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Your skill level with auto mechanics and fabrication - Beginner, basic auto maintenance and no real fabrication, but eager to learn

The range you are hoping to get (how many miles/charge) - Not sure what the current ranges are, but would hope to get ~100

What level of performance you are hoping to get - Mid to High, I suppose

How much money you are willing to put into your project - ~$5000

What parts you've already considered, if any. - None
 

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Discussion Starter #3
That mid would work for me. No plans to race it, just for standard driving.

I live in Michigan right now, but will be moving to Georgia in the next year.
 

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I am doing some research right now, and I am seeing a lot of guides that say the car must be a manual transmission. This Squareback is a 3 speed automatic. Is that a deal-breaker?
 

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I am doing some research right now, and I am seeing a lot of guides that say the car must be a manual transmission. This Squareback is a 3 speed automatic. Is that a deal-breaker?
No... get rid of the automatic and put in the manual that the majority of these cars would have had... or don't use a VW transmission at all. I can't believe that it could possibly be worth the hassle of making the automatic work.

It is possible to use automatics, but it involves a bunch of work and significant expense... and to be practical requires that someone else has worked out the details for your particular design of transmission. That generally means a GM Powerglide, not anything from Volkswagen.
 

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Replacing the AT with a manual seems like a much bigger project than the EV conversion.

What do you mean when you suggest not using the VW transmission at all?
 

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Replacing the AT with a manual seems like a much bigger project than the EV conversion.

What do you mean when you suggest not using the VW transmission at all?
Swap out the auto trans for a manual. Not as difficult as you might think. Get an adapter that utilizes the stock clutch and because it’s a 69 you need to utilize all the stock mounts. The 69 has no frame horns which to mount the transmission lik you get with the earlier versions. Stock mounting points are fine.
The VW was designed to use the transaxle. It would be a major engineering job to fabricate a new rear setup.
PM me if you have questions.
 

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Replacing the AT with a manual seems like a much bigger project than the EV conversion.
Replacing an automatic transmission (transaxle in this case) with a manual is a significant piece of work; however, it is often done, all of the parts are available because the same car normally comes with a manual, and the engine will be out of the way anyway because you wouldn't change the transaxle until after the engine was removed. If this seems like a much bigger project than the EV conversion, then it seems likely that you don't appreciate how much work the conversion will be.

The work of the transmission/transaxle swap could be substantially reduced by omitting the shift lever and clutch pedal, which means locking the transmission in just one gear all of the time. That seems like a major compromise to me, but some people do drive their conversions that way.

A more moderate version would be to swap in the manual and the shift lever, but not use a clutch and so not need to install the clutch pedal. There has been lots of discussion of clutch and clutchless conversions; this is not a decision without consequences.
 

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What do you mean when you suggest not using the VW transmission at all?
Between an engine and the wheels, there needs to be:
  1. some way to disengage so that the engine can idle, and so it can run fast enough to work while the car starts moving (a clutch or torque converter)
  2. a reduction of speed (and corresponding increase of torque) so that the fast-turning engine can work with the slower-turning wheels (gear reduction)
  3. a way to change the ratio of speed reduction to suit different road speeds (a multi-speed transmission)
  4. a way to move the vehicle in reverse while the engine still turns in the normal direction
  5. a way to split the drive power between two wheels, allowing them to turn at different speeds in a corner (a differential)
There also must be some way to mount the engine.

A manual transmission uses a clutch, traditional automatics use a torque converter. A transaxle is the transmission (for #2, #3, and #4) combined with a differential (for #5) all in one housing. Air-cooled Volkswagens and Porsches use a transaxle, with the engine mounted to the back of it.

Between an electric motor and the wheels, the speed reduction (#2), differential action (#5), and some way to mount the motor are all still needed. With many motors (having a narrow band of speeds at which maximum power is available), a multi-speed transmission (#3) is helpful, too. With DC motors, either a reversing contactor system (and some compromise on brush timing) or a reverse in the transmission (#4) is needed.

