By on September 20, 2014

1966 Porsche 912 EV 16

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This story is one I’ve been pursuing since a couple of days before returning to TTAC on the back of the Bumpasaurus Rex last October. As today is my 36th birthday, this is my gift to you, dearest B&B. – CA]

Meet Ian James Corlett and his 1966 Porsche 912. Corlett calls Vancouver, B.C. his home, where he works in the entertainment industry as a voice actor, director, producer, author and musician; his son and daughter, Phillip and Claire, also work in the industry as voice actors in their own right.

As for his 912, it may appear to be no more than a beautifully restored vintage Porsche, but as you’ll soon discover, there’s more than meets the eye with this particular sports car.

All photos provided by Ian James Corlett, Brendan McAleer and Wikipedia.

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“I didn’t start with the notion of electrifying a Porsche,” said Corlett. “I was gonna do an old VW Beetle, mostly because I love Beetles, and it was one of the first cars I ever had. But the electric kits and the conversions were relatively available, and lots of people had done them. So, I thought, ‘Well, that’s good, because the geometry works and it’s easy to bolt in an electric motor onto the existing transmission. So, that’s what I’ll do!'”

Corlett’s interest in all things electric began years ago during one of his “reverse midlife crisis” phases, when he happened upon a Vespa scooter whose engine lived up to its Italian heritage. Preferring to ride over working on the Vespa during the few sunny days Vancouver received in a given year, he turned to a since-defunct scooter shop in Seattle for help. There, Corlett obtained a 10-inch hub motor and custom components for the Vespa, then made the switch to electric power back home.

Another reason for going electric: To escape the leasing cycle, and to reconnect with the idea of ownership. Corlett grew up interested in European and Japanese vehicles, finding U.S.-made models of the 1970s and 1980s too big, heavy and brutal to his liking. His first cars included the aforementioned Beetle, his mother’s 1969 Datsun, a Honda Accord — his first new car — two Volkswagen Cabriolets with a Jetta in between, and ultimately, the first of many Porsche 911s.

Porsche_911_993_--_11-26-2011

Though he owned his vehicles through his first 911 — a 1994 993 model — outright, the leasing bug would soon sting him and his wallet:

Somebody introduced me to this wizard of leasing, and they said, ‘No. Actually, people just don’t realize that leasing is all about the differential between what a car is going to be worth in a couple of years, and what you paid for it. You’re only really paying for that difference.’

With the then-low depreciation rates of Porsche’s offering in mind, and the leasing guru’s flexibility in setting up the contract, Corlett found leasing was less expensive than regular car payments at the time. However, the first lease was like “the drug dealer offering [a new customer] the first one for free,” with the second and third leases as easy as the first.

Alas, the rates would soon climb, Porsche began expanding its lineup, and residual values were falling hard. After the sixth 911, Corlett was quitting leasing for good, preferring to own his cars again, as well as use the money that would have gone into a new lease toward his children’s private school tuition and other fiscal responsibilities.

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Though his search began with numerous old Beetles, Corlett took to the idea of converting a 912 to electric power after his attempt to buy a converted 912 from an aerospace engineer in the Phoenix area on eBay ended with a last-second loss to a higher bidder; converting a 911 of similar vintage was a bridge too far in his mind. This new journey would end outside of the desert city, where Corlett snagged a 1966 beater with rust galore — thanks to its previous life outside of Arizona — instead of a hoped-for “very dry, desert car.”

“It was really a two-step process,” he explained. “We needed to restore the car, and then fit it and measure it for the electric components.”

The restoration proved to be daunting for Corlett’s electric dream. Opting to perform both steps in Phoenix — the labor costs were lower than in Canada — he left the 912 with a restorer who turned out to be as nightmarish as the vehicle itself upon media-blasting by the following restorer, Arizona Street Customs, months later.

The project ultimately took three years, though Corlett admitted that “it shouldn’t have taken three years,” citing a change in focus toward a move to a new house in Vancouver, as well as project-related issues:

One of the huge delays, as an example, was the batteries. We ordered $15,000 worth of batteries, and they had to come from China. We just made a wrong choice on who the supplier was. That was eight months of waiting, because the guy would sell large amounts of batteries in containers. He waited for a container to be full before he would fulfill his order from China and ship to the U.S. That’s just big, long delay for no good reason.

