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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 ????

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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