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Cliff Wilson's nude VW Karmann Ghia electric car
Wilson's VW Karmann Ghia ready for remake into a showcar-quality electric conversion.

Viva Ghia EV!

How I converted a 1969 VW Karmann Ghia to electric drive and kept my sanity and marriage together.

By Cliff Wilson

I purchased this car in May of 2001 through Ebay. The car had a lot of rust inside and out, no gas tank, and an engine that refused to start. The two latter problems were okay since I bought it with the intentions of converting it to electric power.

The first challenge was to remove the 40hp gas engine and fit a 21hp electric motor to the transmission while keeping the clutch and pressure plate in tact. Having the center of the flywheel bored out and welding in a taper lock hub accomplished this. Also all of the teeth had to be shaved off of the flywheel and the lead edge chamfered 45 degrees to allow the unit to fit deeper in the bell housing without interference. After that, the motor was torn down and the shaft bored out to receive the pilot shaft bearing, and an adapter plate was made to bolt the motor assembly to the transaxle.

The next problem was trying to find room in a Karmann Ghia for 16 golf cart batteries and supporting the extra weight. The back seat was removed and an angle iron frame made to hold 8 of the 16 batteries.

Cliff Wilson's EV Conversion Photo Album

  • Restored Front View
  • Restored Rear View
  • Previous Interior
  • New Interior
  • Previous Floor Pan
  • New Floor Pan
  • Front Compartment
  • Rear Motor Compartment
  • Bottom View
  • Air Springs



  • 1969 VW Karmann Ghia EV Specifications
  • Make Volkswagen
  • Model Karmann Ghia
  • Year 1969
  • Color 2002 Dodge Viper red
  • Weight Approximately 3000 pounds
  • Motor Prestolite MTC-4001 (21 horsepower at 96 volts)
  • Controller Curtis Instruments 1221-C (72-120 volts dc at 400 amps)
  • Transmission Standard Volkswagen 4-speed transaxle
  • Tires P195/75R14 (inflated to 50 psi)
  • Maximum Speed 65+ mph
  • Range 35 to 50 miles per charge depending on speed and terrain.
  • Recharge Time 6 hours at 75-80% discharged
  • One frame was fitted into the gas tank opening under the trunk (in front) to hold 4 more batteries, and finally 2 frames were made to hold 2 batteries on each side of the motor in the back. Coil-over shocks were added all around and air springs were added in the rear since that’s where most of the battery weight is.

    The floors were completely cut out and replaced with new steel, as were the rocker panels, part of the engine lid skin, rear driver’s side lower fender, the lower front fenders and an area above the driver’s headlight. The gas lid was removed and a steel filler piece welded in. All new steel was acid etched and painted with rust proofing paint, along with all areas prone to rust. All braking components were replaced with new ones.

    The front axle beam was replaced due to rust and cracks in the lower tube. I installed new ball joints, cv joints and boots, transaxle mounts, tie rods, and tie rod ends. A plate made from uhmw was made to hold the auxiliary batteries, front fuse blocks, and controllers for the led lighting.

    All of the original lighting, except for the headlights, was replaced with LEDs and halogen lamps replaced the original sealed beam headlights. A console was added to hold extra instrumentation, including temperature displays for controller, motor, and heat and air temp.

    A 12-volt "fuel gauge" was added to monitor 12-volt auxiliary battery power. Switches were also mounted on the console to change the led turn signal and nose grille light patterns on the fly. Led VU meters were mounted across the top of the console and behind the transparent front speaker cones. Interior lighting is accomplished with 6 bright white LEDs that fade when the doors close. Reverse and license plate lights are also white LEDs. A sensor is mounted above the license plate to flash a red led on the console and beep a piezo buzzer to warn that you’re about to back into something. Heat and air conditioning are using a solid-state method with no refrigerant or moving parts except for the fans. All heat and air controls are also console mounted.

    The entire car was taken down to bare metal, dents were removed, and then it was primed and painted Dodge Viper red. The specifications for this car are available in the sidebar above.

    I have 15 months of time invested working on this project everyday from 2 hours to all day on weekends (approximately 2500 hours). Total restoration and conversion cost is $13,000 excluding my time.

    This car definitely requires a different style of driving, but is quite fun to drive. Acceleration in first gear is better than the original gas engine. The car can be driven in town like an automatic. You simply leave it in second gear and go. There’s no engine running when you stop, so you don’t have to push in the clutch.

    All in all this was a very fun project with many challenges. I would like to give credit to my friends that helped with the machine shop work, and paint and body work. And especially to my good wife who has been very supportive and understanding. She also stated that if I were to do another project, she would hit me in the head with something really hard, probably a brick.

    The following is a list of suppliers that I used:

    Electronic components:
    B.G. Micro
    MCM Electronics


    Mechanical Components:
    J.C. Whitney
    Roy Rogers Auto Parts
    Karmann Ghia Parts and Restoration

    If you have questions or comments please feel free to contact me via email at cwiley2@ipa.net . You can find additional info and photos on my ftp site at http://home.ipa.net/~cwiley2 .

    Times Article Viewed: 17901
    Published: 09-Aug-2003

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