Monday, July 28, 2008

My Unfortunate Post to The Samba

Okay, ever since I found out I was getting the beetle delivered to me I started reading, which is an all VW knowledge site. Classifieds, forums, very detailed repair work discussed. I even found a few posts about bug EV conversions. After reading it a while, I thought I had a bit of a feel for the site and decided to post.

This is a decision I don't take lightly. 

Part of my job is running the online store for, and we've been doing that for several years. I've only posted a handful of times in diaries only referring to items available on the store. I've never put up a diary with an opinion as I feel like there are those there who say things a lot more articulately than I can. I'm a bit post shy.

Anyhow, I put up a post, simply asking for advice on what part of the brake and/or suspension system I may want to investigate before installing the electric gear. Again, aren't these people just constantly refreshing their samba browser, looking for a question to release their abundant and powerful knowledge upon us, less enlightened gearheads?

Turns out that they do refresh their browser pretty often, but mostly to strike fear into those who might be considering altering the mechanical operation of what Volkswagen had intended at it's inception (which, I believe, had something to do with Hitler. Didn't it? No, seriously.)

The very mention that I was removing the smelly, dirty, filthy, unholy emissions burping internal combustion engine to replace it with a clean, much smaller, and quieter electric motor seemed to offend at the highest level of VW sanctity.

This is part of one comment:
"Let me get this straight. You join the Samba today to ask questions devoted to totally destroying the nature of this 62 ragtop....give the VW back to you DAD or another relative that might enjoy the VW with its intended style and function."

I guess I was surprised to get that comment.

One guy just kept asking me if I would sell him the car. Seriously, when did I mention I wanted to sell it?

This one was funny:
" the bug from a fate so many have faced-molestation..."
I think he may have wanted a colon there where he put the dash, but you probably get the idea.

I then found another thread that discussed swapping out a Mazda motor for the VW aircooled. Not too many comments like these in that thread. Maybe I got lucky. 

I can't help but think that there's more to these comments than just the traditionalist type of thinking. Are there people that are really so married to the idea of burning gas, that an EV swap is that abhorrent? What could possibly be better about that loud little engine, burning gas all over the atmosphere, costing me nearly $5/gallon (it will be by the fall) than installing my SepEx, or whatever the hell it'll be, quiet, clean burning engine? With the back deck lid (I just learned this term, it's basically the trunk of the VW bug, but since the engine is in there, it's a 'deck lid') closed, it'll just be another VW that avoided the junkyard, and is enjoying a second life after a very long 1st life. 

I can't possibly see their point, but then again, I never understood Jesse Helms either.

Next, my thoughts about the SepEx, battery management systems, and more. (Didn't get to work on the bug this last weekend, apart from buying some books on it - finished redoing my bathroom instead and did a lot

Oh, here's a link to my unfortunate post to thesamba. Note that thee were a few writers who were trying to be helpful, so don't let my outrage paint the wrong picture. Some of them were pretty cool

My Trip to the Electric Car store

So I had mentioned the nearby outlet for EV conversion parts, Electric Motorsport. I forgot to mention that I stopped by last week. 

So, as I said, I had called ahead to chat a bit about my project, and the person I spoke to was overwhelming willing to speak about it. Unfortunately all of the info he threw out there at me seemed to leave me a bit confused. He spoke of "just using the dif" and "torque" and "horsepower". Okay, I should brush up on some of this before I go in.

"Dif" or "differential", the part that the transmission is attached to. Why would I want to bypass the transmission/clutch. Well, I guess I'm not sure, but it sounds like a bad idea. I can feel it. I don't know why, but this is something I can instinctually understand, once I understand what he was talking about. I truly have no, absolutely no, scientific or reason based on physics for this opinion. So, there you go...some insight into how I'm making my decisions.

I heard one motor described as "torquey", which I guess is good. Turns out that means it can get going quickly, and has a lot of torque. "Horsepower", as you can imagine, has to do with power, and I figured out I'd need around 16 or 17 horsepower from my motor/controller to get the bug moving very well.

