Wheels are Turning

Before I start dismantling the Tesla and transferring parts to the Stretched Vanagon, I want to insure that all the Model S systems are working correctly. The condition of the battery, being the most expensive component in the car, has been of great concern to me. I wasn’t expecting much difficulty in getting it to wake up, charge and drive but things are often not as I expect. The Tesla is very new, and so far there is precious little public diagnostic information. The simple fact that a pyrotechnic disconnect on the 12V battery controls power to the contactors for the main traction pack was unknown to me, though in retrospect it makes perfect sense. I do appreciate the fact that doing things the hard way often entails more learning, and I’m certainly learning many obscure details about the Model S! It’s a good thing I enjoy learning about this sort of thing.

For this update I tried my hand at making a video blog entry, partially since so many people on Youtube were lacking context for my earlier time lapse videos and also to learn to use some new media tools. So here is the update:

Plug it in

After a few days trying to get the Model S high voltage system to wake up, I pull the rear covers and find that the shop that did the initial estimate taped over the battery connections and didn’t plug it in. I guess that would be the safest thing to do. It’s time I learn to drop the pack! 🙂

The Tesla Arrives

The eagerly awaited day has come

Yesterday at 8 AM I got a call from the carrier, my Tesla was on the way and should show up by 11. I must admit to being nervous. Everyone I spoke with about auto transport had stories of trouble; missed dates are common as are damaged vehicles which they claim were damaged when picked up. The shipper assigned to me had a BBB “F” rating and I noticed them being dishonest with me the first time I called them. Let me be very clear so no one gets the wrong idea, Tesla had nothing to do with this, it was organized by a broker that works with the insurance auctions. Thanks to warnings from others I paid my deposit at the time of order placement but withheld the bulk of the payment as COD. This seems to motivate them to actually deliver the car. In the end my Tesla showed up only a week late and aside from the missing key and lots of dirt from a cross country trip in the winter it seemed no worse for wear since it left the auction in New York. The battery pack, that most critical part, had a few new scratches but they were very minor and no worse than the ones caused during the initial accident. It seems they had been sliding the car on and off carriers with the parking brake on, clearly they had not studied how to turn the brake off (admittedly a challenging feat) . A call to the auction yard verified they had record of the key being picked up by the shipper with the car, contrary to the claims of the shipper and in the end we agreed that I would withhold the cost of a replacement key from the COD amount until they could produce the key. I suspect that I’ll never hear from them again. Most fortunately I had a second key that I had bought from the previous owner and so I was able to jump the 12V and unlock the parking brake to help it off the last truck. Many thanks to Arthur for arriving just in time to help me push the Tesla around and get it on the lift.

Damage Assessment

I’ve spent much of the last two days assessing damage from the accident. I’ve worked with a number of wrecked cars over the years, but this is my first aluminum one and I am very impressed with how it responded to the impact. I’ve worked with steel cars and aluminum parts before, but somehow it never really sunk in how well aluminum absorbs energy until I reviewed this wreck in detail. Of course aluminum by itself would do little without the impressive engineering that clearly went into the Model S design. The down side of the aluminum is that more of the front suspension is damaged than I had hoped and the old steel tricks of pulling it back in place and welding it up will not be appropriate. That’s a small price to pay for the well-being of the occupant. The subframe and upper frame have both been damaged. The electric power steering rack is broken off its mounts. I have a copy of the original parts cost estimate for the repair. Including body panels (which I won’t be needing) and not including a battery the total is about $29K. This does not include some other parts I’ve found damaged. Parts like the $3000 steering rack do give me pause. I’ll either need to find a creative way to fix it, find someone parting out a Tesla (I haven’t found anyone yet) or save up for new parts. It seems I get to work on my issues with “luxury car sticker shock”. 🙂

