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Which Of These Two Deeply-Flawed Jeeps Should I Convert To Electric?

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“Stolen” Jeep or rusted-out Jeep — which should I convert to electric power? That’s the question that we — collectively as Autopians — must face today, for I have been flip-flopping on the decision for months. Now I come to you for guidance.

I’ve been wrenching on junky Jeeps for a while now, rebuilding AMC 360 V8 engines, replacing cracked cylinder heads on AMC straight-six enginesc, tuning carter W-0 carburetors on Willys Go-Devil motors, replacing synchros and bearings in manual transmissions, extracting broken exhaust studs, and on and on. While I’m far from an expert when it comes to internal combustion engine vehicle repair (given that I haven’t worked on much from this millennium), I’m ready to branch out. It’s time for an electric conversion.

This won’t be cheap, and it won’t be easy. But it will be happening, and soon (ish). The first issue I need to tackle is: I have to decide which vehicle to use as a platform for the build. Here are my options:

The Rusty FC From Washington

Perhaps my greatest achievement in life occurred almost exactly a year ago when I resurrected the rusty, long-dead 1958 Willys FC-170 you see in the video above. I probably sacrificed seven years of life expectancy from all the mouse feces I inhaled (and we can’t forget the trenchfoot I got while sleeping in my Land Cruiser), but it was somehow worth it. Just look at that $1,500 monster off-road for seven hours straight after having sat on a farm for probably 20 years (at least).

Anyway, I fell in love with the blue FC during that trip, and it was my intention to use it as the basis for an EV conversion. There’s only one issue: Someone offered me a nicer (but sketchier) FC after seeing me wrench on this old rustbucket; I’ll show you that later.

For now, I’ll present the case for using this FC as the platform for my EV build:

  • It’s long, so there’s plenty of room for batteries.
  • It’s wide. The frame is wider than that of the “stolen” Jeep, so I could fit a Tesla drive unit between the rails.
  • The paperwork is all there.
  • The frame is solid.
  • It’s worthless, so I’m not foregoing much money by keeping it (more on cost later).
  • It has “patina,” and is just generally interesting/compelling to look at/read about.
  • I have a sentimental attachment to it after that epic trip.

Now for the cons:

  • It’s rusted out. To fix the body and make it look good would cost many thousands of dollars, which would far offset whatever money I save by selling the “stolen” Jeep and keeping this worthless one.
    • If I spend $15,000 on the EV conversion, the Jeep will still only be worth a few grand, max. It’ll be lost money.
  • The windshield is cracked. This will be expensive to replace, as the glass is curved; replacements are hard to find.
  • The vehicle does run and drive as-is, so it’d be throwing out a working powertrain.

The ‘Stolen’ Jeep

This little red FC looks to be in decent shape. I bought it from a fairly sketchy seller in a more-than-fairly sketchy warehouse in suburban Michigan. The seller had seen my friends and me wrenching on ol’ blue, and figured maybe I wanted another. He figured right.

I ignored about a thousand red flags and bought the short 1957 FC for $2,000. It came with no title, and it has no VIN. In other words, I cannot register this vehicle — at least not until I figure this paperwork thing out. I do have a line on a cheap 1957 old FC-150 being sold for parts, with a title; I could create a Ship Of Theseus situation and use the other Jeep’s paperwork…

I met my red Jeep’s previous owner, a rambunctious 86 year-old man who lives on a farm in the middle of suburbia. It really is a bizzare place; here’s this older couple living in a small cottage on a few acres, and just on the other side of their fence sit dozens of condos and strip malls. This gentleman, a cranky but decent guy who still wrenches on his John Deere tractor, made it clear that his land would never fall to the developers. “I got all this land on a trust!” he exclaimed to me, clearly passionate about the issue.

Anyway, none of that is really relevant, other than to indicate that I don’t actually think my FC was stolen. This older gentleman said he owned it for decades and gave it to the man who sold it to me. “You actually paid money for that piece of shit?” he asked me, angry with the guy he’d sold it to. “I can’t believe he charged you for that scrap.”

I actually don’t think the Jeep is that bad. It sure looks nicer than the blue FC-170, even if much of its body is just patch panels lathered in Bondo:

Anyway, let’s talk about the pros and cons of using this thing as the basis for my electric vehicle build. First, the pros:

  • The body looks nice.
  • The interior looks mostly done.
  • The engine is already seized, so who cares if I throw it out.
  • If I spend $15,000 converting this thing to an electric vehicle, it might still be worth some amount of money. I could recoup some of the costs if I sell it down the line, since it looks okay.

