The end of Stretchla, and a new beginning.

Executive summary: Underground support for Salvage cars is helping make up for Tesla’s continuing unusual policies. The Stretchla project is out to pasture, I still plan to build a Tesla powered VW Vanagon camper, it may be regular “short” length. I found a perfect conversion candidate.


In my last post long ago I spoke about Tesla’s non-industry-standard and unusual (I might say draconian) lack of support with regard to parts sales and providing service data for owners wanting to do their own work, especially for owners of vehicles with salvage titles. We seem to be of a lower caste in the service department. That has not changed much in the intervening three years, though there is rumor that Tesla service is working on improving the situation. Meanwhile the abundance of wrecked Teslas have made a robust used parts market and a few brilliant technical explorers have made it possible to root the main computers to get diagnostic data, remote access and modify functions as needed. It’s complicated and tedious, but possible. I’ve been driving the Wreckla on local trips for years now, and other than the malfunctioning door handle (which I removed) it has been reliable. Early door handles like mine are a known issue and would have been replaced under warranty if the car was not salvage titled. Meanwhile, it still has bent and missing parts with the air bags disabled. I haven’t tried to fix it up any more since I keep hoping I’ll move the guts over to a VW camper.

Wreckla crashed side

There has been relatively little progress on the Stretchla since the last update. The project suffered from extreme “scope creep.” I could think of so many cool things to do that the project became an overwhelming fantasy. Most importantly, I neglected my own advice for people who want to convert a gas car into an EV. That advice is this: If you want to do a conversion, pick a nice clean car and convert it. If you additionally try to restore a car at the same time you will soon discover that car restoration is much more work than an EV Conversion. This is exactly what happened with the Stretch. The more I took it apart, the more I wanted to fix the rust, replace side panels, paint it inside and out. I even figured it was wise to shorten it by a foot to better fit the battery underneath. I wanted a nice restored body, but it turns out I was not motivated to do (or hire someone to do) the work required. In the end I chose not to climb that mountain.

Like many humans, I tend to get fixated on my own view of how things are best done, and those ideas change over time. For instance when I started the project I was very attached to using the Tesla air suspension, while today I’m thinking it may be better (especially easier) to use the Vanagon suspension with Tesla parts from the wheel hub outwards. The battery also was a big scary block that I wanted to retain unmodified. It is still big and a bit scary, people have burned several shops due to unsafe practices, yet my confidence with reconfiguring it in a safe manner is growing. This puts new layout options on the table, such as using an un-stretched VW camper for the base vehicle. I still love a Stretch Vanagon for the extra space, and maybe that will happen in the end, but I could test a short Vanagon running with the battery behind it on a trailer before I make the final choice on that.

Pastured Vehicles

With the Stretch out to pasture, my next plan was to buy two fresh used donor vehicles (of the same color this time!) to make a Stretch that didn’t need extensive body work. For months I searched the auction sites until the perfect back half came up. A 1990 weekender with a pop top that was badly crashed in the front.

Crashed Vanagon

When the auction went live I almost won it for about $5500 before the bidding software gave it “bonus time.” I gave up when bidding hit $7500. I like to be open to messages from the universe. I figured this one would sell for $3-4K, bidding at twice that seemed like a pretty clear message from the universe that I would not enjoy following that Stretchla path.

Although I appreciate such mysterious guidance (especially in retrospect when so often something better comes along) it did again leave me lost and unmotivated for a while. My thoughts then pivoted to finding an okay looking, low cost – low risk standard length “Tin top” Vanagon to test fit the drive system since the pop tops have become very popular and therefore expensive. I figured that once the conversion was proven in a lower risk donor I could move it to a camper that I wanted. Maybe even my “Ersatz” camper shown in the desert below would do for the final unit, but that one also has issues with seam rust that want care, so maybe not.

Westfalia in the Desert

Anyway, I kept the Craigslist search notification running while watching about a hundred Vanagons go by. This also reinforced to me that the late model pop tops were climbing out of my price range. Then it happened, last Friday at 4:30pm a miracle showed up. A 1990 Multivan in the deep Orly Blue color that I like. It was 150 miles away and best of all it was within my acceptable price range (more that I’d pay for a tin top, but a great deal for just the van I liked.) Before the bank closed at 6pm I had a cashier’s check and an appointment to see it the next day.

Here is a picture from the advertisement:

Picture of Blue Multivan with the top popped

I checked it out and although it’s far from perfect paint and body, it’s perfectly fine by my standards and I really love the idea of working with the more spacious and lighter Multivan interior. This is a donor that I don’t need to restore. It’s in good enough shape to look respectable, but not so nice that I can’t explore the desert backroads with it. It has all the features I want in my perfect camper (pop top, weekender interior, one of my 3 preferred colors) so I can see it as my long term electric ideal.

Two Vanagons coming home

Returning from the picking it up in Hood River, stopping to hike some waterfalls. The 1987 ersatz camper “Blue Tattoo” on the right, and the new 1990 Orly Blue Multivan on the left.

What is the name of the new Westfalia Multivan? It has spent the last ten years as “Mitch Ryder, Devil With a Blue Dress” or just “Mitch” for short. I like the idea of naming my vehicles after songs, but am not sure if Mitch fits for this project. Tesfalia might be a cool option once it’s electric, as suggested sometime ago by a friend. What do you think?