Armed with this little bit of knowledge, I hope to go in and get some ideas for my design. Maybe eliminate some of the more unrealistic aspects to my design. I meet with someone there wearing a sweater. It was kinda warm, so I remember sweater guy. Of course I'm always in shorts, so people probably think of me as the 'shorts guy'. Anyhow, sweater says most of the tech guys are outta town working on a E motorcycle. I get the sense that they work on the cycles a bit more than cars. Anyhow, we talk about motors/controllers, my system, what I my need.  He tends to move in the same direction as the guy I spoke to on the phone. We're talking a lot about this SepEx motor from D and D. Dungeons and Dragons made EV motors? 

So we discuss controllers with the SepEx, how the sepEx has "easy reverse", which I guess can be programmed into the controller. "But wait," I say, having done a little homework,"If I'm using my tranny" (I said tranny, and didn't snicker), "why would I need that? Wouldn't I use the reverse in my tranny." (Again, refrained from the snicker. Oh, I was referring to the transmission.) Then, I swear, I said "It's not like I'm hooking up the motor direct to the dif." Like I'd been using that phrase since high school auto shop. (I took woodshop instead, and LOOK how that has impacted my life.)

"Oh" says sweater guy, "You're using the clutch, well I guess you wouldn't need that, but won't the clutch/tranny make your car heavy?" Then walks in a new guy, I'll call him obnoxious hat guy, but he was a very nice and helpful fellow. He just had a sort of obnoxious hat. Really bright, garish, huge type. A type face I didn't care for. If you like type faces that I don't like, I'll find a way to be prejudiced about it. 

So Obnoxious Hat Guy defends me! "But the tranny makes more efficient use of the energy. I f he shifts in the tranny, the motor isn't needlessly spinning." Or something to that effect. 

Sweater guy then starts talking about how he had a bug, (not electric) and had worked on it, and had used a centrifugal clutch disc and that I should look into that. I think he deliberately brought up the centrifugal clutch disc to get us to shut up about the whole thing. How were we gonna argue with a guy who had installed his own centrifugal clutch disc in his own beetle some years ago?

Then Sweater and Hat get into a discussion about battery monitoring systems, how they don't have one now, but are developing one that will be the best on the market. Wow, I need a battery management system on my car? Sounds a bit complicated. Then a guy that looks like he's missing Alice in Chains rehearsal goes by on a forklift, and Sweater points to him "That's our electrical engineer, he's designing the battery monitoring system." I don't want to jump to conclusions about Forklift Alice in Chains Engineer, as I have a lot of friends who make odd fashion decisions, but happen to be brilliant. For some reason I felt like maybe Sweater shoulda kept that piece of knowledge to himself.

By then, Sweater Guy gets a little distracted, and Obnoxious Hat Guy helps me with a few other questions about batteries, my old 6 vlt system (i can get a dc/dc convertor for 6vlt instead of the 12vlt one he showed me.) We discussed getting a charger that would have to be programmed to deal with my battery pack, and how I'd have to balance my batteries before putting them in. I have to say they were both helpful, but I did leave with probably more questions than answers. But maybe I'd decided to go with the SepEx motor and the controller they were discussing (it did regenerative braking! A concept that when you brake, or slow down really, the controller absorbs the energy of the slow down back into the battery pack and you have that energy saved for later. A great idea, but it sounds like every time you remove your foot from the pedal, you stop coasting and start braking. I imagined driving a lot lot Rocky Balboa when he gets his first car, a black TransAm in the first Rocky movie. Does anyone remember that?

Okay, I leave EM, and go back to research some of the concepts we discussed. Then I make an unfortunate post to a Volkswagen forum

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I joined a club.

"I would never join a club that would have me as a member" - Groucho Marx. I know everyone thinks it was Woody Allen, but he was quoting Groucho, and gave him credit. I always identified with that, and thusly, have never joined a club. With one exception. In High School, we had a club called the TUNA CLUB whose only  criteria was that you didn't have to do anything, or ever see anyone in that club ever again. We had shirts made, and posed for a yearbook picture, but that was the only time we were ever together. 

So I joined the Electric Auto Assoc, their local chapter. I had read that the bi-monthly newsletters had a lot of good, up to date info (they don't put it online, unfortunately) and I could go to meetings and meet some folks who have done this. I went to my first meeting yesterday. 

