Upgrade your car’s motor with a motor

‘sup dawg, I heard you like motors, so I put a motor in your motor so you can motor with a motor.

The EV conversion: instructions not included

Battery EV conversions of former ICE-powered vehicles are nothing new. Hobbyists with a tolerance for traveling low, slow, and local were doing it with lead-acid batteries decades ago, and occasionally getting all the way across town on a full charge.

Recently, things have improved dramatically. Modern hybrids and battery-EVs are now salvageable in wrecking yards, and parts for same are listed in vendor catalogs. Modern DIY EV enthusiasts also benefit from the corresponding advantages in weight, efficiency, and charging infrastructure compared to what was available 10 or 20 years back. There are countless DIY EV conversions floating around to prove it. A famous one from early last year was the conversion of a 1981 Honda Accord into a “gasser” style drag race champion, using the motor and inverter from a Tesla Model S.

It looks, and runs, and sounds, like a competition RC car hopped up on amphetamines:

The Teslonda, bane of Gaslandia.

Even with widespread parts availability, the required rump engineering is formidable. The Teslonda project was rather extreme, given that a 2.7s 0-60 time from a nominally 1981 auto chassis is…ambitious. When the last bolt was torqued, very little was left of the original Accord. Parts for the conversion included not only the Tesla drivetrain, but also a Chevrolet Volt battery pack and a range of supporting bits as diverse as an electric coolant pump from an Audi S4 and random suspension components that would be entirely familiar to the owner of a ’32 Ford.

Even at a more basic level, this kind of project means finding at least two cars, one of which is a scrapped drivetrain donor. That gets you a pile of parts somewhat like this, but with the possibility of hidden accident damage or storage decay. Often the builder will need to dabble in an entire community college’s worth of trade professions, starting with basic hobby mechanic and ending with advanced electrical diagnostic technician. Some commercial EV drivetrains will throw serious errors or refuse to operate if the native ECU computers are re-used without reusing nearly all of the original sensors and interface bits, requiring hacking or workaround trickery to resolve.

Mainstreaming it: a drop-in, electric crate engine

Enter Electric GT, a California company made famous a few years back when its cofounders pulled a lightly charred Ferrari 308 from a wrecking yard and performed a battery-EV conversion, purportedly a world first. (The Ferrari conversion, we mean, not the Ferrari fire.) The company has entertained other projects along the way, and one day it had a bit of inspiration: people routinely rebuild or convert vehicles by swapping one ICE for another. Why not build a crate-style EV drivetrain that would swap out in the same way?

Green Car Reports has several photos from Electric GT in their article last month, but in our opinion, the money shot is this concept render:

Not a combustion engine…but it fits where one used to be.

Electric GT is attempting to provide a drop-in unit that combines both the necessary motor and inverter components, and bolts up to the vehicle’s original transmission. Not only is it intended to fit where an engine used to be, it’s trying to look good while doing it. One challenge for an EV conversion, especially if modifying a classic vehicle, is how to interface to the existing driveline and populate the engine bay without taking away from the vehicle’s show-worthiness. This might do the trick, if the company can build it in volume.

Electric GT is currently in the process of converting an FJ40-series Land Cruiser with a prototype crate motor build, retaining the original transmission and 4WD drivetrain in the process. The design also includes complete liquid cooling hardware and hoses, requiring only an external radiator, and there is an integrated 6.6 kW battery charging circuit as well.

If all goes to plan, they will offer both a 140 hp/240 lb-ft base option and a dual-motor option producing 240 hp/340 lb-ft. Those might seem like rookie numbers in an era when even a V6 Toyota Camry (of all things) can convert dead dinosaurs into 300 hp. But in practice those are respectable outputs considering the limits of the packaging, and will meet or exceed the needs of nearly any classic vehicle that would be worth converting. Pricing is still up in the air, but supposedly more information will be released by the year’s end.

Me too, love

More recently, a UK company has announced a competing option. Swindon, a powertrain specialist closing in on its golden anniversary, has announced that they are also working on a concept crate motor scheduled for a 2020 release. Pricing is likewise yet to be announced.