Now for the cons:

  • No title, no VIN. Registering this Jeep will be a pain in the arse.
  • It’s short; room for batteries would be limited.
  • It’s narrow, so fitting a Tesla drive unit between the frame rails could be a challenge.
  • It’s a big lie; it looks nice, but much of it is riveted sheetmetal and bondo.
  • I’d be foregoing the value of this Jeep (I’d guess it’s around $5,000) by selling the worthless blue Jeep instead.

It’s a tough choice. The blue Jeep has a great story behind it, and it has paperwork. It’s crappy, but it’s at least honest about it. Plus, if I sell the red Jeep, I’ll make $5,000. That’s not really much if you compare it to the $15,000 it might take to convert one of these Jeeps to electric. And certainly, if I plan to actually make the blue Jeep look nice, that’s going to cost another $5,000+ if I had to guess. So in the end, the blue Jeep would be pricier if I decided I wanted to fix it up. I could just keep it as-is, and have an EV-converted ol’ rustbucket. I kind of like the way it looks now, to be honest. Why does it have to be completely rust-free and nice to be worthy of an electric vehicle conversion? Maybe that’s a silly question.

I guess part of the issue could be that using a rough-looking Jeep as a basis for an electric vehicle conversion guarantees that the entire investment will be a moneypit. No matter how nice that blue Jeep drives, if it looks like it does, it may not be worth anything. But what if I don’t sell it? I could also just suck it up and do the bodywork on it; a nice EV-converted FC-170 would be worth something, I bet. Or I could just convert the red one and drive it as-is after I figure out the paperwork issue, and after I figure out how to fit a Tesla drive unit between those frame rails. Oh, and after I make sure it’s not completely made of Bondo.

I really don’t know what the move is, here.

 

Quiz maker

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90 Responses

  1. At first I was why not do both? Hear me out. Cobble the two together into one mega Jeep.

    Blue is the main chassis, Red is the donor.

    The next question is what is worth to you? I know there is cost to covert vs resale. I never think of that, I don’t have the money for that level of investor car, rather will this something I will enjoy and not put myself in the poor house?

    1. This seems like the obvious solution. Both FCs appear ready for the scrapyard. It seems like the only realistic chance of having a decent, street legal FC EV is combining both into a single vehicle.

      This project will be a money pit no matter which vehicle is chosen. If the goal is to make money by building and selling a one-off electric FC, sell both and come up with a better idea. If the goal is to build a cool vehicle (and create interesting content in the process), combine these into one vehicle.

      Also, given the condition of the vehicles, is it possible they are worth more money dead than alive (i.e. selling individual parts instead of the whole vehicle)? If that is the case, it seems like the way to minimize the cost of this project would be to combine both into a single vehicle and part out the leftovers.

  2. Seems obvious to me? Blue. Even if you got the red one registered, it still doesn’t have as many Pros, and it seems to have a lot more cons.

    You bring up selling each of them a few times, but you need to ask yourself… How likely are you to actually part with it after converting it to an EV? Based on your current collection, I’m not seeing that as likely. I’m not even into Jeeps, but if I had a running EV-converted FC, I’d almost certainly daily it… That might not be as feasible for folks with a commute longer than 2 miles, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  3. They are both going to be money pits.

    The end value of either is just going to be the scrap value of the EV motor/batteries.

    Convert which ever one is more entertaining for us.

    I vote the red one since it is going to be more of a headache (aka story) with all the title issues.

  4. Barring you being the seller in another sketchy Bill of Sale transaction, you’ll sort the red’s paperwork regardless, so that’s moot.

    I would say to dream bigger and do both, preferably by organizing sponsorship opportunities with 2 different aftermarket EV suppliers to compare and contrast their wares.

    If I must pick just one, do the red. You’ll feel much worse if something goes horribly wrong with blue.

  5. Blue. It has a salvageable driveline that someone, somewhere will want. You can recoup some of your investment. As others have said, the frame is better suited to what you want to do. The red one is just a nightmare of flaky bondo ready to dissolve around you.

  6. I know in a different article I said ditch the blue one and convert the red one but the additional information makes the decision not quite so obvious.

    One thing to consider on the titling problem is whether you might be able to title and register the red one as a homebuilt/kit car after the EV conversion instead of trying to title it as the original Jeep.

    However, the issues regarding frame width/length and the ability to fit a Tesla drive unit plus adequate batteries are not minor. That could be a game-changer. Measure well before you decide as the decision may be made for you.