Next Step

My next step is to get the system happy enough that I can activate the HV (high voltage) system, check and charge the main battery and see that the drive motor engages. Pulling panels and inspecting parts is providing a fun education, I’m on the steep part of the learning curve for now. I’ve found that someone completely removed the “First responder loop” that normally would just be cut. This wire has one wire loop to disconnect the SRS and another that shuts off the HV battery system. It’s not surprising the car won’t drive or charge without it. The first responder loop consists of 2 wires with each shorting 2 pins on a 4 pin connector. With my service center being a 3 hour round trip away I was trying to figure out the wiring so I could jump it until I get a new cable.  With no service manual or wiring diagram available to the public (at least that’s seems to be the case for now) it’s certainly a challenge.  I’ve traced one of the 4 terminals, but am still pulling panels to try to trace the others so I can be sure of the functions. In the meantime, while I’m trying to find replacement parts for something less than full retail price I’ll work on fixing subsystems and hopefully whittle away at the 10 to 12 error messages usually on the screen. There’s everything from “windshield washer low” to “Needs service contact Tesla”. Mostly they have to do with much fluid being lost in the wreck . Speaking of errors, that never ending triple beep that plays anytime I’m in the car is getting a bit old. In the old days you’d just reach up under the dash and pull what was vibrating, but we live in a new world. I’ve also found that it’s hard to do anything inside without turning the car on. Once I tried to manually open the door with the key far way and the darn alarm went off, dual horns bouncing off the shop walls. I’m no fan of alarms and hope I can disable this one someday. I can power the car down on the center screen and as soon as I get out it turns back on. It seems the only way to get quiet time while I’m inside is to disconnect the 12v battery. No doubt about it, this car is very modern! Reviewing the forums I find there are many operational tricks I have yet to learn, maybe making it stay shut down and quiet is one of those.


Remember that musing I had about dropping down to 18″ wheels in my last post? As with so many things early in the planning process, it was pure fantasy. One look at the steering knuckle, still connected to the loose wheel, shows that there is no way a smaller wheel is going to clear on the front, no matter what the brake caliper clearance is. I’ve put up a WTB post for a used wheel and tire (or two) on the TeslaMotorsClub Forum.  On the plus side, the sunroof works very well and looks like it certainly could fit the Vanagon roof, helping with an aerodynamic transition to the pop top height. It’s a beauty! Here is a short time lapse of the arrival and a few pictures of the car and the damage.



Some Planning and Pulling the old Stretch Drivetrain

Here is a quick update to keep you all in the loop. It’s late and I need to be up early for the transport delivery so ‘ll warn you now that you may find a few typos here.

I hear that my Tesla was on a truck in Seattle today and is supposed to be delivered tomorrow (Tuesday) morning. I’m excited to get it! Of course I haven’t been completely idle waiting for it to get here. I ordered and received a Tesla Universal Mobile Connector so I can charge it as soon as it arrives. I’m still awaiting the Tesla jacket I ordered but I’m glad they shipped the important things first. I also got the extra key and the J1772 adaptor from the previous owner. Thanks Joe!

I’ve been doing rough planning for the last few months. One of the critical dimensions involves fitting the almost 28″ tall Tesla tires under the Vanagon front end without jacking the van up higher than it already is. I’d prefer it to be lower to match the lost ground clearance. The Stretch had Syncro (4WD) suspension with a low of  9″ of clearance while the Tesla I measured on the “Very High” setting was 6″. I also hope to avoid having the top of the front suspension strut higher than the bottom of the front seats, as that could get rather uncomfortable. I’ve attached an image that I made to check out how it may fit (above). Being low tech at times like this I just printed up scaled photos of the two vehicles, cut the Tesla one in half and put them on a small light box that was handy. So far it looks good, but it’s going to be tight. I’ll take a long look at the rear brakes when the Tesla gets here to see if there is any way to drop the wheel size down to 18″. In that case I might use use a 245/45-18 like the Conti PureContact with an OD of 26.7″ allowing the whole Tesla pan to sit higher in the van. I’m trying to avoid any lower profile sidewalls since even these are pushing it for the rocky dirt roads that the Stretch likes to visit.

Yesterday Tony and Brandon came down from Portland to pull the TDI engine and Porsche transaxle from the Stretch. Tony has plans for them in his own Westfalia and I’m happy to have them out of the way. Since mine was running well before it threw a rod, with all the wiring, intercooler and custom transmission mounts it should give him a good head start on his project. I’ve been preheating the floor of the Garage Mahal just for this event and I’m glad I did since we’ve had record cold and snow buildup here in Corvallis. The attached 3 minute video covers about 7 hours of work.

That’s it for now,




From a Dream to a Goal

Volkswagen Bus camping is in my blood.

