in front.  With bigger batteries, I’d have to give up one or the other, probably the back one.  In addition, the higher Amp-hour batteries are taller, which means that the pack in the gas tank hole would stick up into the front trunk.  Again this is ugly.  So in the end I decided to settle for less range in order to have a lighter and smaller battery pack.  I believe it should still be able to go 50 miles, but there is no accurate way to tell beforehand.

The Thunder Sky batteries come in armored plastic cases.  They then get clamped into blocks and mounted in the car.  There is no need for enclosed battery boxes, which will save some weight and fabrication expense.  My plan is to have three bars welded to the frame under each battery block – this way every battery will be sitting on a solid base.  The entire block will then be strapped down to keep it from bouncing around.  It will be a lot cheaper and easier to have nine bars welded to the car than have custom boxes made and installed.  A block of 30 batteries weighs about 165 pounds.

The Little Decisions

August 15, 2009

My previous post talked about power and batteries, which are the biggies.  But there are other things to consider.

1. Transmission.  Your choice here is between installing a direct-drive kit or using the stock manual transmission. With direct-drive, there is no shifting at all.  You simply step on the pedal and go from zero to about 70 mph.  Because an electric motor generates torque (pulling power) consistently from one RPM to many thousand RPM, there is no need to shift gears.  Direct-drive works with front-wheel drive cars only.  The advantages of direct-drive are lower weight (you remove the stock transmission) and simplicity.  By the way, automatic transmissions are a no-no with electric drive.  They have shift patterns based on their gasoline engine and will flat not work with electric power.

Alternately, you can use the stock manual transmission.  You’ll drive in second gear all the time around town, and only shift into third gear at highway speeds.  You won’t use the clutch often – when you stop at a traffic light you simply stop, leaving the car in gear since the electric motor does not need to idle.  The main advantages of using the stock transmission are cost and ease of installation (i.e. none, since it’s already there) and the added safety of having a clutch to disengage the drive train if you should have an electrical problem and the motor over-accelerates.

2. Regeneration.  With an electric motor, when you go down a hill or press the brakes, the motor actually runs backwards.  When an electric motor runs backwards, it becomes a generator.  You can capture this power to recharge your battery pack.  This process is called regeneration.  It is standard with AC power trains, but optional (and complicated) with DC motors.  You can have “regen” only when braking by connecting the circuit to the brake lights, or you can also add a switch so you can regen on demand, as when you’re going down a hill.

3. Power accessories.  In a standard car, there are often power accessories that run directly off the engine using belts, such as air conditioning, power steering and power brakes.  If you want these features to remain on your EV, you’ll have to decide how to power them.  One way is with separate electric motors.  For example, you might get an independent electric power brake system from a Toyota Supra and put it in your EV.  The other way is to use an electric motor with output shafts at both ends – one end connects to the transmission and the other connects to the existing belt system, driving the stock pumps as the gasoline engine did.  Of course, there is a third choice – don’t have power accessories.

4. Cabin heat.  Because it is so efficient, the EV drive train produces almost no heat.  This is good, except that your donor car relied on waste engine heat to warm up the car interior in the winter.  Unless you live in the south, you’ll need to replace this function.  The solution is to add an electric heater, commonly a ceramic-element heater.  This can be connected to the current heater ducting and heater controls.  Or you can get a free-standing heater and simply mount it in the cabin someplace and plug it into the cigarette lighter.  One conversion I read about used a standard electric hair-dryer!

5. Keep the stock 12-volt battery?  Cars use a 12-volt battery and belt-driven alternator to run all the electrical components like headlights, turn signals and the radio.  In an EV, this power comes from a small box called a DC-DC Converter which delivers 12-volt output from your main battery pack.  You can leave the existing 12-volt battery in place and simply connect the converter to it (so it acts like the alternator in the stock car), or you remove the 12-volt battery completely and connect its wires directly to the converter.  The latter approach saves weight, but the downside is that you would lose everything if the converter broke.  Converters are proven and simple technology, so this is not much of a concern.  Besides, you’d have a similar problem with your gas-powered car if the alternator broke.  But it’s something to think about.

6. Registration and insurance.  EV’s are unusual things.  As a result, you may have some trouble insuring them through regular car insurance policies.  For example, my 1973 VW Fastback has a standard insurance value of $0 (what they would pay if it were totaled).  I’m keeping all my receipts as I do the project so I can establish a value for the car once complete.  I expect that I will have to get a custom policy.  Once the car is converted to electric, it will need to be registered with the state.  In Oregon electric cars aren’t that unusual, so our DMV already has a process for this.  But other states may be different.  Similarly, I will need a pollution-inspection waiver.  Finally, an EV may qualify for some “green” tax breaks, but these often don’t apply to home conversions.

7. Charging.  Most EV’s are recharged using a standard 110V outlet. But they will charge faster, and more efficiently, using a 240V power source like what an electric clothes dryer requires.  If your EV will be in the garage and you have the appropriate outlet, or want to pay to have one installed, then 240V is the way to go.  But if your EV will live outdoors, like mine, 110V is the answer.  Also with 110V you’ll have an easier time bumming a charge when you’re away from home.

I think that’s everything.  Of course, I haven’t done my project yet, so we’ll see if I’ve overlooked anything.  I sure hope not.