Friday, October 18, 2013

Zelectric Motors' 1963 Volkswagen Beetle Electric Car Driven

There is a line of thinking, naturally not shared by many of our readers, that engine noise is an integral part of the experience of driving a car. Lack of it in electric cars is one of myriad reasons the average gearhead is still skeptical of EVs.
You may think then that swapping the familiar chunter of a Volkswagen Beetle's flat-four gasoline engine would be a recipe for disaster--removing a characteristic that has remained with the car since its conception and been a part of billions of Beetle miles over the decades.
Driving David Bernardo's ZelectricBug--a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle converted to electric power--there is an element of truth in this.
But happily, the car still bristles with character in a way no modern electric car--nor most modern internally-combusting vehicles--can hope to match. It is still very much a classic vehicle: just one with a highly modern propulsion system.
Under the skin
The ZelectricBug you see here is the first prototype from David's company, Zelectric Motors. All Bugs converted by the company will be 58-66 models, which for many offer the best mix of style and usability, even if they aren't quite as sophisticated underneath as later Beetles.
Well, in terms of suspension design at least, since all converted Beetles will be decades ahead in the engine bay.
The traditional flat four makes way--in the prototype--for an 80-horsepower, 110 lb-ft electric motor. That's around double what the standard engine would have provided and a healthy chunk more than the most powerful 1600cc factory cars VW produced during the Beetle's production run.

Unusually, at least if you're used to modern electric cars, the ZelectricBug features a manual transmission, retaining the original car's four-speed setup. More on this shortly.
Power comes from a 24 kWh (like the Nissan Leaf) collection of LiFePO4 batteries, split between the luggage compartment aft of the rear seats, and under the front trunk where the gas tank previously lived. Despite the batteries and motor adding around 250 lb to the Beetle's weight, it's still a good 1,000 lb lighter than a Nissan Leaf. And despite its lack of aerodynamic and rolling sophistication next to the Nissan, range is a real-world 90-110 miles.