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Baby steps.  That’s all I’m shooting for.  During naptime, a free hour here and there… baby steps to make progress.

Three weeks ago, I decided to take the baby step of putting the 8V batteries into the car to get them into position and see how it affects the suspension.  So I grabbed a battery to put it in the rack.  Whoops, ok… wait… I’d better hook up the 12V accessory battery before I do this because it’ll be covered up once the 8V batteries are in there.

Ok, so hooking up the 12V accessory battery… and, ok… wait, I need to hook up the 12V charger to the battery  cables first.  I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.  I had been thinking that I could just use the generator cables from the old gas engine, because that’s how the battery used to charge.  I track those cables back and they are hooked to what I now know is a voltage regulator.  What is a voltage regulator and what are these 6 wires attached to it?

So, my quick attempt to move a battery turned into 2 weeks of research and forum posts.  Turns out I don’t need a voltage regulator, so I can safely disconnect it.  I could try to reuse the cables, but they are old and rotted and I’m better off not doing it.

So today, I finally took some steps forward.

I disconnected the voltage regulator:

Voltage regulator, disconnected from generator wiring

Technically, I could have removed the red and black wires on the near side and just joined them together, but unless those voltage regulators are worth money to pull all the way out and sell, it’s fine just like that.

I tied up the other end of the generator wiring, just in case someone someday decides to put a gas engine back in.

Generator wiring, prepped for some unknown future

And, I hooked up the 12V charger and 12V accessory battery permanently.

12V battery permanently installed with charger attached

All 12V system electrics are working… except for the rear right taillight… which will either magically start working once I hook up the rear bonnet and license plate light… or it will be troubleshooting for a later date.

My lower back is hurting today, so I ended up not taking the next step of actually loading in the 8V batteries to the racks… that I set out to do 3 weeks ago, but this will happen soon.  Baby steps.

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I had a crisis of concept this winter when it was too cold to work on the car.  15x 8V batteries is just too dang heavy.  TOO heavy… by far.  Without radically redesigning the chassis of the bug, I could not pull it off.  I would quite literally be dragging ass.

So, I seriously considered getting rid of the 11 8V batteries I have and switching to 10 12V batteries.  But… doing that would mean a serious dump in the purse, wasting all that money that I spent on the batteries… plus, I’d have to build new racks because the 12V batteries are a slightly different size and shape.  It would be like starting over.

Sigh.  Confusion.  What to do.

I got it at about 3am recently.  I’m going to change from being a 120V car to a 96V car.  I should still be able to use the same controller and motor… the 11 batteries that I have, and the racks that are installed.  And, reading about the conversions other people have done… I should still be able to have a 60mph car.  Possibly a little more.  That will get me to work and back without anyone giving me the finger, no problem.

Phew.  I really need to finish this project.  Badly.  What’s next?  Oh yeah… wiring.  This is the easy part.

I haven’t had any major jumps of progress in the past few months, but I have had lots of small progress which should be enough for an update here.

Mounted Components in Boot
I mounted all the medium sized components to the firewall in the engine compartment of the Beetle.

All the electric components mounted in the boot

All the electric components mounted in the boot

The shunt is what I use to run a lower voltage signal to my meters (because 120V would melt them).

The contactor takes a 12VDC signal, and closes the circuit for the high voltage system.  I hook the ignition to this to turn the system on and off.

The throttle box tells the controller how much voltage to give to the motor.

Good stuff.  It seems pretty simple, really.

Installed Gauges and Snaked New Wires
I kinda messed this one up.  I tried to use a hole saw to cut through the dashboard for these meters, and the results were less than spectacular for many seemingly obvious reasons.

Because I mangled the structure behind the dash, I ended up putting in a piece of wood to back these gauges and hold them in place.  Wood in a car.  Seems wrong somehow, but it works.

Installed Volt and Amp meters in the dash

Installed Volt and Amp meters in the dash

Dave came over and we used a fish tape to run 6 new wires from the back to the front of the car.  2 for the Voltmeter, 2 for the Ammeter, and 2 for the ignition.  This was surprisingly undramatic considering I actually had a fish tape and knew how to use it from my job as a CCTV project manager.

Contactor Hooked to Ignition
From my testing of the 12V system and testing around with a multimeter, I knew that several of the inputs on the fuse box were activated by the key switch.

After some testing around, I figured out that I needed to hook the hot ignition wire we ran to fuse 7, and the ground needed to go to the car frame.  I hooked the other end to the contator inputs.