From the day I came home from the hospital in the my family’s 1965 Transporter as a newborn, to what is now my second Stretch bus (a Vanagon Westfalia this time) I’ve travelled and camped in many VW busses. I can’t begin to count the number of times my family took the old green bus camping. I bought my first bus in high school. It was also a ’65 Splittie and waited less than a year before I grafted in the frame and drivetrain from a wrecked ’78 loaf. Modifications seem to be one of my favorite creative outlets.


Electric vehicles came early as well. Living in Palo Alto I was lucky to have two engineers working on EV’s within a few blocks of my house. At the age of twelve I used their advice to convert my wooden go cart to electric propulsion. It was quite a sight. Surplus lawn mower wheels wobbled, old rope connected to a wooden steering wheel through a broomstick handle gave approximate direction control and the Delco generator wired as a shunt motor had adjustable field and electric reverse. Speed control was courtesy of the guts from a model train transformer. As with most of my EV’s it was a bit too fast to be safe, and it was fun! So naturally I would want to combine my love of VW camping with electric vehicles.

Electric Camping

Many discussions around the campfire were spent speculating on the possibilities of electric camping. Last spring I took my first electric camping trip in my electric 914 with a tent. But EV’s have this one problem, long recharge times have kept them incompatible with road trips. In the past you could drive maybe 100 miles in your EV and then find a place to charge for many hours, it meant a road trip would take extra days with long stops in less than ideal places. Then Tesla changed all that.

Superchargers change the game

In 2012 Tesla announced a true game changing technology; the Supercharger network. At 120 kW charge rate a long range EV can now get half a charge in 20 minutes, that’s on a 260 mile range 85 kWh car. I know I wouldn’t mind stopping for a 20 minute break every few hours on a road trip. This new network makes my long held dream of electric camping possible. Tesla Superchargers are wonderful and keep getting better. They are free to use if you own a Model S, fast and rapidly expanding across the country. They are owned by Tesla and the interface is proprietary. This means they only work on one car, the Tesla Model S. My problem is that the Model S is a bit small to be my favorite camping vehicle and I don’t see a bus in the Tesla roadmap.

The idea takes shape

It was last spring when the Stretchla project started to take shape. It all started when the young TDI engine in the Stretch threw a connecting rod through the block while returning home from California on I5, ironically it happened not long after I passed a car carrier full of new Teslas heading north for delivery. The thought of buying another internal combustion engine and spending a greasy week installing it was depressing to me. I parked the Stretch in the yard. Later I was camping in my electric 914 when my friend Jon suggested converting the Stretch to electric power. After all, he reasoned, most of the camping was within 100 miles and many campsites have power for charging. He was right, but that wasn’t going to get me from my home in Oregon to my favorite winter camping in Death Valley. At some point I noticed that Tesla was planning to put a Supercharger station just outside of Death Valley on Hwy 395. If I could only get the Stretch to plug into Superchargers I’d have it made. As far as I know Tesla has no interest in letting other EV’s use the Supercharger network. I don’t blame them and I didn’t even ask, building the network is a huge investment and a super sales tool for the Model S. If I wanted to use the Supercharger network, I figured I’d have to pay the cost of entry of buying a Tesla Model S. I’m sure you can all see where this is headed now. I love VW bus camping, EV’s and modifying cars. It’s simple really, I’ll buy a Tesla Model S and graft it onto the bottom of the Stretch. Sure the Vanagon brick-like aerodynamics will give less range and efficiency than the slick Model S, but I’ll get a powerful electric drive system with a huge battery, free Supercharging and an amazing dashboard to boot.

Moving forward

No, it won’t be easy. So far it looks like the most difficult modification I’ve attempted. Since it would be a waste to hack up a new Model S for this project I’ve been scouring the insurance auto auctions for a wreck that I can use for parts. I ended up with Vin# 07822. It has almost all the options I would have chosen. For those of you who speak Tesla those are: 2013, 85kWh, Active Air, Tech, Pano, 19″, Obeche, Black Leather and Jump Seats. The only additional option I would have liked is the dual chargers. Clearly it will need some replacement suspension parts in the front as well. As I write this it’s heading here on a truck from New York and I expect it to arrive in about a week.

The adventure begins!

If I knew what I was doing, I’d be bored.