The car's original transmission is bigger, heavier, and more complex than needed for the electric motor (because not so many speeds are needed, and because a clutch is needed only if shifting), but it's already there and designed to fit in the car, so most conversions use the original transmission and final drive (differential) or something like it to perform these needed functions. I suspect that every off-the-shelf conversion kit for an air-cooled VW uses the original manual transaxle.


So that's why the original transaxle is usually used. Now for the alternatives...

There is a recent trend to using motors from scrapped production EVs. One way to avoid the use of the original VW transaxle entirely, if using a production EV motor, is to use it complete with the transaxle that comes as part of a used EV drive unit. That transaxle generally only has one ratio (not multiple speeds as in #3), but that's okay for these motors. There is no clutch in these, because it is not needed. The combination of the motor and transaxle (and maybe the inverter) is commonly called a "drive unit" (at least in this forum). Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S drive units are the only common candidates for this (although most production EVs use a similar design), and the only one likely to fit in the VW is one of the small Tesla drive units, because it sits on and behind the axle line.

The other way to not use the original transaxle is to use some other aftermarket transaxle, or to build something yourself. For DIY systems, various belt or chain arrangements (for the reduction) and special differentials are typically involved.

Both complete drive units and DIY solutions are much more difficult installation than using the stock VW's manual transaxle, so I'm not suggesting it in this case - I just listed the idea of not using the original transaxle to round out the list of choices.
 

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Between an engine and the wheels, there needs to be:
  1. some way to disengage so that the engine can idle, and so it can run fast enough to work while the car starts moving (a clutch or torque converter)
  2. a reduction of speed (and corresponding increase of torque) so that the fast-turning engine can work with the slower-turning wheels (gear reduction)
  3. a way to change the ratio of speed reduction to suit different road speeds (a multi-speed transmission)
  4. a way to move the vehicle in reverse while the engine still turns in the normal direction
  5. a way to split the drive power between two wheels, allowing them to turn at different speeds in a corner (a differential)
There also must be some way to mount the engine.

A manual transmission uses a clutch, traditional automatics use a torque converter. A transaxle is the transmission (for #2, #3, and #4) combined with a differential (for #5) all in one housing. Air-cooled Volkswagens and Porsches use a transaxle, with the engine mounted to the back of it.

Between an electric motor and the wheels, the speed reduction (#2), differential action (#5), and some way to mount the motor are all still needed. With many motors (having a narrow band of speeds at which maximum power is available), a multi-speed transmission (#3) is helpful, too. With DC motors, either a reversing contactor system (and some compromise on brush timing) or a reverse in the transmission (#4) is needed.

The car's original transmission is bigger, heavier, and more complex than needed for the electric motor (because not so many speeds are needed, and because a clutch is needed only if shifting), but it's already there and designed to fit in the car, so most conversions use the original transmission and final drive (differential) or something like it to perform these needed functions. I suspect that every off-the-shelf conversion kit for an air-cooled VW uses the original manual transaxle.


So that's why the original transaxle is usually used. Now for the alternatives...

There is a recent trend to using motors from scrapped production EVs. One way to avoid the use of the original VW transaxle entirely, if using a production EV motor, is to use it complete with the transaxle that comes as part of a used EV drive unit. That transaxle generally only has one ratio (not multiple speeds as in #3), but that's okay for these motors. There is no clutch in these, because it is not needed. The combination of the motor and transaxle (and maybe the inverter) is commonly called a "drive unit" (at least in this forum). Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S drive units are the only common candidates for this (although most production EVs use a similar design), and the only one likely to fit in the VW is one of the small Tesla drive units, because it sits on and behind the axle line.

The other way to not use the original transaxle is to use some other aftermarket transaxle, or to build something yourself. For DIY systems, various belt or chain arrangements (for the reduction) and special differentials are typically involved.