    Also as some others have said, you might find a bigger mess when tearing apart the red one than you realize. Plus, you can certainly sell the red one right now for more than you can the blue one.

    One other possibility to consider, and it’s realistic because you have a nationwide following: if the blue frame isn’t really in much worse shape than the red, what are the chances a kind reader could help you find a matching cab with at least decent sheet metal off a junker in say, Arizona, and do a cab swap? I’m guessing with the body-on-frame construction the swap is not something I would necessarily call easy, but it should be reasonably straightforward. In any case I’m betting it’s easier than all the bodywork you would have to do to get the current blue cab bodywork taken care of. The bed is easy to deal with; that rusted out floor will look just fine with a decent hardwood replacement.

    1. Now I think you’ve raised a very important question: Why have wheels at all, when you could equip it with tracks! Find some old tank or APV and fit the tracks from it to the FC!

  7. Blue. You have some good history with it and will never recover the raw monetary value with a DIY EV swap, much less opportunity cost. Keep it, make it an EV, and actually be able to legally enjoy it without the paperwork headaches. You’re already going to pour enough blood, sweat, and beers into the EV conversion.

    1. I’d say trash the rusted cab and bed, use the better cab and use the professionals and amateurs available to workshop cost-effective ideas for a new better bed. It’s already getting modified so why not take it further? Basic EV conversion with just the car changing is being done by many already and I don’t think the Autopian strives to be basic.

    2. Use parts from both. Invite Fred and Dave from DED to help on getting one good vehicle together as far as frame and body. Get Kevin Erickson with the Electrollite as a consultant.
      Keep the patina!
      Here in MA you can apply for a new title. Maybe use enough Blue to use that?

      1. I say red Jeep but I don’t know how difficult things are in Michigan paperwork wise. If you decide to go with the blue one I would be more than happy to buy the red one if that old man would sign an affidavit for me.

  8. Blue.

    If you save it you’re keeping one more on the road. If you don’t – it will be a parts truck or never get finished.

    Also it has a FAR better frame for an electric conversion. Willys Wagon frame > CJ frame. Every day.

    I’d take the 3/4 ton over the 1/2 ton. That’s just me. Someone out there needs the drivetrain – that’s worth more than the Jeep.

  9. Is the frame difference significant enough that you can’t swap the red jeep’s cab on to the blue jeep’s frame? Seems like that would give you what you want.

    You’d also then have a frame you could put the blue Jeep’s engine into, and swap some other Jeep’s body on to.

      1. WRT the frames, steel tubing, a welder and a chopsaw can take care of that. If you can weld well enough, the frame can be any shape you want.

        My only question is whether either of them has a good enough body as a starting point. Tesla hardware in this will mean that Our Lady of Blessed Acceleration will not fail us. That’s a recipe for a potential Autopian ex Mortus.

  10. The swap will be easier in the blue Jeep. While that red one looks OK, I’m willing to bet it’s either in the same or worse shape once you get under all that bondo and pop-riveted garbage. And let’s face it, it’s not like there’s a tone of complex curves in the body. I have faith in you DT, that you could suss out the bodywork.

  11. Why not put electric power train in both?
    Hear me out…
    1. Blue: Add tesla drive components, aka super fast Matt’s Jaguar (check him out on youtube folks!)
    2. Red: Add different drive, i.e. a small SUV .. use enough of the donor EV chassis to register it with the donor vehicle’s VIN.

  12. I would say the red FC. You want something that is a bit better shape to convert. I don’t think you want to be doing as much of your normal piecing it back together when it has been converted to electric.

    I vote you try and revive the blue one back to a good drivable state. I know it starts, but it could be better.

  13. Since no one asked, heres my opinion:
    As you said in the article, the blue jeep is honest about being crappy, and will accommodate all the batteries and drives without having to seriously redesign the frame. You have a good idea of the work tis gonna take going into this. The red jeep is a lair. Its all red flags and bondo and I fear that the deeper you dig into it, the more lies your going to find and that will mean more work you have to do. And then your still gonna have to modify the frame do what you need it to do.
    There’s gonna be a ton of work on whichever one you chose so why not go with the one that is up front about it.

    On an emotional track, the blue jeep rose from the dead to be with you while the red jeep seems to have just shown up one day with a sketchy backstory. Just sorting out the paperwork will take time and effort, if its even legally possible. So I would stick with the blue jeep thats already proven it wants to live. Also I wouldn’t worry about the money too much, after all this was always a “can this be done” project and not a “how can I make money on a conversion” project.

    my two rusty cents.

