If you aren’t converting your current car to E-power, one of the first things to consider is what vehicle to choose.
Steve Drummond from Electrogenic and I were having this very conversation last week, we’re about to announce an exciting joint project, but more about that later.
Your choice will likely be dictated by a desire for a particular model, the want to be different or choose a vehicle that been converted a few times, and therefore the benefit of experts advice.
We know of a few Land Rovers that have been converted, the love for the vehicle, go-anywhere practicality and space make them a great option. However, we’ve not come across many that are as meticulously done as Don Incolss car from Australia.
Don had been interested in building an Electric Vehicle for some time and originally purchased a PT Cruiser with a blown engine for the purposes of converting. This project didn’t take off as he couldn’t find a Local specialist willing to sign off on the conversion as he needed to alter the crumple zone.
A rethink was needed and Don decided to take a giant leap of faith and pulled the perfectly good 2.25L internal combustion engine from his ultra-rare (in Australia) 1973 Land Rover Lightweight instead.
The Land Rover has no Aircon, no Power Steering, no Power Seats, no Power Windows, no ABS, no Airbags, no CANbus, no ECU, etc. In Dons world this was a big plus point, making the project far simpler. The two under seat fuel tanks also turned out to perfect locations to mount the LiFePo4 cells, with more mounted under the bonnet over the new Electric Motor to maintain the original weight distribution.
Like many Retro-EV fans, Don was mindful that he was working on a very rare classic, so ensured that there would be no unnecessary holes or altering of the bodywork or chassis to accommodate the EV conversion. He also wanted to make sure that there would be no visible external difference apart from a lack of an exhaust pipe.
The conversion was designed to be completely reversible and reconfigurable to original.
Being Dons first EV conversion he found another conversion in Colorado that used a DC Kostov motor bolted to the existing gearbox using an adaptor plate from Canada, so he followed this lead. It would have been possible to bolt a motor direct to the transfer case but he wanted to keep the vehicle as original & complete as possible.
Don ordered a HPEVS AC51 motor & Curtis 1239E Controller from EV Works in Western Australia which had to come from California. Don chose an AC motor over a potentially cheaper more powerful DC Motor because he wanted regenerative braking for this project.
After removing all the parts that were not needed, Including Engine, Radiator, Air Filter & mounting bracket, a weight saving of 350kg was gained. The new motor and adaptor is about 60kg, and 260kg of batteries so dry weight is about the same.
Don had to spend a lot of time modifying the motor mounting plate, this took hours of work and a lot of expertise to get right, Once the motor was finally mounted correctly to the gearbox he had to do the same for the front mount. This is arguably one of the most complicated parts of most conversions, and this was no different.
Helpfully the Land Rover has a hole in the front crossmember for a crank handle to start the engine in the event of a flat battery, Don placed a curtain rod through the centre of a dummy motor, onto the gearbox input shaft and through the crank handle hole to get a perfect alignment.
The AC51 motor that Don chose has an internal fan to draw cooling air through from the front to the rear, this isn’t ideal on a 4×4 where it could ingest dust, mud, water and road spray so Don cobbled together some ducting to supply clean air via a Pod filter and 12v Marine blower. For others considering a similar setup these motors can be supplied as oil cooled in which case they are fully sealed.
As with most conversions, batteries were the most expensive part of the conversion and needed to be considered carefully. Its a no brainer to choose Lithium over Lead Acid , even though they are more expensive, Lithium have an 80% depth of discharge compared to 50% (at best) for lead and have about 10x the amount of charge cycles for about 1/3 of the weight.
Unfortunately there is no supply of salvaged cells in Australia, So Don decided Prismatic cells would be the most straightforward option. The motor requires 144v, so 45 CALB180 LiFePo4 3.2volt cells were originally considered. However, a great deal on SinoPoly 200Ah LiFePo4 cells changed his mind. The Sinopoly cells are the same size (280 x 180 x 70mm) and weight as CALB180, but are rated at 200Ah. At 5.8kg each the entire 144Volt pack weighs in at only 261kg.
Whilst waiting for batteries to arrive Don designed the battery boxes. Australian regulations require the battery enclosure to be able to sustain 20G frontal Impact, 15G side and 10G Rear & Inverted. This meant one 70Kg battery box fixings had to handle 1400kg.
