Darren Bettens hated the idea of driving a petrol car that was polluting the environment every day, but he didn’t want to own a Toyota Prius either, so he decided to build his own electric car. “I actually started with a VK Commodore wagon and it took two years to acquire all the parts needed to make it run on electricity,” explained Darren. “The body wasn’t great to start off with, and after it sat outside in the Goolwa Beach weather for a couple of years, the shell needed a lot of work to be roadworthy.”
That’s where the WB ute came in. “I’d always wanted a ute, so after I’d decided the wagon wasn’t going to work, I bought this car with the intention of putting the electric driveline from the VK into it,” said Darren.
“Basically I ripped out the engine, cooling system, petrol fuel system and just left the suspension and rear differential. The electric motor was mounted under the bonnet [how you’d expect an inline petrol engine to sit],” said Darren. Here’s where it gets tricky; the electric motor then drives a VH Commodore five-speed manual gearbox. To shift gears you simply take your foot off the accelerator which within milliseconds stalls the electric motor, while a custom made coupling between the gearbox and motor allows the rear wheels and standard WB differential to continue spinning as the driver pulls the next gear. There’s no clutch!
“I did it this way with the gearbox because I wanted it to drive like a normal car and be sure I would have enough power, but it was definitely the hardest part,” said Darren. “I’m an electrician so the whole electric setup was quite easy, but I had very little experience with mechanics and originally the five-speed ‘box didn’t fit the WB, so that took some time to figure out. All up it took two months.”
The electric motor that Darren used is a dedicated electric vehicle unit that he imported via American company Advanced DC, while the battery pack is made up of twelve AGM lead acid batteries. “I’ve added 444kg worth of batteries to the tray, but I’ve taken out the old petrol engine so all up it weighs 1800kg, which isn’t much more than factory.” Though the weight distribution is admittedly quite different; Darren reckons it initially sat really low in the rear, so he put lowering springs in the front to make it ride even.
Darren has used the car as his daily driver for the last couple of years and reckons it only costs him about 70 cents per day to charge it up – and even less if you get your electricity through alternate sources. It gets about 60km from a charge and takes a few hours to refuel from a standard household power point. The car is for sale for $9000, though it doesn’t include the battery pack as Darren plans to use it for an off-the-grid project. Otherwise it’s one-hundred percent ready to drive.