Conversions of classic vintage cars and trucks to battery power is definitely a thing now. Jaguar will even build you a fully restored and electrified E-type just like the one that Prince Harry and Meghan used after their wedding ceremony. Now comes Volkswagen with a 1972 Type 2 Microbus converted to electric by California-based specialist EV West. The electric “busanagon,” as my ex used to call our conventionally powered Type 2, is supposed to showcase the possibility of taking the powertrain from VW's e-Golf EV and using it as a “crate motor” for the conversion of vintage vehicles to electric power.
“Their passion for classic-car culture and commitment to renewable energy made EV West the ideal choice for this project,” said Mathew Renna, Volkswagen North American Region vice president. “We thought, who better to see if the e-Golf powertrain would be the perfect fit for our older vehicles. It’s great to see that the spirit of hot rodding is going to live on into the electric age.”
“We are very excited to be a part of this project,” said Michael Bream, Founder and CEO of EV West. “Merging a historic model from an iconic brand with the technology of today, is just one of many ways that we can step closer to a more sustainable future while continuing to enjoy our rich automotive heritage.”
The 35.8-kWh battery pack from the donor e-Golf is said to give the e-Bus a range of 125 miles. The 100kW synchronous AC permanent magnet electric motor, single-speed transmission, and on-board charging system all fit neatly in the e-Bus' rear engine compartment. The motor is transversely mounted and the gearbox hooks right up to the axle shafts of the Type 2's independent rear suspension.
EV West cleverly located some of the battery cells in the unused space in the pedestals under the front seats, fitted in reinforced, fireproof enclosures, with the remaining cells taking the space of the removed gas tank. The port for recharging is located behind the conventional fuel filler flap.
As someone who has owned both an older, '67 “split window” Bus and a '72 “bay window” Type 2 just like the e-Bus, I'll say that it's nice to see the VW and EV West have retained the stock, two-foot-long, four on the actual floor, shift lever, though it now selects, park, reverse, drive, neutral, and a regenerative braking mode. It's likely easier to find those settings than it is to find first gear in a conventional Bus. The original dashboard has been augmented with a modern, multi-function digital EV gauge for monitoring the electric powertrain and charge levels that has been styled to match the vintage instruments.
Painted in a traditional Type 2 two-tone Pastel White over Kansas Beige livery, cosmetically the e-Bus looks just like any other vintage VW Bus, complete with a Grateful Dead “stealie” decal in the corner of the back window. You'd have to either open up the engine compartment or poke your head under the rear end to tell that it's powered by anything other than the air-cooled flat four that came in the bus back in '72.
Speaking of that 60-horsepower original “pancake” engine, the 100-kW power rating on the e-Bus' electric motor works out to over 130 horsepower, more than double the power of the stock Type 2. While VW and EV West haven't revealed any performance data, even with the extra weight of the batteries, it's likely that the conversion has yielded an e-Bus that can more easily keep up with traffic, even on the freeway, something that a conventionally powered VW Bus couldn't always do.
By the way, converting a VW Bus to run (at least partially) on electric power is not a new concept. Almost 40 years ago, the Mother Earth News published a couple of stories about an engineer named David Arthurs, who converted both an Opel GT and then a VW Bus to hybrid power. Mother Earth News even sold Arthurs' plans for the conversion. He claimed that his hybrid could get 75 miles to the gallon, with a top speed of 90 mph. As the generator in Arthurs' original serial hybrid was powered by a five-hp lawn mower engine, something about those figures and some of Newton's laws make me skeptical. Arthurs' electrified Bus upped the generator's power source to a 9-hp diesel engine mounted on a small detachable trailer that the Bus could pull when he wanted to extend the range, so without the trailer it could be described as a pure BEV, just like the e-Bus. One big difference, well, that is besides power, range, and practicality, is that VW of America probably spent a lot more on its e-Bus than Arthurs spent on his.
Volkswagen's converted e-Bus got its public debut this past week on the roof of the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles on the occasion of Volkswagen of America’s 4th Annual Drive-In Movie event at the automotive museum. Perhaps for the fifth annual event next year, VW could track down Dave Arthurs' hybrid bus, if it still exists.