  14. I’d vote for the red, but only because I think the blue one should retain it’s miraculously-resurrected drivetrain. That’s a gold-medal Waste of Time Olympics winner (and I say that with the highest praise for the work, and all praise to Scott from Cold War Motors).

  15. Another vote for the blue Jeep. The larger size will make a better overall EV.

    Much of the body of blue boy us gone. So go whole hog…. Do the non-Tracy thing: redo the body. Maybe in carbon fiber…. All new. A true high tech EV NON- SHITBOX…. I know this goes against DT convention. But you are now a successful (we’re pulling for you) publishing maven, and the world is your oyster….

    The Elon Musk. Not Red Green….

  16. If you’re going with a motor-driveshaft-axle drivetrain route, take the one with the strongest frame. The instantaneous torque of electric motors will be hard on the frame torsionally.

    I would go with a solid e-axle setup hanging on leaf springs, much easier packaging and frees up the frame rails for the batteries. Frees up the engine compartment for the cooling setup and the plumbing the electric drive plumbing you’ll need for powering the brakes and power steering.

  17. David, if the frame of the blue one is really solid, then the extra length and width would help not only with the conversion, but the stability once it is running. If you are going to put a Tesla motor in it, even the smallest Tesla unit is going to be more power than these things ever dreamt of having.

    However, recalling your video series on ol’blue (you better get that reference!), it didn’t seem like any part of that Jeep had two atoms of iron bonded without an additional three atoms of oxygen.

  18. The problem with using rust-buckets as platforms for feats of engineering is that the process of disassembling what you need to take apart generally destroys the parts being removed.

    Start with the one with the best frame.

  19. I’ve changed my mind. Sell the red one. The blue one is not likely to survive the process of being stripped down before you start spending serious money on the conversion. You’ll lose less money that way.

  20. I voted red because I really don’t think you should dump so much time and money into yet another vehicle that looks like it’s on the way to the scrapyard. It sounds like you aren’t interested in doing any level of cosmetic restoration, so the red one gives you your best shot at having a semi-decent vehicle when you’re done.

    However, I think the best option would be to do at least a rough restoration of the blue FC , convert it to electric, and then donate its engine to the red FC. That would leave you with two half way decent FCs that each have some value. Could be fun to compare the two back to back as well.

  21. I say definitely fix and convert Blue Swiss Cheese if you can find a way to do it without major changes to the chassis or the EV parts. That way you can sell the (now good) rolling chassis and EV components later and not lose much money.
    And of course you’ll get the quick profit on Dodgy Red.

    I realize this may sound difficult but it’s worth thinking about! Personally i find if i think about a technical problem for awhile ,simple or cheap solutions come to mind ????

  22. I vote:
    Electrify the red one. The shorty would show off the tech better and in a trendier package.
    That said, then late-model Hemi-swap the blue one(motor out back), a la the Little Red Wagon A100.
    Then you’d have two updated siblings that were wild, yet preservable.
    And sensical.

  23. I say Blue.
    Icon, maker of restomod Broncos and FJ’s do what they call their “Derelict” series. Basically they take patina’ed old hulks that have some character on the body and then rework the internals. I’ve always really dug them.

    https://www.icon4x4.com/derelict

    If you wanted to sell later on you might be able to find a lunatic like me who liked it better that way or you could spend the money to make it look a little nicer.

  24. David-
    You gave that blue Jeep its life back. I saw how excited you were driving it around. It should get some more work done for safety’s sake, then continue to live out its life on a farm somewhere. Soul and original heart intact.
    The red Jeep is maybe a month of paperwork, during which time you can plan your conversion. Long term that is a more stable vehicle as a test bed for electric conversion.

  25. This is the Autopian reboot of the Matrix nobody asked for.
    Fix the blue Jeep and continue to enjoy the bliss or wrenching.
    Fix the red Jeep and learn the horrible truth about what lies beneath those Jeeps.

  26. The red one is rougher than I thought after seeing the close up photos, so I’d keep the Blue one to convert. David, I’ve seen your welding skills on Jalopnik. I would suggest you sign up for a welding class, get a quality welder, then sign up for a metal shaping class such as the ones Dagger Tools puts on over in Wixom. Then you will be able to tackle those rust buckets and make them look like new.

  27. Why not both? Use the blue for the full Tesla motor conversion since it’ll work better with the size of the frame. For the red one, find a wrecked Chevy Volt and put the hybrid powertrain and smaller battery pack in that. Best of both worlds.