1966 Porsche 912 EV 15

Since coming home to Vancouver late last year, the 912 has been making the rounds at events throughout the area, such as the Luxury Supercar Weekend at VanDusen Botanical Garden, and the Key West Ford Shine & Show in New Westminster, B.C., where Corlett took home trophies in the best special interest and unfinished categories. He says he enjoys being able to take part in any event that allows him to show off his masterpiece in the brief window of sunny days between June and October.

The reaction to such a conversion? “I have had nothing but jaw-drops and great comments,” he proclaimed. “Now, that’s to my face. I’m sure there are people that feel differently. I’ve been really surprised by some of the Porsche people — and I know a lot of them in town — some of them that are just hardcore, real Porsche fanatics.”

One in particular, his mechanic — a “very abrasive guy of German heritage” who’s “not too fond of electric cars, period” — enthusiastically approved of the 912 during a shakedown following a suspension adjustment, allaying Corlett’s fears of taking a classic Porsche and transforming it into a vintage EV. Nonetheless, he’s very happy with the overall response his car is receiving.

1966 Porsche 912 EV 17

Registration and insurance for a unique vehicle like this was easier to obtain than one might imagine. The most difficult part was importation from the U.S. to Canada, though this was waved away by declaring the 912 as just a restored vintage vehicle. Once at home, registration was simply a matter of switching the “G” — for gasoline — to “E” — for electric — on the paperwork.

Finally, though the 912 has standard insurance at present, it may soon have coverage better suited for its unique features, which would provide the benefit of being insured and appraised properly.

Range testing is ongoing as far as long drives are concerned, having gone as far south as Corlett’s P.O. Box in nearby Blaine, Wash., as well some handling issues that need to be resolved before taking it 9/10ths. In the meantime, he switches between the 912 and his 2011 BMW 135i, the latter his daily driver. His reasoning for the BMW is the same as the 911s before: the ability to go from the school and the studio during the week, to the track during the weekends when not piloting or showing the 912 EV.

As far as future electrification is concerned, an experience with the Tesla Model S has Corlett thinking of an EV suitable for his family’s needs. As the premium sedan is too large, he says the Kia Soul EV will likely fulfill the role, if only because the Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive won’t be in Canada anytime soon.

By the way, he still has the electric Vespa, and he aims to have both it and the 912 out on the road to praise the sun next year.

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49 Comments on “Ian James Corlett’s ElectroPorsche: From Beater To Electrifying Showstopper...”


  • avatar
    el scotto

    Can I re-gift this for an interesting story? This is a fluff piece on three-year restoration of a toy. Besides, serial lessees aren’t serious car people. They’re much more concerned about fashion. Other than that, it was great.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Woo, more fabrication porn! Thank you very much for an entertaining start to my day.

    The placement of the cooling air intake filter visible in photograph 17/23 is masterful; I had no idea what it was used for prior to visiting the project page.

  • avatar
    jdash1972

    Thank you for a dull story about absolutely nothing. How about some information? Battery type? Wiring configuration? Voltage? Type of charging and how long it takes for a full charge? Battery capacity in kWh? Is the motor A/C or a rudamentary DC setup with a simple DC-DC converter? Horsepower? Approximate range? An idea of the performance? How about anything interesting at all, period?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Since I took the time to actually look at the photos and glance at the linked web site, I can answer some of your questions:

      Battery – lithium ion, which followed an unsuccessful lead-acid experiment

      Voltage – Battery 172 V, Motor 120 VDC. Battery is 25 kWh capacity.

      Charging – Standard J1772

      Horsepower – not mentioned, but the controller can put out up to 214 HP. The motor’s torque is 200+ ft-lbs, so the motor is probably good for 110-150 HP.

      Range – Range-testing is still going on. Since this car is similar to my Leaf in its specs, I’d guess range is maybe 60-100 miles, depending on temperature.

      Performance – They say it’s quicker than the original car.

      There, I read it for you.

      • 0 avatar

        Ian’s aiming for 120 kilometers/75 miles per charge depending on conditions. He also told me that he hasn’t run his batteries down to the electric equivalent of an empty tank — the 912 usually comes home with about half of its full charge — so it takes about four to five hours per charge at present.

