It’s a Trend! 3 Dirt Cheap DIY Electric Cars

by Benjamin Jones on December 2, 2008

So you want a 100% electric car for commuting or running errands in your town or small city.

Maybe you’ve dreamt of whipsering down the road in a clean, quiet Tesla roadster … and then you woke up screaming at the thought of the $109,000 U.S. price tag.

In that case,  may we present the other end of the EV spectrum: a trio of street legal electric cars converted from gasoline to battery power for an average price of $1450 each.  (No, that’s not a typo.)

In this series…

Part 1: So you want a cheap 100% electric car…
Part 2: Ben Nelson’s $1200, 1995 Geo Metro “Electro-Metro”
Part 3: Darin Cosgrove’s / Ivan Limburg’s $955, 1992 Geo Metro “Project ForkenSwift”
Part 4: Paul Holmes’ $2200, 1971 VW Beetle
Part 5: Parting thoughts

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We have written previously about Project ForkenSwift, the electric Geo Metro made from forklift and golf cart parts for the princely sum of $672 (its build cost has since crept up to  $955 – details in part 3).  At that time, it might have been easy to dismiss that low-cost grocery getter as an unrealistic one-off, assembled by obsessively cost-conscious builders.

But since then, two more affordable, electric runabouts (their motors also sourced from used forklifts) have hit the streets.  Which lends proof to the idea that electric drive does not have to be prohibitively expensive for the motivated tinkerer (note that we specifically didn’t say “experienced” or “skilled” tinkerer).

To be clear, nobody is pretending for a moment that these cars can go even remotely as fast or as far as a Tesla.  But compare on “cost per range” or “cost per MPH”, and they’ve got the roadster beat!

(Tesla image: Tinou Bao)

OK, OK, so the average motorist won’t be lusting after these cars for their range & performance specs (or their looks, for that matter).   They probably wouldn’t even meet the current daily needs of the motoring majority.  But that doesn’t mean “medium speed”, relatively short-range EV’s can’t be practical for some drivers.   Used in the context they were designed for, the owners of these cars each report that they are useful and fun vehicles.

In this 5 part series, we’ll find out how they did it, what lessons they learned along the way, and what advice they have for others thinking about inexpensive EV conversions.

Next, the three EV amigos:

Part 2: Ben Nelson’s 1995 Geo Metro “Electro-Metro”


Total build cost, including car: $ 1200.00
72 volts / 400 amps
Wisconsin, USA

Part 3 – Darin Cosgrove’s 1992 Geo Metro “Project ForkenSwift”


Total build cost, including car: $ 955
48 volts / 400 amps
Brockville, Ontario, Canada

Part 4 – Paul Holmes’ 1973 VW Beetle


Lacey, Washington, USA
72 volts / 300 amps
Total build cost, including car: $ 2100

Part 5 – Parting thoughts

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Paul Holmes December 2, 2008 at 11:48 am

If I would have used used batteries, I could have been cheap like the other two. Oh well… So, take heart everyone, if you get used batteries, it can be done for about $1000.

2 Jim McDosh December 6, 2008 at 4:51 am

Blue punch buggy dont punch back!

3 rkms December 6, 2008 at 8:05 am

Interesting article. Just one doubt though, Is the cost $1450 that of the car or is it just for converting an already owned car into electric ?

4 Darin C December 6, 2008 at 9:50 am

rkms: That’s the entire cost, including the cars.

5 ZAP Xebra December 8, 2008 at 2:43 am

Problem with EV conversions is that very few models of cars are capable of being converted to electric. And it isnt as if Tesla is the only EV around. You have a four door hatchback sedan EV available for about one tenth that price; the Xebra.

6 dudeD December 8, 2008 at 6:27 am

Interesting article. Thanks!!

7 Uncle B January 1, 2009 at 12:58 pm

I can hardly wait for Toyota to produce an electric Prius, preferably with a diesel/electric plug-in hybrid arrangement and carbon fiber body panels for light weight! They can probably use polymer composites to lighten things up, and blow the doors off of crap like the Chev Volt! In the mean time, the very idea that backyard mechanics can conjure up stiff competition for the Volt, and for a tenth the cost makes me thing GM should die!

8 edward February 9, 2009 at 6:00 pm

did you guys install it yourself or did a mecanic help you?

9 R. Wolff February 16, 2009 at 12:51 pm

All you folks looking to convert an old air cooled VW – the most difficult part is the adapter plate for Type I VW transaxle. You can attempt to fabricate your own, but I don’t recommend it. Go to Canadian Electric Vehicles Ltd at http://www.canev.com

They have adapter plates and all necessary hardware to mate an ADC or Warp electric motor to the VW tranny. $825.00 CDN plus S&H.

10 Scott Williams April 11, 2009 at 7:22 pm

I picked up a historic electric vehicle, of sorts. It was a university engineering department project car from the mid-70s using two starter/generators in a classic MG sedan. At this time, I am unable to bring the project back to life, or re-engineer it into something better, but if anyone were really interested, I’d be glad to sell it.
http://topekabcc.org/forwebelectric/forwebelectric.html

Scott

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