Zelectric (z)electrifies classic Volkswagen split-window bus

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The electric conversion couldn't have happened to a nicer VW Type 2(Credit: C.C. Weiss/Gizmag)

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After starting up in 2012, Zelectric Motors has quickly made a business out of retrofitting electric powertrains to classic Volkswagen Beetles. The San Diego-based shop also performs its electric magic on other classic cars, including Porsches and Manxes, and recently completed what we'd call its coolest conversion yet: a 1964 Volkswagen Type 2, complete with signature first-generation split windshield, sunroof and sliding door. It's a beautiful example of iconic 20th century automotive design updated with 21st century drive technology, or as Zelectric likes to say, "retro future."

"Midcentury cars were made for a different world – one that had what seemed like an endless supply of cheap gasoline and no air pollution," Zelectric explains on its website. "But unlike cars today, they were designed with timeless character and endless appeal. Zelectric Motors offers the best of both worlds, where iconic high style fuses with today's future-forward technology to provide an exhilarating driving experience."

The classic Beetle, dubbed the ZelectricBug after transformation, remains the company's bread and butter, but it's also turned some attention to Beetle-related models like the Type 2. It converted this particular Microbus earlier this year and has been showing it at car shows, including last month's LA Auto Show, where we gave it a thorough looking at.

In place of the air-cooled boxer engine you'd expect to find mounted at the rear, Zelectric has fitted its electric motor. The company was advertising the same 80- to 100-mile (129- tto 161-km) range as the Bug in LA, but CEO David Benardo admits that the Bus prototype is more likely to get around 70 miles (113 km) before needing a recharge. He also says that more batteries could be added to double or triple that range.

The lithium batteries are mounted under the middle bench, and Zelectric says drivers can expect a lifespan around 160,000 miles (257,500 km). Charging time takes between three and four hours from a 240-volt outlet. The e-Bus looks best for rolling down the coast at cruising speed, sunroof peeled back, but with a top speed falling somewhere between 80 and 100 mph (130 - 160 km/h) – Zelectric hasn't quite zeroed in on the exact limit – it also has the giddy-up for highway driving.

Benardo says Zelectric doesn't have any current plans to offer a turnkey electric Bus, the way it does with the Beetle, but it is offering the conversion package starting at US$55,000, including the electric motor, reworked four-speed transmission, disc brakes and LED lights. The company doesn't cut or weld the original vehicle during the process, so the bus could be converted back to gas if the owner ever wants to do so. Zelectric is already working on two other Type 2 conversions for clients.

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