Suffice to say, I had a couple pages of questions ready for whoever would listen. It took place at a new business called Green Motors in Berkeley. Nice place, they took over an old toyota dealership or something. Anyhow, I wandered in, there were plenty of coffee and donuts. All sorts of crazy electric bikes, cars, minivans (not what you imagine, truly minivans, about as big as a honda civic) were parked around there. We got started with introductions. "What the hell am I gonna say? "

We had to go around the room and introduce each other and explain your projects, vehicles, etc. I'm totally out of my league to speak about anything. I have a 62 bug. I'm trying to make it electric. That's all I got. I'll get laughed out of the room, or shunned, or worse; ridiculed after I leave. There's a guy there with a button that says "Ask me about my electric car" I won't even look at him when I speak. He has glasses, and most of the people in this room have glasses. And beards. I can't look at anyone with glasses and/or beards as they are sure to be smarter, more experienced and scientific than I will ever be.

They started the introductions. The first guy didn't even have a car. Neither did the second. Third guy had that really small electric van. 4th, 5th and 6th car, though one had an electric bike once, that someone offered him a lot of dough for. Then me. "I have a 62 bug, and I'm  trying to convert it. This is my first meeting, and I'm just trying to collect some info for the design." Done. Okay, good, no one laughed. we move on.

One guy is just there cuz he has a donor car. One guy lost his car in an accident. Sounded pretty upset about it, but no more car. 2 people just bought new electric cars from this delearship. I am astounded at how many people are here that don't actually have a car, bike or motorcycle. They're just getting info too. 

Okay, we watch a demo on this system you can add to your Prius (none of us have one, except for the guys doing the demo) that turns it into a plug in that allows you to drive all electric and changes your mileage to around 100-150mpg. Pretty interesting stuff for those that have an 04 Prius or newer. For the rest of us, seems a bit too pricey. But I applaud their efforts. The whole product interfaces with the Prius computer, so it was a lot of work.

Anyhow, the best part of the meeting was that 1) I was not shunned, and 2) I got to talk to the guy who brought his 68 ghia. He did his conversion in 86! It's still rockin, and is super clean. I got all sorts of good info from him like 1) use a system that uses the clutch (message loud and clear) and 2) use lead acid flooded batteries. I even saw how I could make some battery box hold-downs from hardward store aluminium and my vice, instead of welding. 

Anyhow, lots of good info there, and I'm glad I joined the club. The next meeting next month is a big electric car show, with all sorts of folks bringing their vehicles. I'll see if I can bring the kids and missus. I'm catching a lot of guff from the Missus about joining a club. I guess since I was in bands before, that's sort of like being in a club, isn't it? 

A visit to Electric Motorsports

Okay, as I said, I need some experts. 

I poked around online a bit, trying to find folks to email to get some info. Would they even respond? This would be the easiest, right? Just sit around and see who responds to my totally out of the blue email, asking for all sorts of help.

These people have nothing better to do, right? They just sit around their computer, waiting for the IN BOX to chime as they sit around calculating their EV systems. Right?

One guy wrote back to say I could speak to him if I called him between 8 and 8:15am. I didn't quite get to that. Can't you just email me back to read at my leisure? Call? At that time? This is simply too much work.

Another guy, who I targeted cuz he said he was also a musician, did write back to me. He kept writing back. This is progress. But he couldn't quite get what I was doing. 
ME: "I'm converting a 62 bug for errands/groceries - no range, no speed. Any suggestions?"
HIM: "Try another car. Maybe a VW bus. That would get the kids in it plus groceries"
another email
ME:"The bug is what I have. Don't have a bus. I have a bug. Any suggestions on motors, or vendors or speaking to anyone who designs these things?"
HIM: "Go get an electric scooter. That would be perfect."
another email
ME:" I don't have a scooter, just this bug I want to convert. 72 volts is what I'm thinking. ANy motor you would recommend to use with that?"
HIM: "Oh! You should totally get a scooter. Check out Electric Motorsports on Mandela Parkway, you could ride home on it!"

okay, I gave up on writing back, except to say thanks. But checked out Electric Motorsports. Cool, they have some of this stuff, I'll call them up.

Talked to a guy there, who seemed to understand what I wanted. But then instead of just saying, this engine/controller combo is perfect, we'd talk about one for about 5 minutes, and I'm thinking, 'cool, this sounds good, search over', he'd say, "but you'd get more torque and horsepower with this motor". 