For safety the Boxes professionally made from 1.5mm steel so that they comply with the relevant engineering standards.
Luckily when arranging 12 Cells in a 4×3 configuration the external dimensions were almost the same as a standard Lightweight 45 Litre fuel tank so the boxes were designed with room for insulation on the bottom and sides.
The cells were divided into 12 for each original fuel tank position, with another fuel tank sized box of 12 where the radiator used to be and a box of 9 behind that which is elevated to give clearance above the motor.
The SWB Land Rover fuel tanks are in the perfect place to retrofit with batteries, as being between the wheels, weight distribution is not adversely affected, if at all, therefore no need for suspension or brake modifications.
As the original brake servo gets its vacuum supply from the inlet manifold of the original petrol engine another solution was needed. Many people use a 12v Hella brake Vacuum pump from Audi A4 and Don was lucky enough to find one of those locally on eBay.
A vacuum switch had to be plumbed in so that the pump shuts off when the right level of vacuum is attained, Otherwise the pump will run continuous & burn out.
The Controller is a Curtis 1239E which is sold with the AC51 motor as a combo and converts the 144V DC (500Amp ) to 3 Phase AC power. The Land Rover needed an electronic throttle. And most would use a Fly By Wire pedal from a Td5 Defender, as it would bolt right on, but Don felt that it just looks wrong in a Series Land Rover, so chose a Curtis 2 wire potentiometer
Just like with an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE), Electric Vehicles also require a 12V wiring system and battery for mandatory safety equipment, lights , wipers, horn etc and importantly in the case of an EV so that the High Voltage contactors can be energised. The DC-DC Converter takes the place of an Alternator & in Dons case converts 144V to 12V (13.8V) to operate the 12V equipment and keep the 12V battery charged.
Although local climate meant that Don didn’t have much need for a heater, a working demister is a legal requirement to comply with Australian Design Rules. To overcome the loss of the standard heater matrix he installed 2 x 12Volt Ceramic heater elements inside the Smiths housing in place of the water element. And of course unlike a Petrol car, the heat is almost instant.
Don chose to install an onboard charger, to give the versatility to charge at any 240V power point. A bit of internet research led him to choose the TC HK-J Series 3.3KW Fully Sealed OBC.
The charger fitted conveniently on the passenger side footwell, with a little trimming it was able to neatly flush mount into the passenger side. The last piece of the puzzle was where to mount the charge socket. Because of the rarity of the vehicle Don was reluctant to cut holes in the bodywork or grille. Ultimately the Wing box option was the most convenient and retains the stock look.
So, what is it like to drive? After a 4-month build, Don took it for a first test drive and was over the moon. He was particularly pleased he kept the gearbox as taking off in 4th turned out to be pretty sluggish. Don found that using both 2nd and 4th is just about right. He got her up to 70mph on the flat, which is about 12mph higher than the petrol engine ever delivered.
Taking aerodynamics of a brick into account Sitting about 55mph is comfortable, before 50mph was about as fast as you wanted to go.
The Land Rover will deliver around 60 miles from a charge in mixed driving conditions, 3rd gear is a good compromise, it only takes minute movement to go from a crawl (in traffic) to too fast.
This was the world’s first Land Rover Lightweight EV conversion. This Land Rover is so much better to drive than with internal combustion” says Don “And for the first time ever I can drive a soft top Land Rover without being overcome with petrol, oil & exhaust fumes, I know that’s a Land Rover thing, but it’s a huge deal. Do I miss the tappety, chugging engine sound, Sure I do, but I can live without it.
I know there are EV Haters out there, to those I say, drive an EV just once and you will be changed forever. The arguments about range , that Australians need to be able to drive long distances, Valid yes, but at least 90% of car trips are short commutes or to the shops. And then the arguments about EV’s still use non-renewable energy in the form of Coal burned at Electricity generators, fair enough, I’m no greenie, not by a long stretch, but I generate more Electricity with our 5Kw solar array that I’ll ever use charging the Land Rover.
In all a great project & glad I did it, Externally the vehicle is identical, except for lack of an exhaust tailpipe.”