Zelectric Motors is the brainchild of passionate VW fans David Benardo and Bonnie Rodgers. In 2011, they decided to put their east coast creative agency in their rearview mirror and head back home to California. With a lifelong affinity for the VW brand and decades spent working with tech companies, they envisioned a fusion of vintage classics and future-forward electric drivetrains. In late 2012, after teaming up with hot shop EV West, conversion work began on a groundbreaking ride that would eventually become the ZelectricBug prototype.
It was about 8 years ago when the idea first occurred to David. After endless tinkering to keep their beloved 1965 21-window VW Bus on the road, he was ready to convert to 100% electric power. But as he began to research and price out components, he hit a wall. Costs were astronomical and mentors offering expertise on how to do it were nowhere to be found.
Fast forward to 2012. A huge decrease in component costs and a move to San Diego inspired him to give the idea another go. Fired up and ready to breathe life into the concept, he brought their 1963 ragtop VW Bug to award-winning electric race build specialists EV West, and work began on the first Zelectric Bug. Once they put word out about what they were doing on social media, they discovered thousands of fans worldwide. Work continues as additional models are now built to order.
"I didn't build this car to save the planet, I built this car because it's fun to drive"
The Ride: 1963 VW Beetle
Valuing the stock Beetle as it was originally designed by Porsche, nothing is welded or cut. In fact, the conversion back to a stock combustible engine would be relatively simple. But it seems highly unlikely once someone drives electric. Starting with a restored car in optimum shape, the engine is pulled and conversion begins. Batteries (LiFePo4 Lithium) are hidden under the hood and behind the back seat. The maintenance-free AC motor is mounted directly to a rebuilt original transmission, then wiring and components are installed. With 110 ft-lb of torque and horsepower double that of the original, this little electric bug can fly.
Like the Tesla, the Zelectric's instant thrust makes it simple to jet onto the highway: not only keeping up with but easily passing traffic on busy San Diego freeways. But the real fun came when cruising along the hilly coastal roads. The Bug didn't slow while climbing the steepest inclines and sailed away from the beach as the sun descended beneath the Pacific horizon.
After spending a few days with the Zelectric, I really believe there is a future to converting classic cars to electric drivetrains. The promise of zero maintenance needed on the motor (one moving part), around 100 miles per charge and all that instant torque is something enthusiasts can get behind. Eventually the costs will come further down and the miles per charge will increase. I don't know about you, but I'd rather drive a classic electric bug than a Nissan Leaf.
"It's got another 50 years as an electric car"
The Road: San Diego Coastline
San Diego is a beautiful place to live or visit. The sun is constantly shining and the weather is cooler than Los Angeles. But the real joy comes from the stretches of road that run parallel to the ocean. From Encinitas all the way down to Sunset Cliffs, you come across small pockets of coastline roads that are exhilarating to drive. This Southern California adventure includes steep inclines, s-turns and long winding roads with a postcard-perfect backdrop of sun and sea.
The Zelectric Bug made for an exciting drive around San Diego. Some normal vintage squeaks seem louder without the internal combustion engine to mask them, but that didn't matter much as we turned heads along the quaint beach towns and gorgeous coastline. As the sun came down over Cardiff-by-the-Sea, it felt as if the Zelectric Bug was always meant to be part of San Diego. For more information, you can visit their website at zelectricmotors.com.
"There are so many great driving spots up and down the coast of San Diego, You don't even have to stop driving to watch the sunset."