Bus, meet Beamer (An Electric Story)

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ENKssen

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Hi EarlyBay,

After owning my bus for a year now I thought it was about time I got a thread going over her progress. Late 2020 I bought a crossover bay looking a little worse for wear with the idea of converting it to electric. I know you have all probably seen electric conversions done before but me being me, this wasn't ever going to be to your standard ev conversion and so hopefully some of you will find this at least somewhat interesting.

The grand plan is to 'transplant' the running gear from a 2019 BMW i3 into the camper, resulting in a mid-'engined' 170bhp bus which should have a driving range of around 140 miles. The batteries will be placed under the bus (between the chassis rails under the floor) and in the engine bay, whilst the motor will sit in place of the gearbox just in front of the rear wheel line.

*Disclaimer* As of December 2021 the bus is nowhere near complete and so I will be going over what I got done this last year (mainly body work and paint) but I have started to get into the conversion side of things in the past few weeks. You will have to bear with me as this project is a slow burner , but this year I should have some more time to spend on getting her finished (famous last words and all that).

So here she was when I bought her back in 2020, the previous owner had decided to paint it on his drive in what he called 'Audi Nardo Grey' except for some reason had given up half way through, leaving a patchy and waxy finish which was obviously gonna have to go.

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After getting her inside and starting to strip her down, I managed to sell the engine and gearbox and few other pieces over the winter and then went about tackling that paint job before getting into the resto any further.

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I am gathering together some photos of the work done so far and so I will be slowly adding them to thread. Obviously I am looking back at work that has already been done for now, but I imagine that I will soon catch back up with myself and then progress will seem a little slower!

Thanks,

Nick
 

ENKssen

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After spending last christmas removing the old paint, 5 litres of paint stripper later the bus looked like this.

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I knew at this point there was going to be much more restoration work needed that I had originally anticipated. The rear corners were full of fiberglass filler, the front panel was beginning show signs of cracking and managed to poke a few holes through here and there. Not a great start.

After how long it took to strip back the outside I decided that I would get the underside soda blasted. It had been covered with a thick undersealing paint and although the underside looked pretty solid I knew it would need some welding doing and so blasting was really the only option. Here is the underside prior to blasting.

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ENKssen

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Soda blasting complete and the bus wasn't looking too bad! Obviously there was a bit of welding to do, but thankfully the floors, crossmembers and beam were all good.

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I managed to get some time on a lift and so finally I could get on with some repairs!
 

ENKssen

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So with the repairs the plan was to start at the front and work backwards. With the cab floor being nice and solid (had obviously been replaced at some point) the first job was to tackle the front tubs which were in a bit of a state. After having managed to stick my fingers through the metal whilst stripping the outside, after soda blasting it was clear both sides would need to be replaced.

Whilst doing this, I decided that I would take the opportunity to remove the bulkheads too. I've always been a fan of swivel seats and the plan was always to ditch the original front seats for something taller.

Passenger side tub cut out.

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Bulkhead gone.

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New panel spot welded in.

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And finally both sides completed.

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ENKssen

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Next job was tackling the sliding door. Thankfully the cab doors were in good shape, however that wasn't the case for the slider. The sliding door had obviously under gone some previous repair, with bottom third of the door having been cut off and replaced with a new section, seemingly from a left hand drive bus. That meant that when it came to fitting the lower guide roller, the captive nuts were not there and so the previous owner had simple cut a large hole in the inside door skin, allowing him to fit regular nuts.

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So I had to fabricate a new patch to cover this hole and weld in some captive nuts behind.

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Finished result. Here you can just about see where the door has been cut and welded up. I managed to clean up around the edges where the door card will not cover the join so I think it wont look too bad all said and done.

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mike202

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Looking forward to seeing your progress [emoji3]there’s an Earlybay crossover on Instagram ‘Electric vwt2’
you may be aware of.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
 

ENKssen

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I hadn’t actually seen that bus Mike, but I have seen others by the company that did the conversion. Unfortunately the price they are asking for conversions was enough to convince me to taking it on myself. I think that I can complete the conversion (including buying and restoring the bus) for the same cost as getting a company like them to do just the conversion.
 

ENKssen

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Haha yes, I think to get a bus to the level I wanted it would be around £50k not including the bus itself!
 