        • 0 avatar
          DC Bruce

          Since he’s not running electric accessories as much as a modern car would have (power steering; air conditioning), maybe he’ll reach his goal.

          On the other hand, even in a mild climate like Vancouver, I’m sure some heat is welcome on occasion.

          I assume he has regenerative braking built in to recapture some energy, right?

    • 0 avatar

      Please leave criticism that is constructive in nature and free of disparaging comments, or do not leave it at all.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a balancing act between providing technical information and telling a good story about a person or people. I’ve found that most people, including most car enthusiasts, prefer to read about people more than about machines. You can rarely go wrong focusing on the people side of things, as Cameron did.

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      I’d agree with Ronnie on this – much more interesting having the focus on Mr. Corlett and giving us an overview rather than zeroing in on the micro-details. If it’s interesting to you, you’ll search out the technical stuff on your own, if that’s what you prefer to know about. And if it’s not interesting, you’ll click on the next story.

      Happy B-Day, Cameron, and thanks for this story – I found it fascinating, so I will search for more on the details when I have time.

  • avatar
    shaker

    WOW – What a money pit!

    But, I can’t help but LOVE it. Kudos for sticking with it – quite a stunner now.

    My cousin has a ’66 Corvair languishing in his garage, and I’ve given thought of talking him into something like this.

    But alas, the conversion parts will still cost around $10,000-$15,000, and all of the labor (especially the unexpected stuff) would necessitate my retiring early to get started – which I just can’t afford. Dammit.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      I know, right? I just read ‘The Great Gatsby’ and had the same problem.

      I learned absolutely nothing about how much Gatsby weighed, his shoe size, hair follicle diameter, the contents of his bowels or even lung capacity. What a ripoff!

  • avatar
    Whoa Befalls Electra

    Happy Birthday!

  • avatar
    petezeiss

    Guys who insist on three names are inherently superior.
    This is therefore a superior achievement and I am in awe.

    I bet he wears a brimmed hat every public moment.

  • avatar
    3Deuce27

    Happy B-Day, Cameron

    I can remember when I was 36, by the cars in my life. At that time I was contemplating buying the new 944, Audi Quattro, Corvette, 325is, or SVO. The sure audacity of the SVO won out. Never regretted my choice.

    Have a good year, Cameron

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    The older I get, the more I appreciate vintage Porsches.

    Despite my life goal of minimalism (to de-clutter my space and mind) & quality over quantity, this does nothing to suffocate my desire for a Singer retromod 911 (that cost between $250,000 and $300,000) which “just” does something to me (though I will one day settle for a far more reasonably priced, modest version).

    Happy birthday, Cameron.

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you, DW.

    • 0 avatar
      pb35

      Can you stop with the Singer 911 already please DW? Just when I forget about it and how badly I want one you go and bring it up again. ;)

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        I know right.

        I was flipping through cable channels about 8 months ago when I caught my first glimpse of the restorations that ex-pat Brit Magnus Walker does to vintage Porsches out of his shop in LA.

        Whereas the Singer is more of a custom re-do of the original 911, but with many newly fabricated body panels and exquisite (and unique) interior touches, Magnus Walker’s operation pretty much is more a traditional faithful restoration operation that produces more attainable (still pricey, though) restored Porsches of all models.

        Tasty.

        I’d honestly prefer an older, restored Porsche to any new one though I can’t quite put my finger on the why.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Pointless. He still leases a real car and now he doesn’t have a Porsche either.

  • avatar
    nickoo

    I’m mostly interested in how a car with a manual transmission hooked to an electric motor drives compared to an electric motor with reduction gear setup as is standard. I wonder if their are any potential efficiency gains and how the clutch holds up to the full torque of an electric.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Good observation. Tesla dedicated lots of resources and time to developing a two speed transmission before admitting defeat.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      With a regular manual gearbox, you can leave it in 2nd or 3rd gear and just drive around. Shifting really isn’t necessary most of the time. People leave the original transmission and clutch in place mostly to reduce the amount of fabrication needed.