So I test the continuity on the big heavy connectors on the contactor… no continuity.  Turn the key in the car, hear a huge CLICK, and then… boom, we’ve got continuity.  It works!  I will be able to turn the car off and on.  How nice.

Now, I’ve been reading on message boards about pre-charging and diodes and whatnot so I don’t blow up the controller when this connection is made, but my kit didn’t come with one.  Hmm… maybe it’s optional.

Crimping Tool
So the next step is actually wiring up the high voltage stuff.  Yikes!  I got a tool from eBay for about $20 that will allow me to crimp ends on the huge high-voltage battery cables.

Hammer Crimper for 2/0 gauge wires

Hammer Crimper for 2/0 gauge wires

I’m going to Ace today to pick up some heat-shrink tube to cover the crimped ends, and some heavy rubber gloves so I don’t… you know… die.

I just have to remember that this is a very simple cheap car from 1968, and I need to stop overcomplicating everything.

It was April when I last said “Well, it should be pretty smooth sailing from here!”  … and then I got all baffled by the throttle and the 12V electrical system and mounting stuff.  What a waste of time.

Throttle sorted out

Instead of mounting the throttle in weird places and trying to figure out how to get it to retract better, I followed Skippy’s advice and put a spring on it to pull it back up.  Problem solved.  It will eventually be two springs, but it’s a really elegantly simple solution.

And… instead of trying to mess with turnbuckles and loops in the cable… I just bought a little piece specifically designed for throttle cables at Ace Hardware that has a screw lock… so you pull it tight and screw in the screw and you’re done.

And… instead of trying to weld or epoxy this little throttle piece to the box, I just used the screw to hold it in place.  Why did that take so long to figure out?

The throttle box with spring

Fully extended throttle with spring

12V Electrics working

I was concerned because I couldn’t get all the lights and accessories working with the 12V battery and was worried that it was all ratfucked.

But I switched out some fuses and half of it started working.  And the sad thing is that it took me over an hour to locate the fuses… because I’m overthinking it!  I was trying to pry something out from under the hood so I could access the fuses underneath it before I realized that the other side of what I was working on was under the dashboard and totally accessible there.

Then… I put the keys in the ignition and turned it on to get the other half of the “broken” electrics working.  DOH!  That should have been obvious.

So, it should be pretty smooth sailing from here

Seriously… I just need to mount the stuff and wire it together.  No more baffling confusion.  And if something does come up, I’m not going to overthink it.  Nothing about this is complicated unless you make it that way.  I must think with German efficiency and logic.

Throttle Fail

So I worked this weekend on running the existing throttle cable to the throttle box for the electric motor.  It has to make a turn from horizontal down the length of the car to vertical where the throttle box is mounted in the picture I have in the single-page “Build your electric car” manual.

So I figured the best way to do this is to put in a piece of sweep-90 pipe (90 degree turn in a quarter-circle) that would steer the cable up to the right place.

Then I looped off the cable using a wire clamp, and hooked it to a tiny turnbuckle so I could adjust it’s tension to the throttle box.

What a clusterfuck

What a clusterfuck

So here’s the problem.  I test fitted the throttle box, and what I found was that when I push the accellorator down, it pulls the throttle box lever down.  Yay!

However, when I take my foot off the gas pedal though… the spring loaded lever is not strong enough to pull the cable back up through all that friction in the sweep-90.

In practice, this is bad because the car never stops accelerating and the car drives into things younger and stronger than a 1968 Beetle, hurting the driver severely and requiring expensive replacement parts.

So… I gotta figure out a new way to do this.

To be honest, I’d really like the next step of this project to be the really obvious easy step.

Steps to complete:

  • Fix throttle problem
  • Mount other new electric parts
  • Get normal electrical system working
  • Upgrade suspension
  • Install batteries and wire up the stuff.
  • Drive to work, solve world energy problems, spit on Dick Cheney, make love to a rainbow

So I finally feel like I’ve really rounded the corner.  The winter is over, the weather is nice, the “I don’t know how to weld” confusion is passed… it really seems like at this point all I have to do is wire up the stuff, and it’ll roll.  I can do this!  Probably.

Rack Installation

I found Hastings Welders on craigslist in a posting for “mobile welders”, and I’m glad I did.  They came over and looked at the plans, and took the time to understand what I was doing… they made the parts, brought them over on a Saturday, and welded them into place in the car.

I set a budget of $300 for this process… and they came in under that, so I’m really happy about the whole deal.

