Ian James Corlett's ElectroPorsche: From Beater To Electrifying Showstopper
[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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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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