The Wreckla Drives


Life is good and progress is fun!

Over the past few weeks I collected more parts, did some “mechanicing” and now the wrecked Model S that I’m calling “the Wreckla” is running around town. It’s not pretty, but it is running pretty well.

While waiting for parts I got one of those random late night urges to work on it and ended up doing some rough body shaping on the left rear corner. My goals were only for the hatch to close, the taillight to point approximately in the right direction and the charge port to fit. I’ve been eyeing the porta-power type jacks at Harbor Freight for weeks, but when it came down to the wire I grabbed the 20 ton jack from my gear press and some handy wood scraps to do the job. Mostly it worked. Of course this sort of work goes much faster when you don’t care about the looks or long term integrity of the car. I still need to do a little more shaping before the charge port fits properly.

The latest suspension parts arrived at the Tesla service center quickly. John “Plasma Boy” Wayland offered to ferry them south from Portland. John and I appreciate any excuse like this one to hang out and plot epic projects. Deb was also here that day we all went out for Chinese food. John tells excellent stories . As usual we all had a great time.

Pretty soon I set aside a little time for good old wrench turning. With such a unique project it feels a bit anticlimactic to do simple parts replacement. There was one unfortunately installed bolt in the lower suspension that made things interesting. It seems that the lower control arm bolt would do better to be inserted from the front in order to avoid having to cut it, or drop the battery pack for control arm replacement. I’m told that engineering at Tesla has been notified of the concern. It feels great to have a car company that responds in a positive way to input from customers! Not having an extra suspension bolt handy, I chose to drop the main pack instead. This had the side benefit of giving me the opportunity to properly install the pack in a way that was safe for driving and was on my to-do list anyway. I replaced the bolt from the front when I put it back together and it’s a good thing I did since shortly after I reinstalled the high voltage battery I discovered I had mounted that suspension arm upside down. With the bolt in the “right” way it was an easy matter to flip it over.

When I tried to install the new fan controller I discovered the studs that hold it to the aluminum frame had both been sheared off. This presented an opportunity to use one of my favorite fasteners, the rivet nut. I love rivnuts for putting threads in sheet metal. They are very handy, especially in automotive modifications. I use the Zink Yellow-Chromate plated steel ones to reduce dissimilar metal effects on aluminum.

The suspension went together smoothly as expected. I chose to replace the hub assembly just in case the bearings were damaged in the accident. I replaced the ride height and wheel speed sensors, bled the brakes and discovered that the front sway bar was bent more than I remembered. I’ll probably want to replace that. I was surprised that I could bend it back into shape at all, but I didn’t move it far enough and having been bent once I no longer trust its integrity.

Once the car was sitting on four wheels again (the first time since the accident!) I worked a bit on ride height and basic alignment. I’ve worked out simple ways to set toe in and camber in the shop (much of that can be done by eye if you know where to look) but caster is something I have not yet set using my simple tools. Maybe I’ll learn to do that on this project since the car is pulling slightly to the right. I think it’s not that important until I get the suspension installed under the Stretch.

Now that it was ready to drive, I needed to quickly get it looking quasi legal since it was Friday and the DMV was about to close for the weekend. So far the Tesla had not complained that I used a Vanagon heater core as it’s “radiator” so I went a bit further and “installed” a Vanagon headlight and turn signal on it. The same douglas fir 2×6 that helped straighten the rear corner was enlisted to support the lighting with the help of a C-clamp. Friends suggested I could finish the humorous look with a log strapped to the front as a bumper extension, but we never got around to that. The trip to the DMV was uneventful. Oregon seems to be one of the more free states in that way. Thier concern was that the VIN and emissions stickers were correct (emission sticker was finally found on the rear hatch) and they seemed uninterested in the lack of front fender or any other safety issues. I hear that some cities in Oregon require fenders, while others do not. That makes sense since many hot rods lack fenders and here in Oregon hot rods are big business.

At this point the ride height was still a bit off, so I spent some time finding the CAN packets that report ride height from the air suspension computer and then adjusted (bent) the old damaged ride height sensor bracket until the four corners were close to the same readings. I have a friend with a very expensive computer interface made for adjusting things like air ride height on luxury cars but unfortunately Tesla is not yet an option on the menus. If any of you happen to know the year make and model of car that also uses air suspension made by Continental, please let me know. I’m wishfully hoping this tool might allow me to properly adjust the ride height if I can figure out what car it should act like while connecting it to the CAN bus that is wired to the air suspension computer. Otherwise, I may run the “Wreckla” up to the Tesla service center to get it calibrated and the codes cleared.