      I don’t know what Tesla’s deal was, but they should have just used a beefed-up, direct-coupled Powerglide and called it a day.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Wow ~

    This is _TERRIFIC_ ! . looking at the bare tub photos reveals a battered , crashed and terribly repaired piece of junk most high end Porschephiles/Shops would have immediately broken for parts .

    Instead Ian put his intellect and determination (and more than a few Dollars) into making a true ” One Off ” .

    KUDOS ! .

    OBTW : those who insist on ignorantly saying ‘ that’s not a Porsche ‘ etc. , what you’re really doing is showing the ENTIRE WORLD how insecure you are an advertising you have a miniscule male bit to boot .

    -Nate
    (who STILL misses his 1967 912 5 gauge 5 speed greatly 15 years later)

  • avatar
    CGHill

    I <3 this story. (And it explains much about Claire, whom I've been following on social media for reasons our author, but perhaps no one else, will understand.) Besides, there's something inherently wonderful in the idea of putting a 912, a Porsche largely forgotten these days, back on the road; it's the same grin I get when I pull into the Infiniti dealership and the Porsche/Audi store next door has a 356 awaiting the arrival of a service consultant.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m happy to hear you enjoyed it.

      And yes, it was “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” that led me to Ian’s 912. If I didn’t know of Claire (who voices Sweetie Belle, Rarity’s younger sister), I wouldn’t have know of Ian, and in turn, wouldn’t have known about this project. :)

  • avatar
    manbridge

    Wowzers!

    My idea is decidedly more sinister. Jamming a modern clean burning Rotax two-stroke twin from a crunched snowmobile. 164hp from 800ccs. Probably could lift the engine out and set it on your kitchen table by yourself. Call it the Porschax 912/800 and spend more drive time enjoying the bearable lightness of being a light weight. But with range, power, and oodles o’ grins.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    This article reminds me when I was a kid and read about some guy in Florida in the 60s who converted a car into an electric vehicle.

    My father had cartons of Mechanix Illustrated, Popular Mechanics and Popular Science.

    I tried googling to see if I could find it, but I did find some interesting links.

    The first link is an EV built in the 60s that had a 100 mile range.

    The second link has some electric bikes if you are into bikes.

    http://blog.hemmings.com/index.php/2010/12/08/going-electric-in-the-age-of-cheap-gas-the-mckee-built-sundancer/

    http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/motorcycles/news/10-weird-and-wonderful-electric-vehicles#slide-10

  • avatar
    mkirk

    Just out of curiosity, how does it handle. That seems like an awful lot of big heavy batteries hanging out behind the rear axle. Sutrely that is substantially more weight than the air cooled flat 4 they replaced.

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    Cool article, Cameron… question: how much did it cost? went to the guy’s website, and the site for the conversion company, and it was “depends on the vehicle”. But wow, cool choice for an electric! either a 912 or an MGB would make fun, unique electric cars to drive and own… sorry, Leaf owners, but your motorcars are UGLY! nice to see a pretty looking little EV!

  • avatar
    Brendan McAleer

    I drove the car, hence why my photos are up there, and it’s quite the machine. It’s only about 50lbs heavier than a contemporary ’60s 911S, and has about 210hp. Dog leg shifter, plenty of torque, skinny little tires, better weight distribution thanks to the batteries fore-and-aft, uprated brakes (which are still manual), coilover suspension. It’s still a skittery wee thing with that big ’60s steering wheel, but you zip through the corner with the electric motor whirring away behind you. Pretty great, and ideal for Vancouver where a Sunday morning jaunt around the city would hardly ever go past 100kms. A fun and interesting take on a restomod.

  • avatar
    manbridge

    210hp? Where be the obligatory dyno graphs?

  • avatar
    jterran

    I didn’t see the website listed where all the info on this conversion is located. Here it is: http://www.electroporsche.com/

  • avatar
    -Nate

    C.C. Effect in action :

    The Saturday after you posted this I saw a very nice 1968 (IIRC) 912 at the local Cars & Coffee gathering , then Sunday I was in The South Bay and met a nice older Gentleman who was driving his all original 1966 912 he’d bought new ~ kinda scruffy but never wrecked…….

    I keep thinking about my old 1967 912 5 speed 5 gauge, maybe there’s another in my future ? .
    -Nate

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