The battery racks installed in the VW

The battery racks installed in the VW

This was the part I really had no idea how to do, and I’m really happy with the results.

So, with this completed, I jumped forward into the next steps!

Installing electrical components

I decided that the next step was mounting the controller, throttle box, contactor, slow-blow fuse, and umm… anything else… in the back like it shows in the picture on the kit.

I tried the self-tapping screws, but I think I might be dumb, because I couldn’t get them to work.  Bolts!  Bolts are good.  So I bought some bolts in the wrong size, then bought them in the right size, then I finally got the damn thing mounted.  Three trips to Home Depot to get 6 bolts.  Sigh.

The controller installed in the boot

The controller installed in the boot

So, the throttle box will go to the left of this, and the throttle cable will pull down the little spring, then the throttle box will tell the controller how much voltage to send to the motor.  Yes, I’m explaining this like I’m telling it to a 4 year old, because I’m just figuring it out myself.

I really ought to join a local electric car club, because I bet I could ask some really dumb questions to some people who know more than me, and then I’d become moderately less clueless about this all.

It’s all coming together now!!!

Major challenges ahead:

  • Not electrocuting myself or blowing anything up
  • Figuring out how to read wiring diagrams for all the electrical components
  • Getting all the lights and wipers and stuff working
  • Upgrading the rear suspension to accommodate an extra 500 lbs or so

I really have to kick this into gear if I want to have this running this summer (or faster).  I still have to:

  • Get the batteries in and mounted
  • Mount the other drive-related electrical equipment
  • Get the charging system including possible a new 120VAC circuit in the garage
  • Get the accessory electrical system working
  • Upgrade the rear suspension
  • Tune up stuff… check brakes, CV joints, tires, guages
  • Get the car registered and inspected

Whoof.  When I look at it like that, I really need to start knocking off an item a weekend.

Battery Rack Implementation Plan

Last week I searched Denver’s Craigslist for mobile welders… someone who could build racks for the batteries and install them in the Beetle.  I included some pictures I found on the web of other people’s battery racks as examples.  I got two responses and called back the one that sounded the most interested.

Before they came to visit to take a look this past weekend, I decided to draw up some detailed plans… well, as detailed as I could make them with my limited experience.  So I spent a lot of time in the garage with tape measure, level, square, and improvised materials trying to make sure my plan would work.

The amateur pencil plans

The amateur pencil plans

I decided that this was the layout that worked the best.  I could fit in all 15 huge 8V batteries, and it could be two separate racks that would both fit in the door (which is important, I realized late into the process).

So when the welder showed up, the plans made sense… sort of… but they don’t give much context as to how they are fitting into the car, so I took a picture and ‘shopped it up to show them how this should all work in the car.

Battery Rack Layout

Man, am I good at Photoshop

So I have high confidence that we are going to have this ready to install late this week or next weekend.

Heavy Weight

One thing that the welder pointed out though is that even with 1×1″ angle iron, and a minimal design… just the rack metal is going to be heavy.  I am starting to really worry about the weight of this whole deal.  I have yet to find another EV project online that is using 15x 8V batteries instead of 10x 12V batteries… so I’m already carrying an extra 325 lbs or so.  That’s not good in an 1800 lb car.

So, I sent an email to Wilderness EV (Evolks) asking if I can run my 120V system at less than 120V if I need to… and I don’t think it will be a problem.  But I may need to run at 72 or 96V just to get the thing to a shop to upgrade the suspension before it will support that extra weight… or maybe I’ll find that I can’t upgrade it that much.

And will the extra voltage from 96 to 120V make any difference if I’m adding the extra weight of 3 more batteries?  I’d like to test the performance at both.  Power-to-weight and all that stuff.

Accessory Battery

The other thing I did this weekend was buy the 12V accessory battery it installs under the old rear seat, so I wanted to make sure that it would fit into place under the battery racks and that I could get it wired up.  I got the correct 12V battery at Checker, and installed it in place without much drama.

Then I went to test the electrical system.  Booya!  The headlights turned on.  I had both headlights, and one of the two orange trim lights on the front.  Also, the interior light on the dashboard worked.

Unfortunately, I could not get the wipers, windshield sprayer, horn, turn signals, or brake lights to work.  Rats.

I’m pretty sure the brake lights are disconnected from when I took out the motor, but I’m not sure about the rest of it.  I’ll have to troubleshoot it one step at a time I guess.  At least that will give me something to do on weekends when I have a half hour to work.