No joke. The 1971 VW Fastback pictured above is powered by a 2015 Nissan Leaf powertrain.
The powertrain of any vehicle includes the mechanisms which transmit engine power to a vehicle’s axles, and the axles spin the wheels. In petroleum-powered car, it includes the engine, transmission and axles. In an EV, power flows from the battery directly to an electric motor on the axle which spins the wheels.Definition of powertrain
Many of us have loved and lusted after certain classic vehicles from years gone by. For Mick Longley of Durango’s Busaru, those vehicles have been Volkswagens.
Recognizing the huge impact burning fossil fuels has on our planet’s climate, some of us regret we can no longer drive those cars or trucks. Or we’ve driven an electric vehicle and experienced how vastly superior they are and don’t want to go back to the cost and inconvenience of petrol power. For Mick Longley, this was a problem he could solve.
Mick’s love for classic VW’s started in the mid 2000’s when he picked up a VW Westfalia camper to travel around in. He moved out to Durango, Colorado in that van and started BUSARU, the VW to Subaru engine swap business. He had been holding onto the 1971 VW Fastback for a few years – awaiting a project.
I was initially going to put a Subaru engine into it but got re-inspired by the EV conversion scene. I had converted a 70’s Kawasaki motorcycle and a slough of classic bicycles back in the day, even had a small business doing that in CA called zombiEVintage.Mick Longley
- The most difficult part was mounting the battery and motor in the old VW, but he was able to find a solution which allowed keeping the LEAF battery completely intact, including all its safety mechanisms.
- Removing the internal combustion engine (ICE) equipment is actually a ton of fun!
- LOTS of experience with electronics packages for the do-it-yourself (DIY) Subaru-VW community helped with navigating the electronics and wiring diagrams for the LEAF-based conversion.
- Will he convert your classic car into an EV?
- He’s definitely interested in taking on projects once he gets more experience converting his own vehicles.
- He’d love to hear about other people’s EV projects. Let him know what dreams you’re cooking up.
- He plans for Regen EV’s to offer kits for DIY tinkerers to more easily retrofit their VW Bus and Vanagons (and possibly other vehicles) to electric power.
For a deeper dive into Mick’s work on the Fastback, check out his YouTube channel video below and continue reading below the video!
As Mick expected, the mounting of the battery and motor were the most challenging parts. Most VW conversions rely on using the VW transaxle and adapter plate to mount an aftermarket motor, and batteries mounted in the cargo areas.
Since I wanted to use a mass-produced donor vehicle to keep costs low and reliability high, it brought up some unforeseen challenges. In a way, the VW chassis made the battery location decision for me. The floor pan was rotten with rust, which needed to be replaced anyway, so I just cut all of it out and built a frame out of rectangular tubing. This allowed me to keep the LEAF battery completely intact, including all of its safety mechanisms, as well as providing a structural component for the car – the many benefits of keeping the center of gravity low in the chassis! Once the battery was mounted it took a few days of playing with different drive unit mounting schemes. In short, once the battery was figured out, everything else came together pretty easily.Mick Longley
What was the biggest challenge in starting this project? It was believing it could be done!
Parsing the overall project into smaller projects really helps. Removing the internal combustion engine (ICE) equipment is actually a ton of fun. You get to see how cars are put together without the pressure or fear of breaking something you’ll need. In the case of the Fastback project, I knew I wasn’t going to be using any of the VW ICE equipment, including the transmission, so it was pure fun removing the old rusty grease-caked parts to make way for a clean EV drive unit.Mick Longley
In a Subaru engine conversion, the most intimidating part of the project for do-it-yourself DIY folks is the electronics. I have completed nearly 1000 electronics packages for the DIY Subaru-VW community and that experience really helped me navigate the electronics and wiring diagrams for the LEAF-based conversion. With the electronics mystery figured out, the conversion became more and more fun to work on, and a great learning experience. The next conversion will benefit greatly from what I learned on this one.”MIck
Does Mick plan to do more EV retrofits?
I want to get a couple more personal EV conversions finished before taking on customer work. These include a 1973 VW Bus (LEAF conversion) a 1965 GMC pickup (Tesla conversion), and a 70’s vintage Ford Bronco project that I’m converting for a friend.Mick
I am definitely interested in taking on projects once I get a little more experience converting my own vehicles. I like to experiment on my own vehicles first! I love to hear about other people’s EV projects though, so let me know what dreams you’re cooking up.Mick
Does he have plans to make EV retrofits of classic cars part of his regular business?
Yes, like with BUSARU, I plan for Regen EV’s to offer kits for DIY tinkerers to more easily retrofit their VW Bus and Vanagons (and possibly other vehicles) to electric power. I’ll keep supporting the VW community (especially the camper van VW’s) because they really represent the spirit of adventure and travel, and there’s nothing like cruising to an adventure destination on battery power!Mick