Both complete drive units and DIY solutions are much more difficult installation than using the stock VW's manual transaxle, so I'm not suggesting it in this case - I just listed the idea of not using the original transaxle to round out the list of choices.
To add to this, one of the reasons for utilizing the stock transmission or one that has had the gearing modified to better use the torque of an electric motor is that most if not all the DIY electric motors available are limited in RPM and or Voltage. Pretty much requiring the use of the stock transmission as the motor is close to the same as the original in the need to have a transmission in the first place. With this, the original transaxle of the VW is not terrible heavy and the electric motor, even the DIY ones will have no issues with the little excess weight. Im quite sure that those engineered parts that allow the use of the complete drive trains of OEM vehicles will come in at or above the stock setups anyway. I don't believe Kevins Bus was modified to use the Tesla or other gas engines was for weight savings or for removing gearing. It was to use the Tesla drive train or some other transaxle than stock. More for the COOL factor. The engineered bits on Kevins Bus will make it handle better. That is one good benefit. Weight savings is not one of them. If you use a stock VW transaxle you can leave out gears if a few ounces of weight are that much of a concern for you.

But like I said before, the 69 and up Squareback or Type III has NO frame horns in which to mount those engineered bits. Unless someone has already done that you are pretty much stuck doing the engineering yourself or utilizing the stock setups which in a Type III is not at all that bad. Lower your beasties center of gravity a bit and the vehicle will handle quite well.
 

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Wow. Thank you for all of the information you have provided.

I had dropped the engine and transmission out of the Squareback to fix an issue with the fan and do a bit of cleanup. While it was out I started thinking about what a conversion would take. After looking at retail pricing, ($7000 not including batteries), and discovering the hurdle of converting the transmission, I think I am going to put this project off for a couple of years.
 

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But like I said before, the 69 and up Squareback or Type III has NO frame horns in which to mount those engineered bits.
I don't doubt that at all, but when I looked I had a hard time finding clear illustrations of earlier versus '69-up Type 3 structures... everything I saw had frame horns, generally part of what appeared to be a subframe. It seems like the swing-axle subframes have horns, but the non-swing-axle subframes do not. Pete, is there a handy illustration of what grnerd would be looking at to mount to?

EDIT: Okay, this is making more sense; here's what I found...

This is the swing-axle subframe with trailing arms:


This appears to be the non-swing-axle subframe:

Without mounting points on the subframe, what do the transaxle and motor attach to?

It appears to be relatively common for VW modders to add the frame horns to a non-swing-axle subframe, or add semi-trailing arm mounts to a swing-axle subframe, to make a non-swing-axle subframe that mounts the engine like the swing-axle version. An EV conversion could do that, too. A conversion not using the VW transaxle would logically customize the subframe or build a complete new one (incorporating the torsion bar housing or eliminating it in favour of a different suspension).
 

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I don't doubt that at all, but when I looked I had a hard time finding clear illustrations of earlier versus '69-up Type 3 structures... everything I saw had frame horns, generally part of what appeared to be a subframe. It seems like the swing-axle subframes have horns, but the non-swing-axle subframes do not. Pete, is there a handy illustration of what grnerd would be looking at to mount to?

EDIT: Okay, this is making more sense; here's what I found...

This is the swing-axle subframe with trailing arms:


This appears to be the non-swing-axle subframe:

Without mounting points on the subframe, what do the transaxle and motor attach to?

It appears to be relatively common for VW modders to add the frame horns to a non-swing-axle subframe, or add semi-trailing arm mounts to a swing-axle subframe, to make a non-swing-axle subframe that mounts the engine like the swing-axle version. An EV conversion could do that, too. A conversion not using the VW transaxle would logically customize the subframe or build a complete new one (incorporating the torsion bar housing or eliminating it in favour of a different suspension).
Mounting points are actually on the Body of the Type III's from 69 on up. You can still utilize the mounting points as they are strong enough to handle the motor/transaxle combo. So there is one on the lower frame where the transmission attaches and the other three are on the body. With the early Type III's there are three mount points on the lower unit and only one on the body. That is only because the engine is longer and needs a bit extra. For those that are only putting in an electric motor like an HPEVS motor you won't need that last body mount on the early Type III's. You will want to continue using all the mount points on a later model. Or you could just change out the lower unit for a swingaxle transmission on a later model. A couple options are available.
 