Okay, cross that last one off...try this one. Oh wait, he changed again. Now the amphours have changed. F... What's he saying now? How many batteries? Is he talking about motorcycles now? No he's talking about mini-coopers now. No, I have a bug. A 62 bug. Nevermind, I'll just stop by and talk to you.

"Designing my EV system"

Okay, I've purchased a couple of books on this conversion process. The big one is Convert it! by Michael Brown. I was a bit hesitant, cuz from what I could tell, it was not much more than the sort of thing you'd pick up from the copy store that your college professor told you to get for class. I went to school in the late 80's so college professors probably don't even use paper anymore. But this is what this book reminded me of (a color copies, self cover, kinko's bindery job), but so many people recommended it, I got it. At Amazon, if you can believe it.

Also got this other one that was recommended. I'd go get it now to get the title right, but I hurt my back picking up a sink today, so I don't feel like getting up again. Something about building an electric car. It feels like a real book. Has a lot of charts and graphs that force my eyes to glaze over and think about going to see the new batman movie. But has some good info too.

What's the strangest thing about these books? "Convert it" was released in the 70's i think, and the other one in the early 90's! These people have been doing this since the 70's?!!! WWTF!?? Really? 

But the technology must have changed drastically since then. Right? 

Not so much.

There's a lot more in the way of motor choices, controller choices and places to buy this stuff now than there was then, but the design is pretty much the same. Okay, some confidence building there, and something I can mention to the missus, since she's quite skeptical about this whole plan. 

I don't want to paint a hackneyed portrait of the missus, she's always supportive, but her main concerns seem to be: 1) what the hell am I gonna do with the kids while yer under the car 2) ultimately, is this gonna be safe? Legit questions. I'm planning on setting up playdates and ordering safety belts. But before any electrical stuff goes in, I'll make sure the brakes are serviced, pad replaced, lines replaced etc and I'll work on the suspension a bit, beefing up the shocks etc.

So, at the most basic level, here's my design plan based on my driving habits.
All the driving will be within a 4 mile radius, back and forth, dropping off kids, picking them up, getting groceries, hardware store, post office, that sort of thing. In our little town we have a speed limit of 25mph, which is pretty strictly enforced, so neither my speed or range is very challenging. It's also completely flat, as we're right next to the bay. Pretty ideal driving conditions. Plus our office is 2 blocks from the house, no big commute for us.

I don't need much. We have a Suburu that we can take outside of town for anything requiring range/speed/highways etc, but 80% of our driving is this stop/go in town crap. 

Based on that, I decided I needed room for the kids (so the rest of the passenger area won't be filled with batteries, unlike some vehicles,) I didn't need much range (settling for 12vlt batteries, 6 of them for 72 volts. You see, if you have 12 6 vlt batteries, you'll get a lot more range, but you lose that space in the car etc...then have added problems cuz of the weight you added, and what that does to the car etc - I read about some guy who put about 8 or 9 batteris under the VW hood and seemed surprised when he busted the point where his axle sort of attached to the chassis. A bit heavy, maybe?)

Okay, so only 4 batteries behind the back seat, in a well carpentried heavy duty battery box (remember, I can cut and join wood purty good!), 2 batteries under the hood in a 72 volt system. That should get me up to 45-50, conservatively if I need it, and about 20 miles range. It should have the same power (accordingly to Michael Brown's Convert it!) as the original 1200 engine that was in this bug when it began life in Germany. 

[Sidenote, for the gearhead: The engine I dropped turned out to be a 1600 cc long block rebuild my dad had done (or had done) back in 94. The original engine had been rebuilt in 81, and then he decided he wanted more power, so in 94 got the long block. maybe that's why it was harded to get out with the exhaust?]

Okay, putting a motor in the back, with some sort of adaptor plate and motor coupler to attach to my clean tranny. There are a lot of choices on this but I've decided (more on this in the next entries) that 1) I need a system that uses the clutch and 2) these adaptor plates/couplers are on a long delay from whoever you buy them from. One company, actually M. (Convert It) Brown's out fit, Electro Automotive, quoted about 10 weeks to get that part done. I don't have that kind of time. 

Needless to say, I haven't decided on the motor or controller yet, just the voltage, the fact that I'll use lead acid flooded batteries (more on this choice reasoning later) and maybe that's it.

