I have a van that I keep in Mexico. Parked at a storage facility, it’s full of surfboards, wetsuits, a few clothes, and the bare essentials. That way, I can get on a plane with nothing but the clothes on my back and have everything I need. It’s a good arrangement that I don’t use enough. It’s an ’81 Dodge Ram with a 318, which is a fantastic motor.
Although it’s basically bulletproof and will probably run until the end of time, there is, however, the occasional problem. For someone that only knows the basics of vehicle repair, a giant old Dodge motor great–as long as I know what’s causing a problem, I can take it out and put a new one with relative ease, whatever it may be. It is, however, an absolute pig on fuel. It drinks it like a thirsty frat boy drinks beer on his first day of spring break. Back in the ’80s, gas was cheap and manufacturers didn’t exactly take fuel economy into the equation. Now, not so much. Brett Belan, the guy in the video above–who is some kind of mad genius–came up with a handy solution: throw a few solar panels on the roof and use the sun’s energy for fuel.
It’s a ’73 VW bus, and it took him nearly two years to complete the conversion. Which, as anyone knows who’s tried to convert pretty much anything, can be a huge pain in the ass. Finding parts that fit something is often next to impossible. That’s the nature of converting something: making something into something it wasn’t originally supposed to be. “One of the challenges in doing a vehicle like this, is that there just isn’t a lot of components available,” Belan says in the video. “So we have to get kind of creative.”
I’ll let Belan explain how he did it, but here are the basics. His van runs off four 300-watt panels that he installed on the roof. The motor–and how he did this conversion is so far beyond me–and the transmission are both electric. It’s even got power-steering. Right now, it’s got 12 lead acid batteries, which are what you’ll find in most vehicles, but he’s got plans to replace them with lithium-ion phosphate batteries, which hold a charge better and last longer. And if the sun’s not shining, Belan’s rigged it so that he can plug into the grid and charge the VW that way.
Of course, since it’s still a work in progress, he’s got a long way to go. Right now, he can only go about 50 miles before the batteries run dry. It’s not a long way, but it’s a pretty damn good start. And Brett, if you’re reading, care to make one that fits an ’81 Dodge?