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Wow. Thank you for all of the information you have provided.

I had dropped the engine and transmission out of the Squareback to fix an issue with the fan and do a bit of cleanup. While it was out I started thinking about what a conversion would take. After looking at retail pricing, ($7000 not including batteries), and discovering the hurdle of converting the transmission, I think I am going to put this project off for a couple of years.
Sorry to hear that. Yes, conversions can be expensive and lots can be because you need to restore or re-engineer your ride to get what you want. VW's are highly modified vehicles and make great conversions. Might want to see if you could find an older VW Bug and do a simple conversion. DC or AC. If you do a DC conversion you will need excellent brakes.
 

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After looking at retail pricing, ($7000 not including batteries), and discovering the hurdle of converting the transmission, I think I am going to put this project off for a couple of years.
You should be able to pickup a 2014 Leaf from a breakers for ~2500 USD. This will give you everything you need for a conversion including the battery.

We did a lot off work with the Leaf drivetrain on my VW Bus and also a friends Beetle. I suspect you could separate the motor from the inverter/charger and install it without a great deal of fuss... find a good, local, car customiser and talk through ideas :)
 

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You should be able to pickup a 2014 Leaf from a breakers for ~2500 USD. This will give you everything you need for a conversion including the battery.

We did a lot off work with the Leaf drivetrain on my VW Bus and also a friends Beetle. I suspect you could separate the motor from the inverter/charger and install it without a great deal of fuss... find a good, local, car customiser and talk through ideas :)
Both of these Leaf-into-VW projects were abandoned in favour of using Tesla components, right? Other people trying to use the Leaf motor without its transaxle, adapting it to the car's original transmission, have had challenges with coupling to the splined motor shaft. I'm sure that can be handled, but it's not plug-and-play.

Once the motor is physically installed, with the inverter, charger, and other miscellania in the engine compartment (which I agree is feasible), comes the control challenge of making this gear work outside the context of a Leaf. Then there's fitting the entire Leaf battery into the vehicle, since the motor needs the full pack voltage for full performance (and the stock configuration already has every one of the 48 modules connected in series).

This can all be done, and would have good power for a Squareback, but it's not a simple project... especially for someone concerned about the difficulty of work on the scale of a transaxle swap from automatic to manual. And it wouldn't resolve the automatic issue; the swap would still be needed.
 

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Mounting points are actually on the Body of the Type III's from 69 on up. You can still utilize the mounting points as they are strong enough to handle the motor/transaxle combo. So there is one on the lower frame where the transmission attaches and the other three are on the body. With the early Type III's there are three mount points on the lower unit and only one on the body. That is only because the engine is longer and needs a bit extra.
Excellent info - thanks! :)

Yes, you can make a IRS setup using a swing arm sub frame. People do that with Busses and Bugs. IRS transmissions are better for handling and help prevent that aggressive wheel tuck when you lower your beastie.
For those not into the air-cooled VW lingo, all of these vehicles have independent rear suspension (which is what "IRS" means), and all are based on semi-trailing arms, but VW enthusiasts only use the term "IRS" to distinguish the later design (with double-jointed axle shafts) from the earlier swing axle design (which uses the axle shafts as part of the suspension arm, so there's no joint on the outboard end). It makes no technical sense, but the rest of us can translate between VW-speak and reality. ;)

I agree that the non-swing-axle design has better suspension geometry, because the pivot axis of the arm is much closer to lateral (so, closer to a trailing arm). It also avoids the use of U-joints, which cause some driveline vibration. Our Triumph Spitfire has swing axles, like the classic/early VW design.
 
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