I'd better talk to some experts...I joined a club (something I've NEVER done before in my life.)

Dropped the engine, uh, now what?

Yup, I knew all about getting that engine outta there, but now what? What don't I need anymore? Gas tank? Yes! Starter? Yes! Okay, let's do that.
15 minutes later: Well, that was comparatively easy. I'm used to the engine drop. What the hell?

Okay, there's a bunch of crap stuck underneath the transmission. I reckon that could be 40 years of crud under there, okay, let's chisel it off.

I read somewhere on a VW forum that spraying oven cleaner (yes! oven cleaner) on parts of yer greased up car would work pretty well in getting the grease off. The post even mentioned "oven cleaner from the .99 cents store" working perfectly. I've got a .99 cents store, right around the corner! Okay, this I can do.

Got some oven gloves, got some metallic sponges, got some .99 cent oven cleaner. Sprayed it all over the underside of the tranny. (snicker)

Waited a while.




Did I spray enough on there?






Well, that's disappointing. It made the curd kind of 'moist', but not really the grease cutting action I was looking for. 

I had some Simple Green formula for auto cleaning (purchased for another application...probably to clean my BBQ last year,) so I broke that out. Now we're getting somewhere. So i had a small square dowel I used to scrape this crud away. I spent most of my day doing this. I think it'll pay off in the end, as I'll have to keep getting my hands on this tranny (double snicker), and spend time under the car. I don't want this crud continually falling in my eyes. The crud in the picture, is some of what I chiseled off.

A feeling of tepid self-satisfaction sets in at the end of the day. But that's mostly cuz I fixed our ancient wall hung, high pull chain toilet on this same day. I should dedicate a blog to that.

dropping the VW engine

I'm naming this, dropping the VW engine, cuz that was the search phrase I used to find some info about pulling this engine out. I learned, that most people refer to it as "dropping the engine" on a VW, cuz that's actually what happens. You lift the bug, you undo a few nuts and bolts, pull a little and the engine drops outta the back. You wanna be a little careful not to bend the drive shaft that comes out of the transmission, cuz you need that later. And it would be quite difficult to replace that later. 

Oh wait, I should say this: I'm not much of a mechanic. I have a good deal of carpentry experience, as I rebuilt my kitchen (after tearing it all out) from scratch once. So I can do stuff. But most of what I do is write songs, record, run a business that (when I'm going good) uses some of that creative energy. So a gearhead, I am not. My mechanical skills (using that term sarcastically) come from keeping an 82 dodge 15 passenger van on the road while I was on tour with a band. And I really felt like that was a crappy experience. But I'm turning on a new attitude about cars. I never did much 'maintenance' on that old van. never took in interest in things like 'changing the oil', 'inflating the tires', crap like that. But no more! Before I get the electrical stuff in there, this bug is gonna be "cherry"! I dunno what that means, but heard someone use it in a context that seemed to indicate that this was not only good, but also meant tht the car was in a very clean condition.

Back to the grease: So I dropped the engine. I didn't plan it as well as I wanted to. Without getting into too many details, suffice to say that with the car up on jack stands and jacked up a little further with the floor jack, I quickly (or slowly) realized that in order to finish this process without braking that drive shaft I mentioned earlier, I was gonna need another floor jack. Crap, another floor jack. That's about $40 i don't wanna spend. Or break the drive shaft? $40 more? Break the drive shaft? Okay, okay, I'll drive up the street and get another one.

Whew, that did it. The floor jack went up and held the car a bit higher (pushing up under the tranny bell), while the engine was sitting on the first floor jack (are you getting what mistake I made now?) I pulled on it a bit to get it off of the bolts and drive shaft. 

[Insert brief scene where I ran next door to get my neightbor to help me pull the engine away from the tranny and help me drop it. We did that, only to realize that it wasn't gonna move without taking off  the exhaust system. Okay, many of you will say, DUH, I figured you already did that. Well, I'm a songwriter, following instructions I got off of google searches...what did you expect? So I pulled off the exhaust while my neighbor went home for a while. Now back to the scene, taking place after I had removed the exhaust system.]

Okay, by myself now (neighbor had to leave to deal with screaming children), and wrestled the engine away from the bolts and drive shaft enough to get all of the weight on the floor jack and start slowly 'dropping it down.' Success! Yes! I felt like a wrestler after beating Hulk Hogan or something, cuz those aren't such real fights, and I knew I was gonna win eventually. All those directions from the google searches couldn't be wrong, could they?

