Monday, September 19, 2005

Make a what outta who?

After almost two decades of daydreaming about electric cars, discussing their merits with friends and family, and watching fickle automakers develop promising prototypes and even launch a few kickass models, such as GM's EV-1, just to pull the rug out from under loyal leaseholders, I decided to take the plunge in the fall of 2003 and build my own electric car.
Having had a long love affair with the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, my choice of a car to convert was obvious, but two years of lurking on the Electric Vehicle Discussion List cemented my selection. At least eight electric Ghias have been built, giving me some experienced peers to learn from, and the Type 1 Karmann Ghia has a lot of what's desirable in a 'glider', or a vehicle ready to repower.
Here's a few examples of other electric Karmann Ghia projects:
Scott Cornell's 1965 Coupe
John Bryan's 1971 Coupe
Doug Weathers' 1971 Coupe
Texas State University student's 1972 Coupe
Steve Marks' Ghia Monster (a radical drag-racing electric Ghia)
Cliff Wilson's 1969 Coupe
EVChallenge demonstrator, The Ghost Dancer, a 1965 Karmann Ghia Cabriolet

I now own the Ghost Dancer, but sadly only acquired it after an incident of 'battricide', after which the electric components were stripped out and sold. Electric car batteries continue to be the greatest obstacle to widespread EV adoption. Many hobbyists have experienced the expensive learning curve involved in proper care and feeding of their battery pack. Pack replacement costs are akin to replacing an engine, from $1000 to $2000 for the cars pictured above, and more if using a battery chemistry other than lead-acid. The Ghost Dancer is running on gasoline again, perhaps to be reconverted someday...

The Ghia shared most mechanical components with VW Beetles, so not only are parts plentiful and economical, but many upgrades are available. Also, since Porsche did much of VW's design work, the Ghia can swap parts with an astounding number of cars, well into the modern era. The car's curvaceous lines harken to it's 1950's birth, and the hand-welded coach construction of an even earlier era provides strength while preserving interior volume in a supple structure that soaks up the rigors of the road. I built my first Ghia during high school, taking over dad's garage for the better part of two years, and that car served as my college driver, putting in another 100,000+ miles of service before it's cancerous condition caused me to pass it along to another eager restorer.

Bye Bye, Blue Baby... chassis # 1442446696, owned 1989-2003

But of course, another ghia was waiting in the wings.
This 1971 coupe, soon to be known as the Karmann Eclectric, was discovered under twenty years of dust in an Atlanta lawyer's spare carport. Still sitting on dryrotted 1983 retreads, this one-owner car was cancer-free in most of the usual spots, but had a couple of unusual problems, such as rust on the nose where it had stuck just a few inches out into the weather, and rust above the headliner, where two decades of southern humidity had loitered.

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P & C said...

Jay looks very interesting and good luck. We will have to look in more detail as we get more time as we are still on a 4 month on-going road trip in the 68 DC
P & C

danp001_at_yahoo said...


I may be converting EV #9, if the count was 8 in late 2005. I would love to get in email contact with all Karmann Ghia EV fans. Sadly, some of your links no longer work.

Email mail me at if you are interested in comparing notes!


P.S. Working on low cost custom PWM drive...