Swindon’s concept, as recently discussed by Jalopnik, targets a slightly smaller vehicle:

Swindon’s concept render.

The Swindon unit is notably more compact than Electric GT’s option and makes a slightly less ambitious 110 hp, a byproduct of being based on a classic Mini EV conversion the company already performs. In this case the preferred application replaces both the engine and the transmission, bolting up directly to the axles.

Swindon’s concept drawings additionally propose their unit as being compact enough to convert off-road vehicles as small as ATVs. That would enable options that are more accessible to a casual weekend wrench hobbyist than a full road car conversion.

…and the battery?

Unfortunately, both of these options will still require a separate effort to source and integrate a battery. Details are sparse on what options will work with either package. But, as with any EV conversion, the gas tank is no longer needed, so that opens up some space down below.

We look forward to hearing more once retail availability is at hand. In the unlikely event Swindon is offering review samples, I’ve got a Kid Trax kit in mind for a small upgrade.

Aaron Vienot

Engineer by day, hobbyist by night, occasional contributor, and full-time wise guy.

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tweakTech RepCraig TaylorAnonymous Cowardjust brew it! Recent comment authors
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I’m not sure it makes sense replacing ICE with electric. Even if you remove the engine and its accompanying parts (radiator, alternator, pumps, manifolds, gas tank, etc), you are still dealing with a chassis that was not designed for an electric motor. Among lots of other things, you have to deal with the weight and its distribution. Having a 30/70 weight distribution or worse is bad news.

Craig Taylor
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Craig Taylor

Where I live, even all the 60’s cars have factory AC. Going to need a pulley for the compressor.

tweak
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tweak

Or an electric compressor.

Mark R Wyman
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Mark R Wyman

Considering advances in the electronics behind the motors and chargers, this is going to become the norm in the years ahead, it will appeal to garage hackers, if not a service. The real problem as suggested is the batteries and drive train efficiency. It makes no sense to burn energy in a traditional automatic transmission. Some kind of standards need to be created for universal batteries for vehicle use. So rather than waiting for a charge, you swap a discharged one with a charged one. You don’t own the battery directly. I understand a standard was designed some years ago,… Read more »

Anonymous Coward
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Anonymous Coward

Renault had swapable batteries in production, maybe they still do.

chuckula
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chuckula

If you want an EV, get an EV that was designed that way from the beginning. The purported benefits of an EV disappear when you treat the electric motor as a drop-in replacement for an ICE that is connecting to a transmission that was designed for an ICE… and that’s before you factor in the need for batteries in a vehicle frame that wasn’t designed to hold a battery bank.

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ludi

The Teslonda project is a real oddball, which random people would be building anyway for the hobby’s sake. I rather imagine that most, say, Civics, will be run to death on their current ICE, scrapped, and replaced with newer vehicles including EVs as the market for those grows wider.

But in the case of some classics and especially 4WD vehicles, such as the FJ40 that Electric GT is converting as a proof of concept, it’s either this, a massive per-axle conversion with a lot of tricky wiring and plumbing, or nothing, if you want an EV experience.

just brew it!
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just brew it!

Yeah, that was my first thought too. I wonder what the losses are going through a traditional transmission?

Anonymous Coward
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Anonymous Coward

In the case of an old 4×4 (as one of the cars in the article) who cares? If the thing is worth keeping in operation, then doing that with electric motors is a great idea, presuming the price is reasonable. Also torque, useful in a 4×4. An automatic tranny would probably be incompatible, all sorts of dependencies on the behavior of the motor, but a good old manual should do well. Wouldn’t imagine it would need to be shifted very often, and the clutch wouldn’t be needed to start/stop.

Anonymous Coward
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Anonymous Coward

I think salvaging a broken ICE car into a working EV is a perfectly fine idea, not only with the recycling angle on it, but also because many types of cars are not available as EVs. It doesn’t have to be the best to be worth doing.

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