Anyhow, here's a pic of the tranny without the engine. I did feel a great sense of accomplishment. 

About the car

This is an interesting story from the get-go about this car. It's a 62 bug. Purchased in Germany, in 62 by  my parents. They were over there, having a good time, and decided to pick up a bug. They drove it all over Europe, and got to import it back to N. America as a used car, since they put some mileage on it (smart.) It was on a boat to NYC, and they picked it up on the East Coast after the trip, and proceeded to drive it across the USA to California (stopping in Vermont, Indiana, Missouri and many other places on the way.) 

It's been in Southern California until July 7 or so, when it got towed up to NoCal, where I have it now. It's the car I learned how to drive a manual stick with. I drove it to San Diego once, from Long Beach, when I was maybe 17, because I was bored and had never driven the San Diego Freeway all the way to San Diego. 

My dad used it primarily as his daily driver to work, and it did a great job doing that. It also doubled as a truck, as he could pop the ragtop, and bring home long 2x4's, pipe, pvc, etc with that car. The back seat went down, and he had a fair amount of room in back. 

He had painted some eyes inside of the  zeros on the license plate, but got pulled over one day and was told to get rid of the eyes and make it blue (it's an old blue/yellow plate.) It would have had a black/yellow Cali plate, if not for the personalized plate.

What I remember most about this car was driving to baseball practice. Somehow, the smell of the brickdust, fresh grass, my mitt/bat (I would poke the handle of the bat thru the hole in the back of my mitt, between the back strap and the fingers, in that open area, then slide the mitt up to the fat part of my bat, where it would stay), and the inside of that old car mix together and always remind me of baseball practice. To a smaller extent, baseball games, but I think we took that car to more practices than games. I don't know why I remember it that way. 

The car had been taken care off pretty well. Dad kept a little notebook diary of all repairs from  the day he got it. It's fun to see entries like, "May 64, new battery $12." The entries stopped in '97, about the time dad retired. 

The bug didn't get regular driving after that. Especially after the carbuerator caught fire in 98. He fixed it, but didn't drive so regularly after that. 

The folks (after almost eBaying the ol' bug on many occasion), decided they would sell it to a local who liked to refurbish old cars. When I heard that, (after assuming that if they ever wanted to get rid of the old bug, that they'd give me first shot), I mentioned that I wanted to do  a conversion to make the old bug a electric vehicle. I knew that a lot of people were doing this, and it sounded like an awesome idea.

I've only read this, so I dunno if it's all that true. You read a lot of things. Like ridiculous EV conversion blogs. But I read that half of the pollution put into the atmosphere by any car, is from the actual manufacturing of that car. The rest of the pollution is from the exhaust, grease/oil emission stuff. Probably creation of new parts. I dunno. But I figured if I can keep this thing on the road, 1) I'm helping with this 'pollution thing" (been driving a biodiesel Mercedes for a couple years, so 'I care'), 2) keeping an old friend in the family, 3) finding a new interest that'll cause all sorts of inconveniences in my life. Rock on!

My 62 Bug Electric Conversion

Okay, I started on this a few weeks ago. There are plenty of folks with a blog going about their conversions, so I wasn't going to do one. I changed my mind.
1) There are some interesting stories coming out of this process that may appeal to non-gearheads/EV geeks.
2) It may be a good idea to log all of this stuff, just for the record. I looked for other blogs of folks doing a similar project, and if this can help anyone out with their EV conversion, this will be worth doing.
3) What the hell am I thinking? I barely have time to do this f-ing project, let alone blog about it? No, no...I'll blog on it. Maybe someone out there reading this will have some ideas to help.
So since I started this a couple of weeks ago, I'll enter a few entries here as if I did them that day. You'll know, from reading this introduction, that even though the dates are about the same, I started this stuff back on July 13, 2008, a few days after my dad's bug was delivered. When you see new entries, you'll know that we're back in real 
time. So here goes...and here'
s a picture of the bug with my notebook on top f the car, as I was taking measurements before the conversion. Then a pic of the engine that was soon gonna git removed. (Sorry engine). Then there's the kids in the car.