ENKssen

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Next I was left with what to do with the rear corners. Having seen just how much filler was in them, and the fact they were not the originals anyway, I decided it was best to cut them out and put new panels in. After removing the passenger side corner, it was clear the end of the chassis rail would also need some attention.

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Repairs made to the chassis rail. I also decided to change the battery tray whilst I had the chance.

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New panel welded on.

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However when I got onto the other side things were even worse. The chassis rail had pretty bad corrosion which required some metal to be removed.

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All patched up and looking much better.

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Whilst doing the work on the drivers side, it was clear that all was not well with the rear wheel arch and after a bit of digging ended up with this, oops!

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The panel had a massive split in it which had simply been covered over with filler. Its not easy to tell from the photo but the filler was about 10mm deep!

Corner back on and repair panel made up to rectify the wheel arch.

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Coda

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Nice project.

One question, is the motor from an i3 range extender (with petrol generator)? Otherwise I guess you are going to fit more batteries than are standard in the i3 as the standard pack would probably not give you 140 miles in a bus, as they are about as aerodynamic as a shed.

Subscribed, looking forward to seeing more progress.
 

ENKssen

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No range extender, the bus will be electric only. On a good day I could get 200 miles out of the BMW so with the extra weight and poor aero I anticipate to lose about a third of the range. It is an estimate at this point but due to space available in the bus I have the option of putting more batteries in (up to 50% more than the BMW) which should put range up to 180 - 200 miles.
 

ENKssen

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The plan was to split the battery pack into two with half of the batteries placed underneath the floor and half in what was the engine bay, I knocked this up on the computer to give me an idea of how the packaging would work.

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However I found out that due to the size of the batteries, it would be a bit too tight in the rear to put the batteries in the engine bay without some modifications. As a result I had to remove the old metal work which shrouds the engine and modify the inside rear valance to maximise the space available in the back.

Engine bay before modifications.

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and after.

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The idea is that the battery pack will fit between the chassis rails and sit flush to the opening of the engine bay. This will allow me to use the space above the batteries (where the engine once was) as a sort of boot. Hopefully I will end up boxing it all out and having a completely water tight boot which should be a decent size too at around 250 litres.

Modifications to the inside rear valance. Put some gussets in to improve the strength of the rear valance in the chance of a rear impact.

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ENKssen

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This is the donor BMW that will be giving it's internals to the bus. It's a 2019 model with around 30k on the clock, with the largest battery BMW offered this car did around 180 - 200 miles per charge in the summer months so I am not expecting great range in the bus but in all honestly I am not one for long driving trips anyway.

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As you can see, I bought the car from Synetics in Doncaster, it was a category S write off and had damage to the passenger side rear corner which unfortunately I never got a decent picture of. I ended up spending around £300 on some new suspension arms and a rear tyre and got the car back on the road, sailing through the MOT (albeit with some taped up panels) and not having any warning lights on the dash. I have to say these cars are brilliant, really nice to drive and quite 'nippy' if not properly fast. I think they can do 0-60 in around seven and half seconds but soon top out at about 90 on the motorway due to the low gearing. That wont be a problem for the bus though, as I doubt I will be comfortable sat at 90 in a bus, not with the stock suspension and steering at least. According to my fag packet sums the bus should be able to hit 60 in less than 12 seconds, not bad for a 50 year old girl!

After running the car over the early summer months, I decided to start stripping it for parts. Its surprising how much parts for these fetch online (thank BMW's ridiculous part prices for that) and so I should recover a decent amount of money by selling of the parts I wont be needing. To date I recon I have recovered half the money I paid for the car and I still have a shed full of parts to shift. I mean I sold the headlights for £500 each!

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ENKssen

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Having removed the bulkheads in anticipation of having swivel front seats I had been doing some research on what seats to get for the bus. I am not a fan of the originals with their low backs and non-existent neck support so was looking for better options. Having browsed through here and other sites a popular option was a pair of tombstone seats from a Porsche 944. However I actually owned a 944 not all that long ago (actually sold it to fund the bus) and I find them a bit too 'hugging' if you catch my drift. They are fine for a sports car but I don't think they suit a bus really. With the other options being all of a similar ilk (apart from some big old saab seats) I had an epiphany, why not use the seats out of the BMW? They are tall, not heavily bolstered (maybe too little support though) and have very low bases.

This is the BMW seat set at its highest setting, too high in my opinion (5' 11'' man) but when set to the lowest setting more than comfortable. Note it is sat on a swivel base so sits about and inch higher than the driver's seat which won't swivel.

