Volkswagen e-Bulli Reignites Historic Vandalism Issue

The latest Volkswagen collaboration with a retro-fit electric powertrain conversion once again risks the wrath of historic vehicle buffs.

Its ‘concept’ conversion sees a 1966 T1 Samba Bus fitted out with an up-to-the-minute electric powertrain located exactly where the original 42bhp four-cylinder gasoline boxer ICE had been installed driving the rear axle. This is not the first act of “vandalism” the German automaker has been guilty of having already collaborated in an e-conversion of an original Volkswagen Beetle.

That, too, raised the ire of many historic vehicle aficionados appalled at ripping apart a treasured piece of our automotive history. People including representatives of Europe’s Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens (FIVA) which slammed the customizing trend saying: “Conversion of historic vehicles from their original internal combustion engines to electric power doesn’t comply with the FIVA definition of a historic vehicle, nor does it support the goal of preserving historic vehicles and their related culture. In FIVA’s view, vehicles so converted cease to be historic vehicles, unless they are subject only to ‘in period’ changes.”

Without doubt, a technical achievement, the e-Bulli concept nearly double’s the vehicle’s power output to 80bhp. What’s more, with maximum torque of 156ft-lbs, the new drive provides more than twice the force of the original T1 engine from 1966 with 75ft-lbs.

With its one-speed gearbox the e-Bulli reaches an electronically limited top speed of 80mph while the original would have struggled to 61mph.

The battery’s usable energy capacity is 45 kWh and uses a power electronics system in the back of the vehicle to control the high-voltage energy flow between the electric motor and the battery and in the process converts the stored direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC). In addition, the on-board electronics are supplied with 12 volts via a so-called DC/DC converter.

As in the new ID.3 and future ID.Buzz, the high-voltage battery is housed centrally in the vehicle floor. This layout lowers the e-Bulli’s center of gravity and thus improves its driving characteristics.

The battery is charged via a combined charging system (CCS) socket. This means the high-voltage battery can also be charged at DC fast-charging points with up to 50 kW of charging power. In this case it can be charged up to 80% in 40 minutes. The range with one full battery charge is more than 120 miles.

Of course, the customization goes beyond the engine bay and includes enhanced chassis modifications including multi-link front and rear axles with adjustable shock absorbers and coilover struts, plus a new rack-and-pinion steering system and four internally ventilated disc brakes. Naturally, too, it includes a full digital connectivity suite including a new speedometer is based on the original, with a digital display providing a variety of information, including range, plus LEDs to indicate whether, for instance, the parking brake is on or the charging connector is plugged in.

Via Volkswagen ‘We Connect’ the driver can also call up information online by smartphone app or via a PC and a corresponding web portal such as on remaining charge time, current range, miles traveled, trip times, energy consumption and recuperation. Music on board comes from a retro-style radio equipped with cutting edge technology such as DAB+, Bluetooth and USB. The radio is linked to a sound system with out-of-sight components, including an active subwoofer.

Commercial conversions are being offered by VW’s partner in crime, eClassics which offers the T1 conversion, complete with redesigned front and rear axles, at prices starting from just over $70,000. Let’s just pray that service included a ‘heritage box’ full of all the donor vehicles’ original equipment so that they can be fully reinstated to their standard specification for when the market recognizes that these vehicles are an important part of automotive history.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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