As I feel I have demonstrated, I’m fascinated by the automotive offerings on that massive online retailer of questionable crap, Alibaba. Recently, I noticed some strange things showing up in all of the targeted Alibaba ads that interrupt my rigorous and unforgiving pornography-seeking web browsing: ads featuring old air-cooled Volkswagen Beetles, but from Alibaba! I know they don’t sell vintage air-cooled VW Beetles on Alibaba, so what’s going on here?
Look, here’s one of those ads that just now popped up:
Also, The Algorithm seems to be suggesting I maybe want to start looking around for a kidney? Is it tracking all the cans of Diet Coke I drink? Does it see the blood in my pee? And what the hell is JFrog?
Back to the Beetle ad there. That looks like a ’66 Beetle on that lift there, and the caption just says “Drive System $4,200.” What’s going on here? Clicking that ad took me here:
Well, holy crap, look at that: it’ an EV conversion kit for a classic VW Beetle. It appears to be specifically designed to mount that 15 KW/20 horsepower electric motor right to the standard VW Type I transaxle?
Now, these sorts of kits to convert Beetles (or other air-cooled VWs) to electric power have been around for decades, the simple design of the Beetle lending itself to such conversions. Here’s two 1970s-era kits, the Corbin-Gentry Electric Bug Kit and the King Engineering Kit:
Both of these kits took exactly the same approach as that Alibaba one: bolt a motor right to the existing VW transaxle, effectively just replacing the original flat-four motor for the job of spinning a shaft. Oh, and then cramming heavy lead-acid batteries into every bit of available space.
There’s a lot of these new Alibaba kits; that first one I saw was $4,500, but there’s ones for about $2,000 as well:
Again, as you can see in that picture, this looks to be a motor that bolts right to the transaxle and the required controlling/recharging/inverter/etc. hardware.
These prices are way, way less than the other old VW conversion kits out there; this one from EV west, considered by many to be one of the best out there, costs about $20,000. Companies like Zelectric will sell you a beautifully restored-and-converted Beetle for a lot of money, and so will Volkswagen themselves, but it’ll cost you about $100,000.
Of course, the VW-endorsed solution, engineered by e-Classics, takes a very different approach, replacing the whole drivetrain with one from the VW e-Up! and mounting the batteries under the chassis floor, as you can see above.
Those, of course, are all very out of my price range. But what about one of those Alibaba kits? See, my poor ’73 Beetle, which I’m very fond of and have had since I was 18, is kind of in a bad state. I took off the carbs to clean and maybe rebuild them a while back, then made the rookie mistake of starting an entire new car website, so those carbs have just been sitting on my workbench and in all of this time of neglect, my engine seems a bit frozen up.
I feel so guilty about letting it sit like this! The car has been such a huge part of my life, and I hate feeling like I’m letting it down. I need to do something.
I was going to pull it and see if I could get it turning again or maybe crack it open and try my hand at rebuilding it, but let’s be real: I don’t have that kind of time right now! And I don’t have a ton of cash to just throw at it! But! What if I pulled that engine and tried out one of these cheap EV conversion kits?
From what I can tell, this would be a reversible conversion, if I don’t do anything stupid, so if I wanted to slowly rebuild the flat-four, I could, and then swap it back.
And, sure, 20 electric horsepower would be a power downgrade of about a third, which isn’t ideal, but, hey, no gas to buy! No valves to adjust! No fumes! No heat in the winter!
Also, it’s not clear if these conversion kits include batteries; I suspect they don’t. So that would be another significant expense. And I wouldn’t want lead-acids, since I’d need to fill the trunk and the rear luggage well completely just to get, what, maybe 50 miles of range? No, a lithium-ion pack from a wrecked Leaf or something would be way better.
Maybe this would be as big a project as just rebuilding the engine? But, then again, it might be more engaging to read about or see videos of for people?
I’m not sure yet. But, I am extremely curious about what these Alibaba conversion kits are like, and how difficult they might be to install. Maybe it’s worth looking into?
Anyone interested in seeing what a budget Beetle EV conversion is like, as performed by an idiot who maybe shouldn’t be allowed around batteries? Can I convince David to help me with this conversion instead of trying it on his Golden Eagle?