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My only problem is that these seats just look a bit naff. My BMW was a base spec model and so came with the dull as dishwater grey cloth interior and the gaudy electric blue inserts aren't really the look I am wanting to go for. So I think I will be getting them recovered, a member of the i3 Facebook group did this to his and I have to admit I am seriously digging this look, and with the exterior colour I have chose to go with could just work (in my head at least).

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I know that for the original seats you can just buy seat covers and do it yourself, but does anyone have any idea on the cost of reupholstering a pair seats like this?
 

ENKssen

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Having seen a number of electric conversions done on buses, one thing that always surprised me was that no one was utilising the fuel filler as the location for the charge port. I guess because most I have seen are late bays where they have the different style of petrol cap. Mine being a crossover, measuring meant that with a bit of modification, the filler area could house a CCS port allowing not only for home slow charging (ac) but also public fast charging (dc). Should allow the bus to be charged in around 45 minutes, not lightning quick I know, but not ridiculous.

Fuel filler area after modification. I will have to make up some bracketry to hold the charge port securely and then I'll make a cover plate to keep it looking smart.

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ENKssen

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With all the modifications and repairs to the body complete it was time to send her off to paint, but of course I had to decide on a colour first! On the V5 the bus was listed as white but are all buses white on the V5? I imagine that the original camper converter bought all white buses and then just applied a colour around the bottom half themselves, honestly I don't know.

Anyway after much deliberation and looking through the original vw colours I decided that there wasn't much point in going for a traditional look, I mean heck the bus is going to be electric after all, so it might as well look like it!

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Spray out of the chosen colour. Honestly this image doesn't do the colour justice but I wanted something different to stand out but not look stupid in doing so. This colour is an off shelf RAL colour called mother of pearl green and with a white roof and bumpers I think that it will look just right.
 

ENKssen

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As part of the refurb on the bus I decided to go all out and order a complete new pop top from Space Roofs. The old pop top had cracks in the gelcoat and much of the lifting mechanism had broken off and was missing. Without knowing what company did the original conversion I decided it wasn't worth saving the roof and placed an order with Space Roofs. Space Roofs were excellent and the order was placed easily and I think they even delivered earlier than they said they would, but honestly for the prices they charge (new roof came to over £3000 all in) its only what is expected in my opinion. The roof itself is good quality the gel coat finish looks great, but I have to mention the fitting of the headliner was a bit disappointing looked a little slapdash to be honest.

However this was just the beginning of my problems. We decided to offer the roof up to the bus before sending her off for paint and it was a good job we did! It didn't fit. Not even close really. This annoyed me greatly as I had checked and double checked the opening size in the roof with Space Roofs before ordering and I couldn't understand where it had all gone wrong. Alas I had paid 3k for this roof, I was going to have to make it fit.

The problem was that the aperture in my roof was simply too wide. About 4 inches too wide. The only way it was going to fit was to somehow make the aperture smaller, meaning either a complete new roof skin or welding strips either side of my roof to close up the gap. In the end I chose to go for the strips.

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In this photo it doesn't look great I know, but replacing the entire roof skin looked like way too much work for me to take on. Having discussed it with the guy who was going to paint the bus, he assured me that all would look fine once the bus was painted. I sure hoped so.
 

ENKssen

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I knew painting the bus was going to be a big job and it was certainly something I was not going to take on myself. However I did not anticipate the painter taking four months to complete it! In fairness there was a lot of filler to address and I can't fault the work they did but damn was it a frustrating four months of waiting. I was eager to really get stuck into the conversion side of things over the summer months but I lost the entire summer (June - September) with the bus in the paint shop.

Here are a few shots of the bus in paint, they really did a fantastic job considering the mess I had left them with.

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I decided to take the colour all the way up to gutter line rather than the more traditional two tone belt line finish. My plan is to put the deluxe style windows with chrome trim in the seals, but not go for the belt line trim as drilling into the body scares the bejesus out of me. Another thing I did a little differently is to smooth over all the panel joins. Before some points it out, yes I know its going to be pain in the arse if I need to replace any panels in future, and yes they have been properly filled with flexible sealer and no they won't crack after 6 months. At least so I've been told! We will see but I like the look and I think it gives it a more modern vibe which suits what I am doing with the project.
 

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