I’ve been collecting a few more parts and tools. I recently won a louver on ebay and expect to get it any day now. Deb and I have paused our LIN work, though it’s very close to the point of testing on the car. I’m unsure if we’ll pursue that or not at this time since the running car is distracting and there are seemingly more important things to fix for now. Maybe I’ll find enough stock louvers so I can use them instead. Ironically I found a set of four air struts for less money that I paid for one new one. I bought them anyway so I’ll have spares in case I blow one out and need a replacement. On the subject of potential overload, I also bought a set of 7000lb car scales so I can keep track of weight budgets along the way.

My next priority is probably to get the cooling system worked out. That means somehow mounting the left AC condenser and charging the system. Then there won’t be much left to fix before I start moving parts to the Vanagon body. Summer is coming up quickly, I want to get some faster progress on the project so I can go camping!

13 thoughts on “The Wreckla Drives

  1. Outstanding. The Vanagon headlight and signal indicator mounted on wood gave me a chuckle. You must be turning quite a few heads driving that thing around town. It really makes the statement that Tesla is so cool that even driving a wrecked one is better than a regular car.

    I understood from your commentary that you do not yet have fully operational thermal management for the battery, so you are avoiding high loads and supercharging. I thought that the battery was liquid cooled and by an independent system from the cabin air conditioning. Do both systems use the the same compressor?

    Keep up the excellent work. You have made fantastic progress so far.


    • Thanks Alex,
      Yes, the AC systems is shared between the cabin and the pack chiller. There are two evaporators and each has a control valve to turn it on and off.

  2. Thanks for the update Otmar,
    Regarding the ride height adjustment won’t that have to be done again once the body swap is complete? Speaking of body have you decided what to do with the Tesla shell? Will you separate the frame and body at one time or will you cut the body and remove in sections? I assume you have read up on the ethernet probing, any plans to do the same and what about the displays, is there a desire to modify the software? A display of the Van would be awesome.

  3. Otmar, The work you’ve done is most amazing. You make my endeavors doing a conversion on the Auto Union look so elementary. But you have one of the most incredible friends (John) helping you. I will continue to look at the progress of this journey. Al

  4. I’ve been following this project… great stuff.

    Even though I’ll likely never do a conversion… or have a chance to see your awesome Stretchla, you are doing a great service to the Tesla community by sharing what you’re learning. I already have several insights in to how my Model S works that I never would have had before…

    One question: how are you planning on handling battery mounting? Some very cursory web-surfing seems to indicate the Model S body may be up to 13″ wider than the VW (although I’m not sure that includes mirrors on the VW), and the track width 4-5″ wider. Given how close the sides of the battery pack are to the edges of the car body, will that fit under the Van chassis?

    Thanks for taking the time to blog up the whole project… really fascinating…

  5. I added a Vanagon to my Tesla Model S comparisons. The link is below.

    These comparisons are all (reasonably) to scale. It’s nice to have a visual.

    Note I could not, for the life of me, find a top-down view of a Vanagon. Also, I am no connoisseur of Vanagons, so I just grabbed the nicest side view I could find. There aren’t many straight side views out there either.

    Otmar, if you can give me a good top-down view of the Stretch, I can add that comparison. I’ll get working on the one you have. In fact, an up-view of the battery pack and wheelbase would be a useful comparison to make as well.

    Some thoughts: the width of the Model S is mostly at the wheel wells — the width of the Model S is the same as the Leaf (and the Vanagon) at the hips. However, it’s true, the Stretchla might have wheels that stick out a good bit. (And boy those Vanagon wheels are *dinky*!! 🙂 )

  6. Fascinating reading! do a search for “continental air suspension computer” and you may find a source for the information you are looking for. I doubt that Tesla reinvented the wheel on this . . .

  7. Otmar thank you for sharing your experiences on this project. You are blazing a trail that most ev conversions will follow in the future. I have some overly ambitious ideas of doing a similar conversion as part of stock floor body dropping a truck. Can you do me a favor and get the dimensions of the battery next time you have it out? Thanks

    • Hi Jon,
      I’d suggest you start with the overall Tesla dimensions for proof of concept and measure the battery yourself when you get closer. The trouble is that there are many aspects to the battery size due to the odd shape and the probable desire to reuse the Tesla body structure that mounts the battery module. It’s not a simple case of measuring one or two dimensions and really depends on the details of your design.

      • I will certainly take many measurements before I commit to the project. I just wanted to know if the pack itself is wider than the truck I wanted to use because the tesla is 8 inches wider.

        • The pack including mounting structure is as wide as the Tesla. If you made up your own structure and mounts you would be giving up side crash protection for the pack, but then it would be 11″ narrower.

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