David Herron, a software engineer turned automotive journalist, owns just one car: a gorgeous red 1971 soft-top Volkswagen Karmann Ghia—converted to run purely on electricity. But he doesn’t advocate that every EV shopper embark upon a conversion project.
“These days, you can go down to a Nissan dealership, and buy an electric car on the spot,” he said. “To do a conversion today, you have to really want an electric version of a specific car not offered as an EV.”
As soon as Herron spotted the 1971 Karmann Ghia for sale, he recognized it as a thing of beauty. In fact, it had already been converted to run on electrons, but the previous owner used a conversion kit with a 72-volt system with flooded lead-acid batteries. It could only go 50 miles per hour on a good day, and its range was an impractical 10 miles.
“I bought it because it’s a very pretty car, and it’s electric,” Herron said. “And I had the idea that I might improve the system after I drive it for a while.”
Having some experience with electric conversions of motorcycles and bicycles, Herron went about upgrading the system, searching out the appropriate controller, throttle, motor, batteries and battery management system. “People on eBay are selling all of those things,” he said.
Herron argues that a conversion won’t necessarily save you money, and it definitely takes time—but there’s no other way to get a truly unique emissions-free vehicle.
The 1971 Karmann Ghia is now capable of a top speed of 70 miles per hour, and 50 miles of driving range by virtue of these components:
- Netgain Impulse 9 electric motor (brushed DC).
- Electric motor bolted directly to VW 4 speed transmission.
- Kelly KDH140800 controller rated for 800 amps.
- A battery pack comprised of 45 Thundersky LFP100 LiFePO4Lithium-Iron-Phosphate 100 amp-hours cells.
- Lightning Motorcycles – Battery Management System.
- Battery box and other integration work by Lightning Motorcycles.
The onboard Manzanita Micro PFC40 charger can handle 120 and 240 volts. The full recharge time is about 2.5 hours. Even though the car has a relatively short driving range, the fast charging time makes it possible to make long-ish trips in a day. “I can drive from Mountain View to Monterey by making a full recharge at a charging station in Gilroy, a full charge in Monterey while seeing the sights, and then a full charge again in Gilroy on the way home,” he explained.
And Herron is doing it in style and comfort. Unlike other Karmann Ghia or VW Beetle conversions, his clever design placed the battery pack fully in the engine compartment. “We really studied the shape of the available spots, and saved the back seat.” Herron uses the “royal we,” to give credit to friends who provided some help with the project.
His unique design also features the use of a massive heat sink found on eBay. “We mounted it in the engine compartment in a way that looks really cool,” he said. “It’s functional because the controller sits right on it. I can drive all the way to San Francisco and the controller stays cool.”
When asked what he sees as his dream EV, he replied, “Mine is pretty cool. The car took top honors two years in a row in Silicon Valley EV Rally as best classic conversion.”
Article by Brad Berman, appearing courtesy eBay Green Driving.