1967 Volkswagen Beetle 'eBug' electric car first drive


Richard Hugo, of Carpinteria, California, may be the only Tesla Model S owner in the world who prefers to drive his other car.

But it’s not as crazy as it sounds; his second set of wheels is a gorgeous blue 1967 Volkswagen Beetle that he’s converted to electric power.

It gets just as many stares and thumbs-up as his Model S, he reports, and is even more fun to drive around town for local errands.

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Hugo gave me a turn behind the wheel last week. And while I still prefer my Tesla Model S, the "eBug" was indeed a blast to drive.

Hugo bought the car as a stock 1967 Beetle in 2012 for $3,500.

VW connoisseurs consider the ’67 the best of the Beetles, because it was the last year with the classic chrome bumpers and low-backed seats, but the first year for the 12-volt electrical system (and an uprated 1500-cc engine).

1967 Volkswagen Beetle 'eBug' electric-car conversion, owned by Richard Hugo [photo: David Noland]

1967 Volkswagen Beetle 'eBug' electric-car conversion, owned by Richard Hugo [photo: David Noland]

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Hugo immediately sold the engine for $300 and started his electrification project.

As a partner in the job shop Rincon Engineering, Hugo had the engineering design and construction experience, as well as the tools, for the job. But he was no electrical expert, and decided the Beetle conversion would be a good way to learn a new craft.

For his power source, Hugo selected a motor and controller from High Performance Electric Vehicle Systems of Ontario, California.

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The motor is a 96-volt three-phase AC induction motor rated at 71 horsepower of peak output. (The car’s air-cooled four-cylinder gas engine had 53 hp.)  Peak torque, at 0 rpm, is 120 ft-lb, roughly double the number for the original engine.

1967 Volkswagen Beetle 'eBug' electric-car conversion, owned by Richard Hugo [photo: David Noland]

1967 Volkswagen Beetle 'eBug' electric-car conversion, owned by Richard Hugo [photo: David Noland]

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The lithium-ion battery came from China Aviation Lithium Batteries in Pomona, California.

Based on Hugo’s specs, CALB supplied a 22-kWh battery pack made up of 36 180-Ah cells—24 in the front trunk and 12 in the small storage area behind the rear seat. The total weight of the batteries is about 450 pounds.

The entire car weighs about 1900 pounds, or about 200 pounds more than the original car (and hundreds of pounds lighter than any car of the same size sold new today).

But with most of the batteries up front, the weight distribution is more balanced than the dangerously tail-heavy original.

Hugo says the battery is good for about 100 miles of range—better than any of the first-generation battery-electric production cars from Nissan, BMW, Mercedes, Fiat, Mitsubishi, or Kia.

Hugo finished the project in March 2015, and has put about 6,000 miles on the car since then, typically leaving his Tesla languishing in the garage during the week. (It comes out mostly for longer weekend trips.)

CHECK OUT: Electric-Car Conversions: Do They Really Stand A Chance? (May 2012)

For me, getting behind the wheel brought back memories of a 1963 Beetle I drove for a couple of years in my early 20s.

Everything seemed instantly familiar—except for two new instruments Hugo has installed on the dash to read out amps, volts, rpm, and other parameters from the motor and battery.

1967 Volkswagen Beetle 'eBug' electric-car conversion, owned by Richard Hugo [photo: David Noland]

1967 Volkswagen Beetle 'eBug' electric-car conversion, owned by Richard Hugo [photo: David Noland]

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When the key is turned, the car requires about five seconds to come to life. Then it’s simply a matter of putting in the clutch, selecting a gear, and starting off.

(Yes, the car’s original transmission and clutch are still in place and operate normally.)


 
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