  28. What happened to the hybrid plan? If you have to one, do the red. But seriously, convert an XJ instead. I need you to do a good write up on an XJ conversion so I can emulate it. To make it complicated, convert an automatic. You can do it; I’m counting on you.

  29. I say red Jeep but I don’t know how difficult things are in Michigan paperwork wise. If you decide to go with the blue one I would be more than happy to buy the red one if that old man would sign an affidavit for me.

  30. David, I’m really interested in what the goals are for the conversion (e.g. power, range). You mention the Tesla drive unit, which depending on what you mean by that, could result in an exceedingly rapid trip to the morgue.

    The joy of instant torque and the ability to fling itself down the drag strip is an EV’s party trick, but a bit like the Mercedes concept that just did a 1,000km trip, I think going with lower (but still sufficient) power would still provide more than enough adventure. Making the FC live and be practical (decent range and usability) and unusual would be a triumph.

    Although making it AWD would add a certain technical (and practical?) excellence.

    I hope you go with the Blue one, and that unlike the budget constraints that put the brakes on this project at your former employer, you manage to engage some experts and get it done, taking us along for the ride.

  31. I think you underestimate how much a structurally good car with a really scrappy looking body is actually worth. The blue one, with a properly repaired frame, an at least clean and functional interior, and whatever drivetrain you put in, is something someone would buy. Would you get your money back? Probably not, but I don’t think you would with the red one either.

    I also don’t think the red one is worth $5K, either – not only doesn’t it run it has a lot of farm-spec “repairs” done to it.

  32. Blue. I trust the rust I can see more than I trust the Bondo covering god knows what. I think it would be cool to look like a rustbucket on the outside but be a modern EV underneath. Cars aren’t normally an appreciating investment, anyway.

  33. The blue has a pretty good wrenching story and a lot of memories. It is a bucket of urine soaked rust and converting it to EV will ultimately just be endless frustration that ends in nothing but a hole in your wallet and a pile of toxic dust. The red one is solid enough that you’ll have something to weld to. You’ll be able to come up with something that will look like a FC. My EV advice would be to avoid the Tesla and get an E-crate setup from GM. Other option would be buy a drivable Nissan Leaf and use every bit of the high voltage system. Put the transaxle in place of the T-case. It won’t be a high speed vehicle but you’ll have 4 wheel drive and lots of torque. The Leaf is dead simple and doesn’t even cool the battery, I think it also has fewer of those pesky safety interlocks that will ultimately frustrate you. It really is the Model T of EVs. Heck, just register it as a Leaf. Title problem solved 🙂

  34. I am refusing to vote because I found you a perfectly good FC that had been sitting out in the desert and had only a small amount of surface rust. Patina, not rusted through everywhere. The price was $800 and you said no because it did not have a title or engine. And here we are.

  35. Keep the blue one. You can get $5k for the red one right? Take the $5k. You are going to spend the money anyway, you’ll never recover it. Or use the red one for parts… either way we all know you want to keep the blue one

  36. David, how many times in your life as an engineer have you complained about bean counters a managers forcing you to take the cheaper and faster route even thought it was the technically interior solution?

    It happened a lot to me and that frustrated me to no end. You are your own manager on this, choose the blue FC with space for the hardware. It’ll be enough of an adventure to do the conversion plus you get to try your hand at sheet metal work.

    Take your revenge on management. Go hard on blue and give us a nice 3 year long story.

  37. This dilemma is a philosophical conundrum, much like Morton’s Fork or Buridan’s Ass. Either pick is bad, bad, bad. Investing $15k and oodles of time – perhaps a beater XJ will result in a more pleasant and safer daily driver worthy of the E performance you’ll be getting. Just review some of Rob Emslie’s NPOND picks considered “someone else’s project” on that website not to be named. But I guess I’m trying to convince you to be too practical. On your head, be it!!

  38. red jeep, so you can sell me that plow pump as previously discussed, lol.

    Seriously though, the blue jeep is the better candidate from a theoretical standpoint with the wider axles and longer wheelbase.

    BUT the red jeep is better from the standpoint that you don’t need to deal with as much rust and all the glass is good.

    Either has enough room for batteries, if you make a raised load floor for the bed and stash the batteries underneath.

  39. Damn, man. I honestly don’t know which to go with.

    About the best advice I can give is when I have a decision like this between two equally valid/wanted choices I flip a coin and if I’m happy with the answer I’ve already decided to do that one, if I’m unhappy with it the subconsciously I decided to do the other one.
    Of course, from all I know of you you’d probably end up deciding on neither coin toss and buy a third.

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